The Cardinals’ Last Stand

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

Having swept three straight from the Brewers at Miller Park, the Cardinals have kept themselves alive in the NL Central race. They’re still down 7 1/2 games with 25 to play so a comeback would be bordering on the miraculous, but they’re still around—and that was the first step.

This weekend is supremely important for the Cardinals to—at the very least—stay 7 1/2 games behind. The Brewers are in Houston for a 3 game series with the Astros while the Cardinals are going home to play the Reds.

On Monday, the Brewers go to St. Louis for 3 games.

If the Cardinals can cut the deficit another game or two, Monday becomes very, very interesting and important. Let’s say the Cardinals manage to get within 5 games after their home series with the Brewers. The Brewers are then going to Philadelphia to play the Phillies; the Cardinals have the Braves coming to town.

Without providing schedules for each team down the stretch (their opponents are mostly the same), the Cardinals have to make their move now.

It’s hard to see the Brewers stumbling in a 2007 Mets-type way and being caught or passed by the Cardinals. Those Mets were drastically flawed in the starting rotation with Oliver Perez and John Maine both having been coaxed to unexpected 15 win seasons by Rick Peterson and Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez were shells of what they once were; this Brewers club with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf has legitimate starting pitching.

You can also throw the 2008 Mets into that mix. With Johan Santana their starting pitching was better than it was in the previous year, but the bullpen was relying on journeyman Luis Ayala to close after Billy Wagner went down with Tommy John surgery; the Brewers have two legitimate closers in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.

2007 Mets manager Willie Randolph panicked and 2008 manager Jerry Manuel was outgunned; I don’t know how Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke is going to react if his club is pressed by Tony LaRussa‘s Cardinals over the last two weeks.

But the Cardinals crawled back into striking distance with the sweep—similar to the way the Phillies did against the Mets (twice) in the final 5 weeks of the 2007 season.

The last thing the Brewers want to do is let the Cardinals think they have a chance.

That’s what the Cardinals are thinking now.

And if things break a certain way, in seven days time they might have more than a chance. They might have a race; a race the Brewers neither wanted, needed nor expected.

The Brewers have to take care of business by next Thursday or they could have a problem on their hands.

A big one.

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The Defensive Equation With The Brewers And Rangers

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

Neil Paine writes a piece in the NY Times about the Texas Rangers recent hot streak, how their defense has contributed to winning this season and last.

They’ve done it without an array of “name” pitchers like those of the Phillies, Giants and Brewers; instead, they’ve relied on converted relievers Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson; young, unspectacular strike-throwers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison; and a scrapheap pickup Colby Lewis.

While the names are unfamiliar, the results are excellent.

Is it due to the strategy to tell these pitchers to pound the strike zone and let the superior defense take care of the rest despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ ballpark in Arlington?

It certainly appears so.

The Brewers have gone in the opposite direction as the Rangers in terms of putting their team together. Whereas the Rangers built their club with this intention clearly in mind based on the deployment of players and execution of plans, the Brewers have a starting rotation of Cy Young Award quality-talent with Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo; a solid, gutty craftsman in Shaun Marcum; and a workmanlike veteran Randy Wolf.

The Brewers defense is also slow-footed and lacks range. Despite having pitchers in their starting rotation who are better than those on the Rangers, their ERA+ is in the middle-of-the-pack of the National League.

If a team brings in starting pitching the level of that which the Brewers have, ignoring the defense is a huge mistake.

The Brewers are top-heavy with bashers who are more suited to DHing like Prince Fielder; and other regulars who probably shouldn’t be playing at all in Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt.

The Rangers are deeply balanced and have built their team based on that conscious decision to focus on the factors of pitching and defense with a fair amount of power thrown in.

How much better would the Brewers be if they shored up the defense at third and short and would it behoove them to do so? And would fixing this issue now with the acquisition of a defensive ace at short the likes of Jack Wilson or Jason Bartlett help? There’s been talk of Rafael Furcal who’s been injured and awful, but a pennant race might wake up his game—if he’s healthy. They’d get him for nothing.

