Milwaukee Brewers Possess First Real Pitching Rotation in Years

By: Melissa S. Wollering

Ben Sheets is filled with rage.  CC Sabathia has raised his eyebrows, slightly impressed. Rollie Fingers is rejoicing from his leather lounger and the Pittsburgh Pirates now feel utterly-and-completely-screwed as opposed to just sort-of-screwed.  Doug Melvin has assembled the first real starting pitching rotation Milwaukee Brewers fans have seen in years.

The starting rotation could look similar to this: Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo, Doug Davis, Manny Parra, Dave Bush. If Jeff Suppan is used in a middle relief capacity, he could eat up the innings Manny Parra can’t quite finish. When the injury bug bites, put Suppan in.  Go ahead.  Or call up Chris Narveson.

This arrangement looks so normal, I’m almost baffled. It is not superb, but it is satisfactory.  It is decent. It is adequate. It is, daresay, pleasing.  It actually doesn’t suck. All season, I’ll be waiting for the floor to drop out from beneath this. I remain in moderate disbelief, sprinkled with feelings of shock and awe.  Yes, please pick my jaw up from the ground. Thank you. [Read more…]

Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Make or Break for 2010

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

 
Since 1954, only 56 starting rotations have sheepishly admitted finishing with a higher ERA than the Milwaukee Brewers hold this season. That’s the same season Jim “Dusty” Rhodes helped led the SF Giants to a World Series win, Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio and RCA manufactured the first color TV set. The first Burger King was opened in Miami that year, too; but that doesn’t mean the Milwaukee Brewers will let you “have it your way” when it comes to building a pitching staff for the 2010 roster.

 
Fans have been suffering through the drama of an injury-ridden ‘09 pitching staff.  They’re empathizing with the All-Star Braun & Fielder duo who have been getting far less support than a woman with a pair of queen-size control-top pantyhose.

[Read more…]

The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Lopez Royalties & Princely Barter

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By Melissa S. Wollering

A highly-underrated acquisition, written off by some, Felipe Lopez has been putting #4 pop back into the bat. As in Paul Molitor, not Brett Favre; you football-convert-Brewers-abandoning-season-is-over-I’m-onto-bearded-forest-dweller-Aaron Rodgers fans. Unfortunately, Lopez didn’t solve any pitching problems which have taken the Milwaukee Brewers out of postseason contention.  So when should we use Prince for all he’s worth? I mean, worth on the market? We’re onto 2010’s hunt.

It’s worth noting, Ken Macha called Lopez a “hitting machine” this week. Now rewind to Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had finally created momentum at the leadoff spot before his season-ending wrist injury May 17th. Until Lopez arrived on the scene, the Brewers couldn’t set runners in-motion for Braun/Fielder plate appearances. Now Lopez is serving a sterling silver decanter of leadoff juice in anticipation of the two young hitters. It’s almost a nightly ritual.

Could this once short-term rental be worth a Melvin investment? Felipe is a free agent after this season, and depending on the strength of a Weeks’ return, he may be worth a look. It took Weeks years to start a season the way he did in 2009, but even at his best, Wickie numbers do not equal those of Lopez.

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Lopez has a .363 batting average and .419 on-base percentage that’s taken Milwaukee’s watery Beer Cheese soup and made it consistently thicker and more productive. In Chart One of two in this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we break down runs per game between Weeks, Lopez and the production drought which occurred when neither was contributing.

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Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean the Milwaukee Brewers’ record is any better with the guy. The Crew has gone 14-20 (at the time of posting) since Lopez has arrived in the land of Miller. During the 55 week period in which there was no Weeks OR Lopez, the team was 24-31. Crunch that and you get nearly the same percentage points. Jeepers, creepers Soxman. (Note all Batman references have been slightly altered and do reflect TSB’s preference and bias towards this superior superhero.)

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As of Thursday, the Brewers had moved ahead of the Dodgers and were 3rd in the NL in runs scored. Meaning, the offense has not been the problem anyway.

No, the Brewers fall from grace rests squarely on the shoulders of villains called starting pitchers. The trade deadline was a circus in which Doug Melvin was left hanging from a trapeze. Veterans Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan were shot out of the DL canon of injuries. Manny Parra walked on hot coals long enough to get his own show in AAA.  And Yovani Gallardo just couldn’t live up to the title of SuperAce CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets.

