Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:30 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Numbers game? Here's one: Eight starting pitchers into this NL Championship Series, one finally produced a quality start. It came in Game 4 from the most unlikeliest of places: Soft-throwing veteran Randy Wolf.
And it could not have come at a more opportune time for manager Ron Roenicke's crew.
Brewers 4, Cardinals 2, and this series is dead even.
Which means one very important thing to both clubs:
Following Game 5 Friday night, this series is guaranteed to return to Milwaukee, where the Brewers practically have run the table this season.
That does not necessarily mean they'll do it again. But it does mean that if St. Louis has ideas of advancing to its first World Series since 2006, the Cardinals are going to need more out of their starting pitchers.
I know, that sounds like heresy when Tony La Russa has eight relievers on his playoff roster and, just a night before, folks couldn't heap enough praise on his hard-throwing pen. But asking them to be perfect every night is a tall order.
When Ryan Braun greeted reliever Mitchell Boggs with an RBI single in the fifth inning to snap a 2-2 tie and lift the Brewers into a lead they would not relinquish, you bet it was attention-grabbing: To that point, Cardinals relievers had retired 18 consecutive Brewers batters over the past two games.
But they've been pitching a lot of innings in a series marked by (marred by?) the brevity of innings from starters. Only Milwaukee's Zack Greinke and Wolf have lasted six or more innings. And only Wolf has surrendered three or fewer runs while doing so.
You would have predicted Chris Carpenter? Or Yovani Gallardo?
Wolf, tossing a riveting array of pitches from a slow curve (67, 68 mph) to a pedestrian fastball (90), kept St. Louis off-balance all evening. He left having allowed just two runs and six hits in seven innings. He whiffed six and walked just one.
Not that the Brewers were desperate for a performance like that after Gallardo's Game 3 clunker, but Bernie Brewer was seen pulling his winter sweaters out of storage up in Miller Park after that.
Now, it's a whole new series.
First team to get some decent starting pitching wins.
Posted on: October 12, 2011 11:18 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Are the Brewers now in as large a hole as the Tigers? No, they are not.
It only seems like it.
Following Wednesday's 4-3 Game 3 loss to the Cardinals, Milwaukee, still very much in this series, trails St. Louis only two games to one. But given the way the rest of their rotation is bumbling around, the Brewers are wounded badly when Yovani Gallardo starts and they don't win.
Starting pitchers named neither "Yovani" nor "Gallardo" in this postseason have compiled a 11.52 ERA while going 1-3 in five postseason starts.
Being that Milwaukee's Game 4 starter contains the names "Randy" and "Wolf, the Brewers can only hope that trend changes.
Gallardo, now 1-8 career against the Cardinals, did not pitch like the ace Milwaukee thinks he is. He was lit up for four runs in the first inning before calming down.
Part of that wasn't completely his fault: Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke gambled and lost by starting veteran Mark Kotsay, 35, in center field. He liked Kotsay's numbers against Chris Carpenter (4 for 11, .364 batting average). But Kotsay could not get to a fly ball smacked into the left-center gap two batters into the bottom of the first, a play that Carlos Gomez certainly would have made. That helped fuel St. Louis' early rally.
But Kotsay had nothing to do with Gallardo's back-to-back walks of Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman later in the inning. Those were critical, too.
Bottom line is, this series still should have a very long way to go. Milwaukee is facing nothing like its Midwestern (across Lake Michigan) neighbor. Detroit is down three games to one and on the verge of extinction for 2011.
The Brewers are just one win from evening things up against St. Louis. But with Wolf, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum rolling up next in the rotation, it sure looks as if the Cardinals were licking their beaks, er, chops as they left Busch Stadium late Wednesday night.
Posted on: October 11, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2011 6:20 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Yanked out of their comfy and productive home park, the Brewers at least have ace Yovani Gallardo starting Game 3 Wednesday as this National League Championship Series shifts scenes.
Lifesaver for them, right?
Um, maybe not.
Milwaukee's Misery Index in Missouri is uncomfortably high as the Brewers face the pivotal Game 3: Gallardo, lifetime against the Cardinals, is 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 11 starts. Extract a smaller sample size to just 2011, and it's 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA in four starts.
Amplifying the situation is this: Gallardo right now appears to be Milwaukee's best shot. He's 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two postseason starts for the Brewers, while those starters not named "Gallardo" -- Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf -- are 1-3 with an 11.52 ERA in five starts.
Milwaukee's first-year manager, Ron Roenicke, has only see Gallardo's 2011 starts against the Cardinals and has no explanation for the struggles.
