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 13, 2011 7:58 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 7:59 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Say this for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke: He's a man of his convictions.
One day after his Mark Kotsay decision became a flashpoint in Game 3, Kotsay was back in the lineup for the Brewers for Game 4, albeit starting in right field in place of Corey Hart instead of in center field.
Roenicke, meanwhile, steered part of his pre-game news conference back to his decision to play Kotsay in center field a night earlier.
"I know you guys hammered me for Kotsay yesterday, but Kotsay is a good outfielder," Roenicke said. "I didn’t put somebody out there who was a bad outfielder. I just didn't have Carlos Gomez in there. Carlos is a fabulous outfielder."
Roenicke again explained he likes Kotsay's offense and that's what he wanted from Kotsay in Game 3. And Kotsay did deliver: Two walks and a home run against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.
Thing is, with Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo starting, there is an argument to be made that you want your best defense behind him. But Roenicke held fast to his reasoning, explaining that part of it, too, is that Gomez "hasn't started against a right-hander in, I don't know, four months?"
"Sometimes you want somebody in there that has a chance to get hot," Roenicke said. "Kotsay did what he was supposed to do yesterday. He got a home run and two walks in front of our big boys. That's what he was supposed to do.
"OK, he got caught off of second base. Kots, I know, wasn't happy about that play. But he did what he was supposed to do."
Likes: The Tigers have had such a good season, it would have been a shame to see them go down to Texas in five games in a heap of injuries. I'm glad to see that go at least six ... and I hope this NL Championship Series between the Cardinals and Brewers goes six or seven games, too. ... Make it seven, for both. ... If Reese Witherspoon truly is "showing her sexy side" in the flick This Means War due out in February, then sign me up. ... The beautiful weather continues in St. Louis. Great run Thursday morning through downtown and around the Jefferson Memorial National Monument, the park area where the Arch is located. ... New Tom Waits is always a good thing. ... The chicken parmesan at Charlie Gitto's Italian joint downtown.
Dislikes: Friendly's closing its doors for good via bankruptcy. I'll always remember those summer nights in 1982 with Jeannie, and other friends, when Friendly's was a post rec-league softball stop and the Reese's Pieces Sundaes were quite the treat. And the Fribbles. All gone now, sadly.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I'm the hat on the bed
"I'm the coffee instead
"The fish or cut bait
"I'm the detective up late
"I'm the blood on the floor
"The thunder and the roar
"The boat that won't sink
"I just won't sleep a wink
"You're the same kind of bad as me"
-- Tom Waits, Bad as Me
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: March 8, 2011 6:55 pm
Something has been wrong with Zack Greinke this spring, and now we know what.
He's made two Cactus League starts and left people wondering whether he was fully engaged.
"I saw Greinke the other day," a befuddled veteran scout was just telling me on Monday. "His fastball was 86, 87. Something's going on. He doesn't look right."
Bingo. Now we know. Pitching with one rib fractured and another bruised is a recipe for disaster, even for a guy who won a Cy Young award as recently as 2009.
Now the question becomes, how big of a disaster will this be for the Milwaukee Brewers?
Suddenly, the only team in the majors employing three pitchers who started on opening day in 2010 is down the ace who should have started opening day in 2011.
Greinke has a hairline fracture of the seventh rib on the left side (and a bruised eighth rib), an injury that normally carries a four-to-six week recovery time. The thinking is that he suffered the injury a couple of weeks ago, so perhaps his recovery, from here, will be on the shorter side.
Maybe. Rib injuries are tricky, and the torque with which power pitchers punish their upper bodies is not for the weak. If Greinke only misses two or three starts, as the Brewers are hoping right now, you can mark it down as a large victory for both him and them.
Right now, that looks wildly optimistic. Because simple math adds up to more than a couple of missed starts. Because he will not be pitching while his ribs heal, he will need time on the mound to build his arm back up when they're healed. That will tack on extra time. Realistically, he'll probably miss at least the first month of the season.