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The circus was so scary, Bill Castro was dismissed as pitching ringleader and Ken Macha is now walking the high wire. Eight pitchers have started for the Crew this season and just one, Yovani, has managed to keep his ERA under 4.95. The rotation has the worst cumulative ERA in the NL. Only the Orioles are worse in all the majors. From a 2008 third-best mark of 3.86 to a cellar-chilling 5.23…oh what difference a year makes.

Also, some of our pitchers, namely Carlos Vanillawafer and Mark DiFelice, are being robbed of strikes.  Check out Jeff’s Lookout Landing.  It breaks down the ten pitchers in the majors with the fewest strikes called.

Even worse, take a look at it by team.  The Brewers get fewer strikes called than any other TEAM in MLB, which certainly doesn’t help our already dismal ability to pitch. In other words, we’re getting screwed!

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Moving along, here’s my royal pain-in-the-arse question of week.  Some of you will not be happy with me, however: when is it worth it to deal Prince? Dave at Fan Graphs has some great stats to back the argument up. If you could put a price tag on his .300 batting average, his gong show of home runs and his walk total which is already matching 2008’s in 150 fewer plate appearances, what would that price be? And would it be enough to put the Brewers in Ken’s Hunt for a 2010 Machtober?

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We’re only ponying up $7.5 million this year and $10.5 next until 2011 brings dreaded free agency with Scott Boras playing the lead role of Lucifer. A record-breaking contract  aroma is obviously wafting through some organization’s front office.


Look at it this way. Without Fielder, Milwaukee would still have Mat Gamel (could move to 1B), Rickie Weeks (could be asked to play a position other than 2B, although that could mean OF), Alcides Escobar, JJ Hardy, Casey McGehee and (if we could snag) Felipe Lopez to work the infield. I would also support giving Craigy Counsell another 1-year deal, and for heaven’s sake, give him more than $1M this time!  He’s earned it ten-fold.


Trading a HR Derby, All-Star player after a disappointing season is not easy to market to the Milwaukee fan base, but the money he could rake in to replace our starting pitching rotation could make the difference in a 2010 bid for the playoffs.


Chris Capuano was once slated to return as early as late May of 2009, but ran into injury complications. Other than a Capuano return, Milwaukee has no one ready to move up the pitching ranks.  The once “one year away” Jeremy Jeffress has bigger grass issues than the stuff he plays on.


Fielder has been the man the Brewers organization has been building playoff runs around. “He’s only with us two more years.  That means we’ve got two years to get there or we may never get there.”


I would argue it may be worth flipping that philosophy by using Prince to get to the playoffs in an unconventional way. Deal him for all he’s worth to invest in a starting rotation that can move you in that direction.  If this 2009 season is proving anything, it’s that having Braun & Fielder isn’t enough to reach Machtober.

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Next Week: My take on what the Brewers should do with Hoffman, Cameron, Kendall, Looper, Weathers, Catalanotto and Riviera…

The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Mayday, Mayday!

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

 
The raging submarine has surfaced. The Man with the Mustache has parted the Milwaukee Brewers’ plagued sea from which coast guard officials were picking up distress signals. Adios to pitching coach Bill Castro. Enter Chris Bosio straight from country music land. Speaking of, if your tween wants to party with JJ Hardy, she’ll have to hitch a plane to Nashville. To top things off, Alcides Escobar will now take your questions from the infield. But we’re not done–Bill Hall was also designated for assignment and OF Jason Bourgeois is coming up the ranks.

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A pitching staff that ranks near the bottom of almost every category in the NL brings little job security.  So after 17 years as bullpen coach, it is sufficed to say Bill Castro was NOT cutting it during his first year as pitching coach.

 
I personally mourned the loss of Mike Maddux prior to this season, who was successfully courted by the Texas Rangers.  He was Milwaukee’s pitching coach from 2003-2008 and is largely credited with the Ben Sheets era of Brewers baseball. The organization knew it would be nearly impossible to fill his shoes and the appointment of Bill Castro, while welcomed, was not digested without some skepticism.