The Rangers success with this template is a better option than what the Brewers did. All that great pitching isn’t doing much good if the infielders don’t—or can’t—catch the ball.

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The Johnny Sain Travel Guide

Books, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players, Uncategorized

Here’s a quote from Ball Four by Jim Bouton:

Every once in a while there’s a guy that doesn’t fit into the coaching mold, a man with an original idea or two who’s not afraid to express them, a guy who would like to have some influence on the club. I mean a guy like Johnny Sain. And what happens to him? He moves around a lot. He has to, because as soon as he asserts himself the manager wants to get rid of him, no matter how good a job he’s doing. (Ball Four by Jim Bouton, page 287.)

I thought of this as soon as I read that Brad Arnsberg had been fired by the Houston Astros.

It’s hard to get a gauge on Arsnberg because there are publicly differing opinions about him.

After he was fired by the Marlins in their 2003 purge, he was savaged by the club for his reaction to the firing. It wasn’t temperamental owner Jeffrey Loria who made negative statements about Arnsberg, but respected GM Larry Beinfest who accused the former pitching coach of being unprofessional and bordering on violent to the point where he wasn’t allowed into the stadium to pick up his belongings—Sun Journal Story, 5.12.2003.

It certainly didn’t help Arnsberg’s cause that the Marlins went on to win the World Series that year with new manager Jack McKeon replacing Jeff Torborg and pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal replacing Arnsberg.

Moving on with the Blue Jays, Arsnberg was widely credited with the work of veterans Ted Lilly and A.J. Burnett, along with youngsters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch; it’s not hard to look smart when working with Roy Halladay.

Arnsberg was basically pilfered by the Astros after the 2009 season. Star pitching coaches are generally in demand due to reputation and a prior record of success. Sometimes it works—as has been the case with Larry Rothschild and Rick Peterson; other times it hasn’t as was the case with Leo Mazzone.

It’s fleeting and based on results.

Or other factors.

The Astros pitched well last season. Brett Myers rejuvenated his career; J.A. Happ was solid after being acquired from the Phillies; Bud Norris has been good; Mark Melancon has blossomed.

Who knows what was going on inside the Astros organization and clubhouse? Did manager Brad Mills feel threatened by Arnsberg? Was there a falling out? Did they feel like doing something to try and wake up a struggling (and pretty poor) club.

“Philosophical differences” is a convenient excuse for a change and it’s of a similar vein to the “lack of communication” absurdity that’s often used when there’s no explicable reason.

I have no problem with a GM saying, “I wanted to make a change”. He doesn’t have to give a reason. He’s the boss.

But clubs don’t see it that way. They think they have to give something tangible to the media and “feeling like it” doesn’t cut it.

Years ago, when the Marlins had several pitchers on the disabled list with injuries to different parts of their bodies, I suggested that perhaps Arnsberg was the common denominator.

I’ve evolved from this view.

Very rare is it that a pitching coach will have training techniques that deviate from the norm so egregiously that pitchers will take part in them to begin with; and if they’re so unusual, it’s hard to see any manager allowing them to be utilized or the pitching coach to make it up to the big leagues.

It goes back to the Johnny Sain travel guide and the main tenet: don’t usurp the manager’s authority by disagreeing with him.

There are pitching coaches like this still floating around. Dick Pole has bounced from team-to-team, usually working for Dusty Baker. None other than Greg Maddux has said that it was Pole who taught him a great deal about the mechanics and mental aspects of pitching that Maddux used to forge a Hall of Fame career.

But Pole is as much-traveled as Sain was.

And Arnsberg is on the way to catching up to these men with their honorable, but short-lived reputations for accumulating frequent flyer miles and different mailing addresses.

Go along to get along or get fired for “philosophical differences” and “lack of communication”.

Some men are willing. Others aren’t. Those that aren’t tend to move around a lot and have extreme reputations. From the outside, this appears to be the case with Brad Arnsberg.

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Deadline Players

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

If any team is a sure bet to be heavy buyers at the trading deadline it’s the Milwaukee Brewers.

