What Milwaukee’s Brewing: Sudsy Bubbles to All-Star Break

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By Melissa S. Wollering

Either you drink through the foam head barrier or remain parched until the suds settle.  There’s no way around it; the Milwaukee Brewers must drink in the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers until their All-Star break reprieve. Speaking of which, we also let our readers weigh-in as we evaluate the Crew’s representation on the All-Star roster in this edition of What Milwaukee’s Brewing.

St. Louis leads the division and got an A from your third-grade English teacher when she assigned a compare/contrast assignment. A depleted starting rotation for Milwaukee combined with a less-than-stellar starting pitching rotation IS IN CONTRAST TO a roster that includes Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and the newly-acquired Mark DeRosa.

Gaining momentum going into the second-half of the season is important, but the Brewers have been putting their stationary bikes on the “hills course” and heading both directions over the past month. The Crew went 5-10 in interleague play, with the only source of pride being the three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians. The Brewers then took a red-hot poker from Colorado as they were swept at home. They went on to take 2 of 3 from each of the Giants and Mets only to get clubbed over the head by the Cubs. Freakin’ awesome.

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Which brings us to the Mark Cavendish or Lance Armstrong of your stationary bike. Since they’re team racing the Tour de France, can we get some rhythm-setters up in this starting rotation so the sprinter can finish her off?

Our consistently outspoken Ryan Braun had no problem saying Seth McClung and Mike Burns aren’t getting the job done. He knows Doug Melvin is trying to acquire the answer to everyone’s prayers, but Braun clearly felt his words might serve to light a fire under Mr. Mustache’s rear-end.

With two games up for grabs (meaning Gallardo, Suppan and Looper will handle the rest) before the All Star break, Ken Macha/Doug Melvin’s choice to pitch those two games could have a hefty effect on the Tour de’ Milwaukee (this next homestand) and the momentum going into the Hunt For Ken’s Machtober (post All-Star break).

I wrote that I believed the first target date by which Melvin wanted to acquire a starting pitcher was July 2nd. I believe the second target date is July 9th. I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of time before July 31st, but the timing of the acquisition at this point in the season is paramount. We knew our starting pitching rotation was going to be thin and bald.  We didn’t know it was also going to be fat and ugly. Not that there’s anything wrong with thin, bald, fat or ugly!  They are all wonderful attributes!

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What attributes do you need to have to make this year’s All-Star team? Whatever they are, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder had them. Brauny is the first Milwaukee Brewer to make the roster two years in-a-row since Robin Yount. Fielder was the manager’s choice, which is satisfying. Fielder is also competing for the crown in this year’s Home Run Derby as one of 4 first basemen in it.

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I wanted to know what you think, so here are a few responses from avid readers:

“Let’s be honest–if Hoffman were doing the same job for the Cubs, Yanks, Cards, etc. he would have been selected. Voters see MIL next to his name and forget his accomplishments because they have been trained to accept the premise that Milwaukee has no pitching this season. Gallardo I’m less distressed about because he’s been good, but not great. Certainly above average, and noteworthy, but not an All-Star. My 2 centavos.”  -Justin Cleveland

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“It’s no snub…just ran out of room for both guys. Look at the closers on the NL team…Bell, Broxton, Cordero, Franklin and K-Rod…all solid choices. The starters are all solid as well, and you also have to remember the rule of getting at least one guy on from every team, but still, starters on that roster deserve to be there. Trevor has been lights out but so have all the other guys. And Gallardo has been the ace of this staff, but others are matching him for their clubs. My two cents…but so have all the other guys. And Gallardo has been the ace of his staff, but others are matching for their clubs.” –Bob Brainerd

As a former FS Wisconsin reporter/host, we love Bob Brainerd. Bob knows baseball. Thank you, Bob.  Your thoughts are always appreciated and may we share with you, we love your reporting from those stands. One more:

“Apparently the sound system in St. Louis isn’t equipped to play Hell’s Bells loud enough, so Trevor declined. I would say that I hate “one player from each team rule”…but then the Crew would’ve had a ten year drought of representation!” –Nic Kulinski

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Examining the rosters, I will not argue any of the NL closers are less worty.  Only that Yovani got a raw deal if you even want to bring up the names Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis.  Don’t even.  I’m serious. The only justification I provide is the one player minimum per organization.  Could we do a little “Chart Magnificence”? Marlins’ starter Josh Johnson and Dodgers’ starter Chad Billingsley could be compared to Yovani in terms of numbers so here it is folks.  Johnson deserved it, Billingsley no way. The West Coast hollas loudly I suppose. Then again, there’s always next year!