 
Tuesday’s 13-6 loss to San Diego was the nail in the coffin. If the Padres have one of the worst offenses in the league and the Crew can’t stop them from scoring, Doug Melvin and Ken Macha will go postal. 22 losses in 35 games often means a team is facing a meltdown on multiple levels.  No, this time it truly is JUST the pitching. When even Bill Hall is smacking homers and you still lose by 7 because of pitching that wreaks of limburger, adjustments are inevitable.

 
As for Castro’s interim replacement, Chris Bosio made his MLB debut in 1986 by pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a second-round draft pick for them back in 1982. Bosio came home to roost this year by taking the pitching coach position for Milwaukee’s AAA Nashville team. As of Wednesday, that team was tied for second in the Pacific Coast League in team ERA with a 4.05 and has allowed the fourth-fewest homers (83).

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Onto James Jerry Hardy—kids call him JJ (trademark David Kay)—the struggling shortshop is two years removed from All Star status and has been playing as such. His .229 batting, mere 11 homers and 45 RBI’s were dismal, essentially putting a black hole the Brewers’ lineup.

 
Hardy was sent down to AAA with little choice.  A player must have five full years in the majors before he is able to turn down such an assignment. Meantime, Aaron Harang just cleared waivers.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Hardy and Hart or Hardy, prospect and Hall for Harang? We could hear more chatter on this in coming days.

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Alcides Escobar, who was brought up to the bigs last season and sent back down to work on his defensive consistency, will takeover for Hardy. He is considered the team’s top prospect, (see “Chart Magnificence” Above), batting .298 in Nashville with two dozen doubles, 6 triples, 4 homers and 34 RBI’s. His OBP is .353 and he could fill the void of stolen bases for the Crew, having tallied 42 himself this season. Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but Milwaukee’s stolen base record wasn’t half-bad until Rickie Weeks’ season-ending injury.

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Hall might as well erase the last two years of his life. 24 RBI in 214 at-bats screams gigantic waste of cash. The Brewers are paying him $6.8M in 2009 and $8.4M in 2010 to produce jack squat.  I apologize ahead of time to anyone named Jack.

 
Right now, the organization has ten days to trade Billy, cut him loose or stick him in the minors. Billy has already agreed to head to the minors but injuries forced the Crew to stick him back in the lineup. Don’t hold your breath. No one will want to pick up his salary, so Milwaukee appears to be stuck between a Hall and a hard place.

 
Onto the Brewers decision to go Bourghetto.  By the way, Bourghetto is a termed defined as bourgeois AND ghetto, commonly used by one Paul M. Banks.  Bless Paul’s fine vocabulary, which comes in quite handy here.

 
In 105 games with Nashville, Bourgeois was batting .316 with 18 doubles, six triples, two homers and 41 RBI, with a .354 OBP. Desperate times call for surprising measures. Another OF will be welcome. This could also indicate the Brewers have some level of comfort in considering dealing Hart.

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Wednesday’s decisions won’t fix the starting rotation or the bullpen fatigue, but it’s obvious the front office wants to send a signal to its coaches and players.  The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober isn’t over until the submarine has sunk. Or until Sean Connery says it is.

The Hunt For Ken’s Machtober: Bullpen Breakdown

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 By: Melissa S. Wollering

The starting rotation is experiencing full engine failure, prompting a bullpen meltdown. For the Milwaukee Brewers to salvage their race for October, the organization prayed to the skies above.  Doug Melvin ordered some stormy Weathers to cool off overheated relievers.  He also ordered the Coming of Jesus.  Jesus Colome, that is.

 

 
39-year-old David Weathers gets around. He has license plates from 10 metropolitan cities: nine in the U.S., one in Canada. He also dated both of your twin sisters; as a Yankee and a Met. Doug Melvin worked out a deal after the trade deadline, when Cincinnati put Weathers on waivers. The Crew is handing over a player yet to-be-named or just plain cash.

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Weathers brought sun as well as rain clouds into Milwaukee as a Brewer from 1998 to July of 2001, when he was dealt to the Cubs. He is the third reliever added to the Brewers’ bullpen in ten days and was sought out with the hope that he can eat up late innings. Needless to say, he provides experience, a sneaky cutter ball and the ability to be one of two set-up men for Trevor Hoffman (the other being Todd Coffey).