"There's not a good reason why," Roenicke says. "You know they have a good offense. Sometimes an offense matches up better against a certain type of pitcher. If it's a power pitcher and you have an offense that really handles the fastball well, that could be a reason. And same on the other end. If an offense matches up really well against guys that have the off-speed, slower stuff. ...
"I don't know what the case is with this, but I know we expect him to pitch a good game."
Elementary as it sounds, it starts at the beginning for both Gallardo and the rest of the rotation. While St. Louis leadoff man Rafael Furcal is just 2 for 10 against Milwaukee in the first two games, No. 2 hitter Jon Jay has severely wounded them with a .500 on-base percentage in the two games (.444 batting average).
When these two reach base consistently, that means Albert Pujols -- and Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman behind him -- is even more dangerous. Jay has scored four runs in the first two games of this NLCS, three of which were included among Pujols' five RBI in Game 2.
"We're not too concerned with what we've done in the past," Jay said of the Cards' success against Gallardo. "We just try to have good at-bats. He's a great pitcher. You have to make him throw strikes. If we can have good at-bats and work the count, we'll be all right."
As for Pujols' Game 2 fireworks, it's hard to imagine the Brewers pitching to him any more than they have to from here on out. But when they do, Roenicke said, the key is simple.
"We have to make good pitches," the manager said. "Even Albert, as good a hitter as he is, if you put the pitch exactly where you want to, he's still, percentage-wise, going to have a tough time to continue to hurt us like he has."
Easier said than done. Especially given the current numbers of a rotation of which Roenicke said, "Our starters, that's why we are where we are today. Our starters have pitched great all year, and our relievers have been great, too. ... The playoffs, we have not pitched as well with our starters. But if we are going to win this thing, our starters need to pitch well.
"That's the four of them. We can't get by with just one or two pitchers."
Among other things, expecting a low-scoring pitcher's duel between Gallardo and Chris Carpenter on Wednesday night, Roenicke hinted that he my start Carlos Gomez over Nyjer Morgan in center field in a nod to Gomez's defense.
Posted on: October 8, 2011 5:32 pm
The F-bomb Heard 'Round the Baseball World boomeranged back to Milwaukee outfielder Nyjer Morgan on Saturday as the Brewers and Cardinals prepared for Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday, and Morgan had one reaction: Sorry.
"Honestly, I didn't even realize the mic was right there on me," said Morgan, who dropped two very audible F-bombs on TBS field reporter Sam Ryan during Friday's postgame interview following Milwaukee's dramatic Game 5 win over Arizona. "I was sorry for the nation. You know, I am a role model out here."
With that thought, Morgan stopped and let out a big belly laugh.
"I'm serious, I am a role model and kids hear that and I don't condone it, but I was caught up in the moment, man," he continued. "That doesn't happen to everybody. So I'm sorry for that. Next time I'll think about it before I spit it out. Yeah."
What will he say next time?
"I don't know," he said. "'All right!' I'll give a Tiger Woods fist bump."
Meanwhile, someone asked Zack Greinke, Milwaukee's Game 1 starter, his impression of Morgan.
"Ninety-five percent of the time, he's great," Greinke said. "Everybody else probably likes him 100 percent of the time. But every now and then, he talks too much for me and gets annoying.
"But I tell him that. Everyone on the team loves him. He has a good heart, and he's fun."
Posted on: October 7, 2011 8:54 pm
MILWAUKEE -- This might be a beer town, but they will take champagne. Oh yes they will. Especially when it's the first postseason champagne they've sprayed in 29 hard, lean years.
Especially when it's a team as free-spirited and beloved as this year's Brewers, who drew three million fans to Miller Park this summer and, with a scintillating 3-2, 10-inning Game 5 win over the Diamondbacks on Friday, earned the privilege to draw several thousand more over the next 10 or so days.
National League Championship Series, here they come.
First time ever.
Not since 1982 have the Brewers moved to within one step of the World Series, and back then, they were in the American League. And yes, they advanced to the Fall Classic, where they fell to St. Louis.
Since then, it's been 29 Octobers of raking the leaves and cheering for the Packers.
What a game, what a season.
To hold on and win, Milwaukee's bullpen had to face down an Arizona team with 48 come-from-behind wins, most in the majors this year. But the Brewers' bullpen is so good, it hadn't blown a lead after the seventh inning since July 4.
There was tension, there was sweat, there was nail biting.
And for the first time since 1982, the result was a win in a postseason series.
The Brewers won this last winter, when they decided to keep Prince Fielder and swing for the fences in 2011. They won it when the acquired Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. Won it in July, when they landed closer-turned-setup-man Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets the night of the All-Star Games.