Because they have so much invested in this season and aren’t going to be able to keep Prince Fielder as a free agent, they’re all in for 2011.

There are other reasons why the Brewers are going to be super-aggressive at the trading deadline.

Presumably Brewers GM Doug Melvin knew how promising Brett Lawrie was when he traded him to the Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum. Marcum has been terrific so far this season and is under team control through next year. The Brewers needed starting pitching; they had Casey McGehee to play third and Rickie Weeks at second; and they were forced to take Yuniesky Betancourt‘s contract from the Royals to get Zack Greinke.

There was no place to put Lawrie; he’s never played shortstop and beyond doing something truly outside-the-box and trying to shift Weeks to short to make room for him, this was a mutually beneficial and necessary move. The Blue Jays had a lot of pitching and the Brewers had a prospect the Blue Jays coveted.

Lawrie is expected to be recalled soon; he’s been destroying the ball at Triple A Las Vegas with 79 hits, 38 extra base hits including 15 homers, and a 1.092 OPS in 52 games.

It was a “win now” trade for the Brewers and it’s working; they still need some upgrades.

With that in mind, expect something major to improve the offense, infield defense and bullpen before the trading deadline. I’m talking about any of the three potentially available Mets from Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez; Heath Bell from the Padres; or Jason Kubel from the Twins.

The Brewers are in a very winnable division and the Wild Card will also be available. With their starting pitching of Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo, they’re a major threat to anyone in the playoffs already; if they do something bold like acquire any of the above-mentioned names, they’ll be truly dangerous.

Fielder’s basically gone and Lawrie’s ready for a recall from the Blue Jays. The Brewers know what they have to do—they have to win and they have to win now.

Melvin will do everything necessary to make a playoff run because, given the circumstances, he doesn’t have much of a choice. And he’s right to do it.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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This Has a “Mets” Feel To It

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

I wasn’t all that enamored of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers to begin with, but now that Shaun Marcum left yesterday’s game with a shoulder problem and the two big acquisitions—Marcum and Zack Greinke—are hurting, they look worse.

The conundrum for Marcum and the Brewers was summed up on MLB Trade Rumors:

Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum, acquired from the Blue Jays in an offseason trade, exited his Cactus League start due to shoulder tightness, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke acknowledged feeling concerned about the righty, and Olney described the potential situation as “not good.” The Brewers have already lost ace Zack Greinke for a few starts after he suffered broken ribs in a pickup basketball game, and a potential injury to Marcum, though only speculation now, would be a major blow for a team expected to be in the thick of the NL Central race. Marcum, 29, missed all of 2009 with Toronto following Tommy John surgery in late 2008.

The Brewers were crowned as big off-season “winners” (cue the Charlie Sheen jokes) because of their flashy moves getting name talent.

They had a choice this past winter: go for it in 2011 with Prince Fielder in the final year of his contract and no discernible chance of keeping him; or trade Fielder and move forward with a different core.

Deciding to go for it this season, the Brewers got Greinke without surrendering that much to get him; they also traded a top prospect, Brett Lawrie, for Marcum from the Blue Jays.

But amid all the excitement certain important facets of winning receded into the background. They didn’t strengthen the bullpen, instead sticking with what they had last season. They had to take Yuniesky Betancourt‘s contract from the Royals to get Greinke; Betancourt has no range and is limited offensively. They don’t have an established catcher—an important aspect of a pitching-based club; their overall defense is shoddy; and they have a rookie manager in Ron Roenicke.

Now both are injured.

Greinke—who has never, ever pitched for a club with expectations of legitimate contention—is out with broken ribs; Marcum has an undetermined shoulder problem.

How many times did the Mets make the big moves in the winter to bring in glossy names and spur the media and public to expect great things only to see the club fall apart once play began?

That’s what I see as a viable possibility with the Brewers.

If I were running a club with a potential need for mid-season offense—the Braves for example—I’d call the Brewers now and say, “If you decide to put Fielder on the market, give us a call.”

The Brewers season could spiral very quickly if things continue as they are right now. I’ve seen this storyline before. And it’s not a happy ending.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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