 
According to Tom Hardricourt, no one was more shocked about his return than Weathers himself.  The good news: Weathers is self-forecasting fresh pitching because he’s received an easy workload and adequate rest in Cincy.  Can he bring clear skies back to a state under a permanent tornado watch?  Check out TSB’s 7-Day Weathers’ Outlook in “Chart Magnificence” below.

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Former Milwaukee Brewer Claudio Vargas is also back to provide some semi-fresh arm action. Mmm…at this point should we find Ruben Quevedo? No? By the way, Doug Melvin gave the Dodgers minor-league catcher Vinny Rottino in exchange.

 
Finally, nothing shows Melvin’s desperate plea for divine intervention more than summoning Jesus himself to the bullpen. Last week, the club called up righty-reliever Jesus Colome from AAA Nashville to replace R.J. Swindle. The lefty could have used his right arm, right toe, left ear or rear end and still wouldn’t have made a difference in the Brewers’ physically-drained bulllpen. Swindle had three stints in the bigs with the Brewers, ultimately allowing a dozen hits and a dozen runs in less than 7 innings, for a 16.20 ERA.  Cue the coming of Jesus.

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Melvin signed Colome several weeks ago after his release from Washington and was assigned to Class AAA Nashville. He’s been great in four outings there; going 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and two saves, three hits and two walks allowed in seven innings, and 11 K’s. If he doesn’t knock your socks off just remember, Swindle allowed at least one run in each of his last six outings.
It’s clear that the bullpen breakdown is a direct result of Melvin’s inability to obtain a starting pitcher while Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan are on the DL. 

 

 

During the injury waiting game, the Hunt for Ken’s Machtober has been stymied by starters habitually making short-inning appearances and relievers being beckoned über early.

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Case and point: the tired Mark DiFelice.  He’s made 45 appearances so far this year and even cost the organization Friday’s game. Typically, DeFelice can sack righties. Instead, he hung a “cut” fastball to Houston’s Jason Michaels, who served himself a three-run shot on a silver platter that night. DeFelice admits he’s been dropping his arm and not following through on his trusted pitch. He’s highly unlikely to be the only one in the bullpen doing such a thing.

 

 
Chew on this: the Brewers are 1-21 in games in which Chris Smith has come to the mound. You know you have problems when your pitcher can’t hold a six-run lead.  In addition, you know you have problems when your beer pitcher can’t hold the six-pack you need it to in order for you to get through such a game.

 

Ken Macha worried this domino effect would prevent his team from vying for the “up-for-grabs” NL Central. With the Brewers back below .500, tied for third with the Astros as of Monday and five games off the pace, Ken’s Hunt had better include an improved bullpen first and foremost, with a glorious return for Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan fairly soon afterward.

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Other things worth fixin’ like country fried steak: get somebody on base before there are two outs already on the board. Seriously.

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Stop taking game-critical abuse from senile umpires. On Sunday, Ryan Braun took a third strike so far outside that Humberto Quintero used an Inspector Gadget extendable arm or Stretch Armstrong putty limb to retrieve it. Braun rightfully complained to home plate umpire Larry Vanover. Replays showed the fastball was spotted in Austin, Texas. Those calls are not helping the Brewers.

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Lastly, stranded runners destroy big opportunity innings. AGAIN, these are game-critical innings. On Saturday, the Crew got one run off Mike Hampton in the first but could have put a few more up on the board.

 
In the coming weeks, we’ll keep tabs on the submarine in Ken’s Hunt for you.  Remember that until Machtober, the Brewers do not surrender.

The Hunt For Ken’s Machtober: Domino Effect

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

The Milwaukee Brewers’ starting rotation, questionable from Day 1, incurs injuries and declines in quality start production. That triggers work overload for the bullpen as Bill Castro cracks a figurative whip on exhausted arms. The outfield starts running down long balls; the infield must save their pitcher’s derrière as he walks batters, throws wild pitches and loads bases. Last but not least, Ken Macha sends a desperate S.O.S. to Doug Melvin by putting Carlos Villanueva on the mound. This domino effect immediately before the trade deadline probably has you asking: is a major trade worth it when no single pitching acquisition could fix a force as destructive as Prince Fielder swinging blindfolded in a glass factory?

 

Prior to Tuesday, the Milwaukee Brewers lost 15 of their last 22 games of duck-duck-goose. If you call it duck-duck-grey-duck, you must enjoy Twins baseball.