And they won it with one out in the 10th when Nyjer Morgan drove a 2-2 pitch against Arizona closer J.J. Putz up the middle, scoring Carlos Gomez from second.
Miller Park immediately went crazy, blue and gold confetti papering the place.
What a game, what a season. Next stop: NLCS.
Posted on: June 6, 2011 9:31 pm
Edited on: June 6, 2011 9:46 pm
KANSAS CITY -- If Bubba Starling, the Royals' first-round pick in Monday's draft, follows the same path as Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon (this year's model), Billy Butler, Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow and even Mike Moustakas, an already rich farm system will become even more fertile.
Mixed in among the 25 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance was one significant recent false start, in 2003. The Royals that year had their only winning season in the past 16, and Tony Pena was named American League manager of the year. Beltran, at 26, was the center fielder.
By the middle of '04, Beltran had been traded to Houston and by the middle of '05, Pena had been fired.
The general manager is different now -- Dayton Moore instead of Allard Baird -- but the owner is still the same in David Glass.
"Everybody wants to sign good, young players long-term," Moore told me during a conversation shortly after the Royals made Starling their top pick. "We're no different in Kansas City. We've demonstrated that over the last three years by signing Zack Greinke, although we traded him, Billy Butler and Joakim Soria to long-term deals. Those have been our three most productive players over the last four years."
And in the Royals' defense, though they're short on pitching, their price for Greinke was high, including current shortstop Alcides Escobar.
"That's why you've got to have a great farm system," Moore said. "If you have a lot of good players, it's going to be hard to sign all of them long-term in the economy of today's game.
"John Schuerholz in Atlanta [the former GM and current president] signed Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones long-term, but he couldn't keep Rafael Furcal. He signed John Smoltz long-term but couldn't keep Tom Glavine, even though he tried.
"Our goal, by 2012, 2013, is to have the majority of our 25-man roster reflect home-grown talent. Hopefully, we can do it. We're on pace to do it. Then there's a pride factor -- they know the rookie ball hitting coach and manager, the know the coaches and managers all the way up."
Then, Moore says, if players decline long-term deals or leave via free agency, "they're not just saying no to the Kansas City Royals. They're saying no to every coach, instructor, scout and front-office person. That's a major split."
"That's what we're trying to do," Moore said. "I believe in the plan. We have to execute the plan."
For more on the MLB Draft: http://eye-on-baseball.blogs.cbsspo
Posted on: June 2, 2011 4:54 pm
Edited on: June 2, 2011 5:24 pm
Short hops, backhanded stops and quick pops:
-- The Brewers have climbed into second place in the NL Central thanks to ... their own beds? All that bratwurst? Milwaukee is 21-7 at Miller Park, the club's best home record EVER after 28 games. But at 9-19 on the road, the Brewers are the worst in the NL. Manager Ron Roenicke is not yet a believer in the trend, figuring "if we go three months into" the season and things don't change, then it's a problem. One reason the Brewers' road mark could be skewed: They opened with 21 of 34 games on the road, including an 11-game trip and a 10-game trip during a cold and wet spring. Assuming they stay in contention, look out for the Brewers in September: They finish with 14 of 25 games at home.
-- Milwaukee right-hander Shaun Marcum, though stuck with a no-decision in Cincinnati on Wednesday night (and though teammate Zack Greinke has received more pub for fewer starts), has pitched like an All-Star. He's allowed one run or fewer in six of his 12 starts. "He wasn't under my radar," Roenicke says. "He's the same guy I've seen pitch in Toronto. He was in the toughest division in baseball, for me. That league can flat-out hit. If you can pitch in that division, you can pitch anywhere."
-- Maybe if a team can get through the early part of a game without genuflecting to the big, bad, Yankees, it'll have a chance: New York has pummeled opponents 83-44 over the first two innings of games this year, according to STATS LLC. The Yankees are outscoring their opposition 43-16 in the first innings.
-- Clint Hurdle for manager of the year? Pittsburgh winning its 17th road game on Wednesday night ... matching the Pirates' total for all of 2010 (17-64). They're 17-14 away from PNC Park so far in 2011.
-- Kirk Gibson for manager of the year? When Arizona moved into first place in the NL West after being 6 1/2 games back through April 30, the Diamondbacks became the first team in major league history to take sole possession of first place in their league (before 1969) or in their division (since 1969) during May after starting the month at least 6 1/2 back.
-- What's up with St. Louis' Chris Carpenter, an annual Cy Young candidate who is 1-5 with a 4.52 ERA over 12 starts? "I've been up and down all year," he says, pointing to one basic element for a pitcher that he's still battling: Fastball command.