This is highly problematical. This is a team with a finite window of opportunity that made the gutsy decision to swing for the fences in 2011. Prince Fielder is a free agent at the end of the year, and with Scott Boras as his agent, he's all but gone.
Armchair general managers were sure the Brewers should have traded Fielder over the winter to ensure that they got something in return.
Instead, they went out and acquired Greinke from Kansas City ... after they acquired starter Shaun Marcum from Toronto.
With those two, Yovani Gallardo and others backed by an offense that ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored per game last season, the Brewers are set to enter the season as strong contenders in the NL Central.
But now, the Brewers grip on 2011 is far more fragile.
Sometimes with off days in the early-season schedule, clubs can get by with a four-man rotation for much of April. But the Brewers, given their schedule, need their fifth starter to make at least three starts in the season's first three weeks.
The only silver lining in this is that by missing some starts early, Greinke theoretically could be a bit stronger in September (and, the Brewers hope, in October) than he would have been otherwise.
But make no mistake. This is a serious blow to the Brewers.
No wonder Greinke had surrendered six hits and three walks -- against only three strikeouts -- in 3 1/3 innings this spring.
Posted on: July 12, 2010 8:28 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2010 8:32 pm
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- How long has it been since the National League has won a freakin' All-Star Game?
Let's just say this: Last time the NL won, 1996 in Philadelphia, Bob Dole was running for president.
It's weird, it's bizarre, it's ugly and it's a subject the National Leaguers get tired of answering. Current count: The AL's unbeaten streak has reached 13 years, including winning the past seven in a row (since the humiliating 2002 tie in Milwaukee).
Yet silly as this sounds, there is a very real sense that the tide might be beginning to shift away from Junior Circuit dominance in the Mid-Summer Classic.
Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez. Florida's Josh Johnson. San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo. All All-Stars this year. And, Washington's Stephen Strasburg, and San Diego's Mat Latos, who very well could debut as All-Stars next summer when the game hits Phoenix.
You know about Strasburg. And Latos was the next pitcher NL manager Charlie Manuel would have chosen in the event of one more injury scratch.
"It needs to turn for us, the way it's been going," says San Diego manager Bud Black, a coach on Manuel's NL staff this week. "There are some fine young power arms in the National League.
No question. But there is more sizzle in the NL's pitching this summer -- especially given all the incredibly talented young arms -- than there has been in quite some time.
"Just looking at our staff, I know I wouldn't want to be a hitter on the other side," says Mets third baseman David Wright, who has been in the NL clubhouse for the past four losses. "We have some power arms, really, top to bottom. Just seeing their age and the ability and the upside and what they've accomplished already is amazing.
"I know how I feel with a bat in my hands in the box against these guys. Then when you string together the depth that the NL has with their young power arms, it's pretty impressive."
Jimenez comes into the game with 15 wins, a no-hitter against Atlanta this year and a 33-inning scoreless streak compiled during one especially torrid stretch in May and June.
Johnson leads the majors with a 1.70 ERA and has allowed no more than one earned run in 10 of his past 11 starts.
Lincecum has won back-to-back Cy Young awards, Strasburg is showing signs of having Cy Young stuff ... the list goes on.
In the NL, Wright has been watching most of them from the batter's box.
"You know that it's going to be a rough day when you're battling to draw a walk," Wright says. "Or you're battling to plate one guy and you know you have to be perfect as far as situational hitting just to plate a run, that you're not going to have that big inning where you can put up some crooked numbers.
"Where you have to battle and grind and fight and almost hope that the other team makes a mistake. You know what an uncomfortable at-bat it is. You know what they're capable of doing."
Add Philadelphia's veteran ace Roy Halladay, who will pitch for the NL for the first time following six All-Star appearances for the AL, and Atlanta's cagey Tim Hudson, who is making his NL debut Tuesday following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery (and two All-Star selections when he was pitching in the AL), and it's not an easy staff to face.