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Looking at the schedule, the months of July and August were supposed to provide the Crew with an ego boost greater than what Elisha Cuthbert and Kate Hudson could do for your depressed roommate by macking on him. Between playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals, as many as 12 games could have made Jake H. from Madison richer as he places bets in Vegas while on his honeymoon.  By the way, Jake, the SportsBank.net officially wishes you a blessed, sports-filled marriage!

 

Instead, because a Vegas blackjack table is more reliable than betting on a Brewers-Nationals game with Carlos Give-it-a-ueva on the mound (tip o’ the hat to Justin Z. from Green Bay), Jake will probably lose $100 bucks then hit up the slots. Nice wedding present, Macha.

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Macha’s mission to resurrect postseason play in October is narrowing. In order to salvage the season and gain momentum, the Milwaukee Brewers need to reverse the Blueberry Hill Fats Domino Effect. Yes, that’s right.  You’re noticing Prince has some resemblance to Fats, aren’t you?

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Think Outside the Box…Taco Bell does one thing right.  It markets itself against convention. The Brewers have a good start: moving Mike Burns down and R.J. Swindle up. Now start Tim Dillard.  Heal Dave Bush using Sportscreme, give one of the AAA prospects a chance for the heck of it, pray for a Chris Capuano recovery miracle and find that never-before-considered option.

 

Is there anyone we can pull back from retirement for a third-tier prospect?  Paul Byrd? Oakland A’s Justin Duchsherer could be ready to return in just two weeks and he’s a free agent come September. Right Field Bleachers offers advice on this matter and a convincing argument as to why a two-month rental like Jerrod Washburn is mental.

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Trades Should Not Be Riddled With Regret…Carefully examining the future of the Brewers organization is a must. If Ken’s Machtober is destined for 2010 instead of 2009, selling your farm for a van down by the river is something Matt Foley would become enraged by.

 

Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel, Angel Salome, Lorenzo Cain, Jonathan Lucroy, Cody Scarpetta, Brett Lawrie and Taylor Green are probably the largest assets within the farm system. JJ Hardy could be dealt, but we may regret that move next year.

 

Panic Induces Extemes, Resist It…If Milwaukee decides it is not buying, that doesn’t mean the team has to start selling.  The same team spent a majority of the first-half of the season atop the division. It has a history of slumping worse my aging neighbor with scoliosis.  The team has successful players on its rosters; a slightly different combination of players could at the very least stop the bleeding.

 

Just Win a Series…June.  The Mets.  The last time we won a series was nearly a month ago. Take 2 of 3, no need to sweep; just gain some momentum. Winning a series seems to emotionally reset the brain of every player on the team. Since the fictional team psychologist isn’t doing it for them, they need a new and positive outlook.

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In this week’s “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” carefully consider what you bring for an autograph signing. Nicole does a nice job over at Cute Sports and one of her readers submitted this:

…When I met [former Brewer] Doug Davis over the winter and we were getting a few auto’s, my Cubs buddy asked him to sign his Cubs hat. Davis looked at him kind of funny and my buddy said, ‘hey, write whatever you want’.  Doug said…’anything?’ My buddy said ‘ANYTHING’. So Doug signs the underbill of his fitted Cubs hat, ”Cubs suck. I own them.” God bless, Doug Davis.

In this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we examine the odds Jake H. faces in Vegas should he desire to throw his marriage start-up money away on the Milwaukee Brewers. You could argue these are the more than just “game” odds…

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Brewers-Cardinals exchange: May the most mediocre man win!

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By Melissa S. Wollering and Jake McCormick

It’s safe to say that the NL Central is deadlocked in a tight race for who wants it the least. The division is similar to Toppers or Papa John’s pizza in that it’s good until you notice the higher quality competition made with better ingredients. The St. Louis Cardinals have been consistently holding the first place spot since early July, yet they haven’t been playing like a first place team and are only one game ahead of the bipolar Chicago Cubs and surging Houston Astros. In contrast, the Milwaukee Brewers have dropped two games back and have the same record over the past 10 games (3-7) as the Cardinals. Writing anyone off in the Central wouldn’t be smart  considering its parity (if that’s what you call it), so Melissa Wollering and Jake McCormick have engaged in The Sports Bank’s first 2009 Brewers-Cardinals exchange.