-- Lance Berkman on his experience with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa this year: "Love him. He's great. He's such a players' guy. When you think of Tony La Russa, being a players' manager is not the first thing that jumps through your head. At least, not from watching him from the other side. But he's got a bunch of guys here who will run through a wall for him."
-- One significant difference between this year's Cardinals and last year's: The clubhouse atmosphere is far better in 2011. The stuff with Colby Rasmus has blown over. The presence of Berkman, in addition to that of Matt Holliday, has really helped. "He's unbelievable," Cards GM John Mozeliak says of Berkman. "He's a gentleman and a class act. I've really enjoyed getting to know him."
-- That the Yankees' Russell Martin currently is the AL All-Star leader at catcher is attention-grabbing. But the fact that Martin actually is deserving of consideration speaks more toward the dearth of quality catching than it
-- Most productive designated hitters: Red Sox (.315 combined average, 34 runs scored, .565 slugging percentage), Royals (.302, 31, .394 on-base percentage) and Indians (.299, 27 runs, .510 slugging). Least productive? Yankees (.185, 21 runs, .350 slugging), White Sox (.234, 21, .383 slugging) and Mariners (.242, 15, .328 slugging).
-- At 17-37, the Twins are 20 games below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2000 season (69-93).
-- So what is retired Braves manager Bobby Cox doing? He spent a nice summer's evening last week at the Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band's Atlanta show on the Welcome to Finland tour.
Likes: Former big leaguer Darin Erstad taking the job as head baseball coach at his beloved alma mater, Nebraska. ... Ian O'Connor's new book, The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter. ... Also, for you Giants fans, Worth The Wait, written by Brian Murphy and largely photographed by Brad Mangin, is beautifully done. ... The story on how Roger Ailes built the Fox news fear factory in the current issue of Rolling Stone. ... Professor Longhair's Rock and Roll Gumbo.
Dislikes: If it's anything like this, Michigan's "throwback" jersey for the night game against Notre Dame this Sept. 10 might make the game unwatchable.
"Good luck had just stung me
-- The Band, Up On Cripple Creek
Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Bobby Cox, Brian Murphy, Chris Carpenter, Clint Hurdle, Derek Jeter, Ian O'Connor, Kirk Gibson, Lance Berkman, Milwaukee Brewers, Nate McLouth, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Professor Longhair, Ron Roenicke, Russell Martin, Shaun Marcum, St. Louis Cardinals, The Band, Tony La Russa, Zack Greinke
Posted on: May 25, 2011 5:44 pm
Edited on: May 25, 2011 6:15 pm
Zack Greinke, slugger?
When Greinke smashed the go-ahead home run in white-hot Milwaukee's 6-4 win over Washington on Wednesday, here's guessing that one of the least surprised folks in Miller Park was the guy the Brewers are used to seeing jack baseballs over distant fences.
See, Fielder and Greinke were summer teammates for a spell in their high school days during a handful of All-Star Showcase Games in Florida. Greinke graduated from Apopka High School near Orlando, Fielder from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla.
"He played third base and hit in front of me," Fielder was saying of those summer games during a conversation last week. "He was good."
So good, in fact, that Fielder thought Greinke's main talent was with the bat.
"I didn't know he was a pitcher until senior year of high school," Fielder said. "I thought he was a third baseman. That's what he played in those Showcase games.
"He was always a top player as a third baseman. It was in my senior year that I saw him pitching one day on the news in Florida and I thought, 'Wow.'"
Who was the more prodigious slugger in those Showcase games, Fielder or Greinke?
"I know he raked," Fielder said. "But I don't remember him hitting any home runs."
Fielder then grinned, devilishly.
"No home runs," he said. "Tell him I told you that. No pop. Just a gap-to-gap hitter."
Alas, when I went looking for Greinke to do just that last Thursday in San Diego, he wasn't around. Because it was a night game on the West Coast and because Greinke was slated to start the next night as the Brewers opened their current homestand, he and Shaun Marcum had flown back to Milwaukee earlier that day so they could get a bit of extra rest.
And now that Greinke has some real, live street cred (not to mention bragging rights) as a bona fide slugger, Fielder is going to have to dig into his bag of tricks for another way to tease the 2009 AL Cy Young winner.
But given that Greinke, whose first seven seasons of pitching came in Kansas City, has a total of 32 career at-bats, one homer per 16 ABs is pretty impressive.
That career homers-to-at-bats ratio, incidentally, is the exact same as another Milwaukee icon.
The Brewers now have won 13 of their past 16 games, and nine in a row at home -- their longest streak in the 11-year history of Miller Park.