As for Jimenez and Johnson, the NL's two most dominant pitchers in the first half and the ones many AL hitters will see for the first time on Tuesday night, well, Wright says his least favorite to face is. ...
"Neither. We've been fortunate in that we've missed Josh Johnson the last few times we've played the Marlins, but it's no fun having him in the division.
"When you go in for a series in Miami, you always know which day Josh is pitching. You know you'd better win the game before that or the game after that or the other games because you're likely not going to win that one."
Whether the same will hold true for the All-Star Game, well ... it's got to turn one of these years, doesn't it?
Posted on: July 2, 2010 9:11 pm
If American League manager Joe Girardi chooses to start Tampa Bay's David Price in the July 13 All-Star Game -- a very real possibility given that Price led the AL in ERA (2.44) and wins (11) on Friday -- the coast is clear.
And if National League manager Charlie Manuel gives the nod to Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez -- which seems a slam dunk -- that should work, too.
In the first season in which baseball will deem ineligible any starting pitcher working on the Sunday before the All-Star break, the view from several days out looks pretty good.
Of the top AL starters, only the Angels' Jered Weaver (who leads the majors with 124 strikeouts), Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann and the Yankees' CC Sabathia currently are projected to start for their clubs on that Sunday.
Among the NL's top starters, only the Mets' Mike Pelfrey is slated to start on Sunday, July 11. But depending on what manager Jerry Manuel does with his pitching on the club's off-day on Thursday, July 8, that could change.
Price, a serious candidate to start for the AL, is scheduled to make his final pre-All Star start for Tampa Bay on Wednesday, which would leave him plenty rested for the Anaheim game. And if Girardi looks in a different direction, Seattle's Cliff Lee (last first-half start next Friday), Boston's Jon Lester (Friday) and Clay Buchholz (Tuesday), the Yankees' own Phil Hughes (Friday) and Texas' Colby Lewis (Wednesday) all should be eligible.
Jimenez makes his final pre-All Star start on Thursday and, assuming good health, should be a foregone conclusion to start for the NL in Anaheim.
As for the rest of the NL's top starters, things are setting up very nicely for Manuel: Florida's Josh Johnson (final first-half start slotted for Wednesday), St. Louis' Chris Carpenter (Friday), Adam Wainwright (Saturday) and Jaime Garcia (Thursday), Philadelphia's Roy Halladay (Saturday), Atlanta's Tim Hudson (Friday or Saturday), Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo (Friday), the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (Thursday), San Diego's Mat Latos (Wednesday) and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum (Wednesday) and Barry Zito (Thursday) all should be fresh for the game.
Likes: Great move by Texas acquiring catcher Bengie Molina. Look out, this is the strongest team the Rangers have had in several years. ... The wheels came off the wagon horribly in Arizona, but make no mistake: Fired general manager Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch are good people. ... New Arizona manager Kirk Gibson's first game in the dugout, of course, is against the Dodgers. Who else? ... The All-Star break just around the corner and Texas, Atlanta, Cincinnati and San Diego in first place. ... The new concert DVD from Bruce Springsteen and the E St. Band, Live in Hyde Park. Very, very good. Great song selections, tremendous playing and some breathtaking camera work of both the band's work and the crowd in Hyde Park. ... Quaker Oatmeal Squares for breakfast. ... Ben & Jerry's Milk and Cookies ice cream.
Dislikes: It's July, so here comes the July 31 trade deadline, a time that you would think would get a baseball writer's juices flowing. And it does mine, too -- it's fun to see the moves as they're made -- but it's also become one of my least favorite times of the year because there is so, so much wrong information that will be produced this month. And ferreting out the truth from the fiction is next to impossible. The sad, simple fact is the journalism bar at times is lowered today, and this is one of them.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
-- The Cars, Magic