JM: Despite the division’s mediocrity, the Central has been Ground Zero for buyers in the trading market. With four out of the six teams within two games of the top, it looks very similar to a poker game, where each team is trying to one up the other but won’t reveal their hand.

To get Mark DeRosa, the Cardinals had to part with a valuable prospect in fireballer Chris Perez. Milwaukee Brewer GM Doug Melvin has repeatedly said top prospects Mat Gamel, Alcides Escobar and Brett Lawrie are all but off-limits in trade discussions. If Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Riccardi calls today and says he just wants one of the three to be involved in a deal for Roy Halladay, which one would you send to Canada as a piece of the deal?

MW: Great question, Jake, because Melvy knows deep down his farm babies are the most attractive chess pieces on the table this season. White knight to E5 only captures the pawn. My fear is that Toronto will only be satisfied if the Milwaukee Brewers are willing to give up 4-5 kids. Now you’re talking an entire Kostics Trap (chess move that takes all yo’ pieces man, in nerdspeak).

If you want to hang onto JJ Hardy, deal Alcides Escobar. If you’re willing to give up Brett Lawrie, don’t give up catcher Angel Salome. If you’re nervous about forfeiting Lawrie, offer Jonathan Lucroy. If they want Mat BrunoGamel, ask them to consider a Lorenzo Cain, who is an outfielder but could provide just as much batting power as Gamel in another year. Bottom line, Toronto is asking for proven farm talent and lots of it. A combination of the above plus a current starter could be their asking price. Bruno obtaining a toddler in exchange for an iPod sums up how I feel about the situation.

JM: If the Brewers somehow pulled a deal for Halladay, it would be checkmate against any other potential trade. The only concern I would have is expecting him to perform like CC Sabathia last year, but things would definitely get much more interesting in an already unpredictable division.

Before the Cardinals picked up DeRosa, the Brewers had been in some pursuit of him but felt he was getting too prospect-expensive. Seeing as they just picked up Felipe Lopez, a similar utility player that has already made his presence felt at the top of the Brewer lineup, would you prefer DeRo or Felipe?

MW: Well, if Felipe gets injured next week, I’ll feel indifferent about the whole thing. No seriously, both were great pickups for NL Central teams. The moves collectively pissed off the Cubs organization ten-fold (especially DeRo), which sweetens the whole deal. Sorry, David K.

Both men bring strong defensive skills to the infield and strong bats to the top or near-top of their respective lineups. The only difference: we got just as much bang for less buck by merely surrendering Cole Gillespie and Roque Mercedes. The Cardinals were willing to pay an asking price that the Brewers were not. Therefore, in the spirit of value, I welcome Felipe and for now, I’ll say I prefer him.

Sour Patch KidsJM: I listen to 670 The Score a lot and Cub fan callers were starting to talk about DeRosa like he was Mike Ditka or something. That put the sour in my Sour Patch Kids and made the trade worth it for me. I wouldn’t mind either player, but Mark DeRosa wins for me because he can also play outfield and the Cardinals need as much protection for Albert Pujols they can get. Plus, St. Louis just committed the ultimate cardinal sin (pun fully intended) of Little League by trading coach’s son Chris Duncan to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Julio Lugo, who will give the team more veteran depth in the infield. Now that’s the way Tony La Russa likes it.

Last year, the Brewers’ starting pitching was ranked second in the National League. The 2009 season looks a bit different, and the bullpen has pitched just about as much as the starters have lately. In contrast, the Cardinals starting pitching has been in the top five in the NL for most of the season, and it seems as if the bullpen isn’t in a run-off with the Crew for the “Most Blown Games that Could’ve Led to a Division Title” Award. Obviously the loss of Ben Sheets and Sabathia was expected to sting, but how can they come close to matching that production this year?

MW: Can I say it’s a miracle we’re still in the chase for the division title, given the stark starting pitching contrast between the two clubs? Our record should suck more than it does. But yours should be better than it is….*grin*

The short answer to your question is: they can’t. They cannot come close to matching that production. So what is Plan B? Plan B is some combination of what the team has been doing (albeit not very well) and using the days prior to July 31 to the best of the organization’s ability (aka trade smart).

Relying on the offense? Gotta do it. Manufacturing runs in addition to playing long ball? Gotta do it. Demanding quality starts from your starting pitching staff when possible but using your entire bullpen effectively if that doesn’t work out? Just gotta do it. The only person who would contradict this is George Bush, Sr. who’s “not gonna do it, at this juncture.”

Hey, speaking of the long-ball, Jake; are the Red Birds relying on it too much as of late? Some of their recent games, all five or six of their runs have come in just two or three swings. Will this catch up to the club? Sounds a bit like the same problem the Brewers had last year.

Ryan LudwickJM: I would be worried, but Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, and Troy Glaus combined for 56 home runs before the 2008 All-Star Break. This year, all three combined for 20 dingers in the same time period; 31 if you include rookie Colby Rasmus. I think the Cardinals mashers are just playing catch-up for lost time, including DeRosa, who is starting to remember that he destroys the Central any chance he gets and just had his first multi-home run game as a Cardinal last night. The increased long balls from anyone but Pujols is a good sign for a club that struggled to find power throughout the first half of the season. It’s like the scene in The Matrix where Keanu finally figures out his powers and gives that little smirk before sending the agents running. The only difference is the Cardinals’ smirks are highlighted with lavishly beautiful moustaches.

Even though there have been times where the Cardinals offense has looked deader than a CSI victim, Albert Pujols has backpacked this team to stability to remain at the top of the NL Central. With Ludwick heating up and Rasmus skimming the profits off the number two spot in front of Pujols, the Cardinal offense looks as resurrected as Optimus Prime in Transformers 2: Big Explosions, Stereotypical Characters, and Spinning Cameras Around Shia Labouf and Megan Fox. Sorry the name was so long, but Michael Bay’s personal orgasm was so bad it made the first one look like the Dark Knight. Back to relevant topics: Prince Fielder is shrugging off the worries of over-swinging after winning the Home Run Derby and is the Brewers’ version of Albert “Terminator” Pujols, but what’s wrong with Ryan Braun?

MW: There have been quiet rumblings Ryan Braunthat Braun has been hurt. Like “in pain for several months and not telling anyone” hurt. I don’t know if it’s his darn intercostal or what. It didn’t help he took a pitch to the thumb last week either.

Before the All-Star break, Braun had a .120 week, with just 3 hits in 25 bats and insists he just wasn’t swinging the bat well as of late. There’s the possibility he’s trying too hard to produce after the criticism he took from Melvin regarding the team’s need for starting pitching. There’s the possibility he’s in an uncharacteristic slump and fans are griping about it for the first time. Speaking of high expectations, it’s not like Charlie Manuel wasn’t disappointed by Al Pujols’ skid prior to the break. I think we’re going to see this from time to time because after all, it is baseball.

JM: Yeah baseball can be like a monkey bar competition. As long as a team can hang on while the fatigued or less talented teams start dropping like flies, they give themselves a chance in the playoffs. The NL Central has been consistently unpredictable over the past few years, and this one is no different. Even the Pirates, who are 7.5 games back, could theoretically make a push if no one pulls away. The Brewers and Cardinals have experienced enough late-season slumps to turn that around this year, especially considering the Central-favorite Cubs haven’t come close to preseason expectations of another runaway divisional title. The Central continues to entertain with its even competition and high schoolKlements racing sausages relationship (or trade market) gossip. Things will really begin to get interesting after the trading deadline, but until then I’ll be enjoying the Cardinals place at the top of the division because God knows it’ll get more cluttered than even the closest of Sausage Races, brought to you by Klements.

The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

 
Formerly known as What Milwaukee’s Brewing, The SportsBank.net flips the switch on this baseball column in anticipation of October. On Sunday, Doug Melvin and Ken Macha initiated Step 1 in their master plan to secure a return to the playoffs for the Milwaukee Brewers.  Switch-hitter Felipe Lopez increases options at the leadoff spot, fills the void Rickie Weeks left at second base and could be used to play almost any position in the Crew’s infield if needed. The only problem: this move still leaves fans chomping at the bit for another starting pitcher.

 
First things first: was it worth the price tag? Like finding a Deron Williams Cartier diamond-encrusted watch replica at the Dollar Store, yes it was worth it. Arizona drew the short end of the stick on this one.

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This Lopez move sort of reminds me of last season’s Ray Durham pickup. Lopez is an unrestricted free agent come fall. Milwaukee would need to negotiate to keep him, but has the freedom of knowing they’re not married to a long-term contract.

 
The Brewers could get a compensation pick after the first round next June if he shops another team; Class B is what Doug Melvin’s guessing. Felipe has about $1.5M left on his $3.5M contract.

 
The only thing the Brewers organization sacrificed was AAA outfielder Cole Gillespie and A reliever Roque Mercedes. Gillespie was batting .242 with seven homers and 27 RBI in Nashville, but started the season on the DL. Mercedes was 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA and six saves in 29 games played down in Brevard County. Rookie Mat Gamel was sent back down to AAA to free up space on the roster. No worries; this just gives Gamel daily playing time and it’s only a matter of weeks/months before he’s back in the bigs.

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How This Brings Them Closer to October….


Ken Macha has been frustrated while trying to find a right-handed hitter to anchor the top of the lineup when the team faces lefties. Craig Counsell can still be used at second against right-handed aces if needed, and both Craig and Casey McGehee (another 2B substitute) can be utilized elsewhere in the infield.

 
Rickie Weeks exited stage left with a torn-up wrist just as his curtain had gone up for the first time in opera house history.  Weeks was contributing with a .857 OPS. Lopez may make up for some of that lost production, considering 2B has been a sieve on the flip side (offense) for the Brewers. Lopez has been batting .301 with 18 doubles, six homers and 25 RBI for the Arizona D-Backs. More to love: he is batting .313 from the right side of the plate and .298 left-handed. As of Sunday, he ranked second in the NL with a .372 OBP.

 
Arizona beat writers seem to agree that Lopez is selecting more good pitches to swing at and drawing the walk more often. As a result, he should bring more consistency to the lineup and put more guys on base for Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to drive home.

 
He also provides a boost to the Brewers’ defense, with solid experience at nearly every position in the infield. He previously struggled with his defensive skills at shortstop, but he’s never disappointed at second. In fact, he may have flown under the radar in value due to the bad wrap he picked up while working his previous position.

 
The NL Central is anyone’s division right now. Any effort to improve the quality of play could increase the W column. Just a handful of wins could be the blueberries in your bran flakes. Think about it breakfast fanatics, and feast on it if the Brewers make it to Machtober.

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Any Downside?


Felipe has called Toronto, Cincinnati, Washington, St. Louis and Arizona home.  If five cities were happy to trade him, what makes Milwaukee his sensation destination?

 
Skeptics believe the move won’t make an ounce of difference because the team does not resemble a 90-win ensemble right now. We’ll let you watch and let YOU decide.

 

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Still Needed in the Quest for October….


Doug Melvin made it clear that he tried to nab a Diamondbacks pitcher in the deal (all bets are on lefty and former Brewer Doug Davis).  However, GM Josh Byrnes wasn’t biting.

 
Melvin says he has little to no interest in handing over Mat Gamel or SS prospect Alcides Escobar, but that may limit the organization’s ability to trade for a pitcher of quality.

 

As you read in Blue Jays Don’t Migrate to Milwaukee, I’m not optimistic Roy Halladay will land on a beam of the retractable roof in Miller Park, but the buzz isn’t going away.

 

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Perhaps the most convincing indication Melvin is serious is that he has a habit of becoming mysterious and quiet right before he pulls the trigger on trades. All is quiet on the Halladay front right now, and he brushes information off as “the same old rumors” when possible.  The C.C. Sabathia trade was a prime example of Melvy’s masterful deception, which the guys over at Right Field Bleachers explain in detail quite well.

 

Many of you read the content of premiere insider Tom Hardricourt as well.  If you do, you know he’s changed his tune in recent days and believes Milwaukee will try to secure Roy if only to get him out of the hands of the Cubs and Cardinals.

 

On Twitter Sunday, Tom let us know Dick Groch, Melvin’s top scouting assistant, was in Toronto watching Roy pitch. Regardless of whether the Brewers club possesses the worm of choice for the early bird, we know they are interested. And a solid nest of starting eggs in the rotation should be Step 2 in the Hunt for Ken’s Machtober.