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Hold the Cheese: A Sox-Brewers Exchange

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By Soxman and Melissa S. Wollering

You have to reach back to years of California’s rolling blackouts, Mad Cow disease media-hype and the release of the very first Apple’s IPod for the last time the Chicago White Sox played the Milwaukee Brewers.  2001 was remarkable.  Fast-forward to 2009, as Soxman and Melissa cheese it up about the latest meeting between the two teams, sure to be as memorable as the smell of limburger left in a vehicle at 90 degrees for 8 hours.

(SM)  Nope, I’m not going to do it.  There will be absolutely no gloating by this White Sox super fan regarding our series sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers.  Why?  Well, I have two reasons.  One: our victories actually helped the Cubs in the standings.  Two: the Brewers are my second favorite team in the National League.  Yes, for Soxman, there are other teams in baseball beyond the boys who protect the diamond at 35th and Shields.

The Brewers franchise is the little engine that could.  The small market team, built from home-grown prospects and complemented, not defined by free agents. I love their park and their fans, so you will not hear me “drop a beat down” on this team.

That said, to quote the 70’s sensation Meatloaf, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”  Any thoughts you would like to share overall on the competitive series that took place at Miller Park this weekend?

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(MW)  First off, I count a sweep as taking three of three.  Brewers won on Friday 7-2, so let’s say you ‘won the series’.  Your pitchers got it done when ours didn’t, your hardwood performance made our players appear to be using toothpicks, Pierzynski was ‘one to watch’ even though Paul M. Banks thought I was nuts for saying so last week.  To top it all off, you robbed Trevor Hoffman of a perfect ERA.  Robbing Hoffy made me feel as though the Sox had cursed death upon my future first-born child.  It left me that empty.

(SM) Okay, let’s look at each game in a little more detail.  The first game to me was not a loss by the White Sox as much as it was a loss to Ozzie Guillen.  He pulled Clayton Richard after pitching five solid innings and only giving up one earned run.  It  was also the start of a great series (and hopefully a hot streak) for Corey Hart.  A double, a triple, and 3 RBIs.  Our bullpen, which had been pretty automatic, gave up six earned runs.  For a final thought, where in the heck did former Cub, Casey McGehee come from?

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(MW) He came from Cubbie purgatory where if you vow to contribute to the Milwaukee Brewers after a life with the Cubs, then you reach heaven after your career is finished. Amen, brother! He got the leadoff spot in Sunday’s lineup and contributed to that game, too, before it took a Turnbow nosedive.

I also love pitchers that can get it done on both offense and defense. On Friday, Suppan retired the side in just 7 pitches in the 2nd inning. Then he stepped up to the plate in the 3rd and advanced Kendall to second with a nice Sac.   Richard doubled for his first major-league hit in the 5th, too. Ozzie pulled him for that error in the following inning, which I agree, wasn’t completely necessary. Still, Suppan and Richard impressed overall.

(SM) Game II.  Let’s just say your premonition regarding Manny Parra in last weeks exchange with Paul M. Banks was spot on.  Six earned runs in an inning and two-thirds pitched.  What is wrong with this guy?  With an ERA over seven, perhaps he’ll follow his opponent’s lead and figure everything out in the minors?  Did I mention that Jose Contreras appears to be back?  Eight innings of two-hit ball.  Bottom line, that was the story of this game.  Care to offer your perspective?

(MW) If you care to sweep Manny Parra’s glove and uniform under Miller Park’s bleachers, douse them with lighter fluid and start tailgating around them with a couple of Usinger’s famous bratwursts, then by all means SWEEP away. Let’s just say I awoke Sunday extremely unsurprised that he was sent down to AAA Nashville. 

What cracked me up though is that Macha is so disgusted, he currently does not give a rat’s rear-end about trying to replace him. We brought up the reliever Chris Narveson and will use Seth McClung to start if need be.  However, the next 8 games include two off days, so a 4-man rotation works until June 27th. Attanasio is probably doing some Father’s Day shopping in the starting pitching department, aisle better than a 7.52 ERA? You had to know this was coming.  It’s not IF, it’s WHEN with the Milwaukee Brewers and their pitching woes.

Contreras impressed with the number of innings pitched, copious amounts of strikeouts and no signs of returning ailments. That is a trifecta to me because those Achilles can take some time. Hey, come to think of it you know, we could use a starting pitcher…

(SM) Well, if we are going to tailgate, I’d prefer Johnsonville beer brats.  The series finale was like bizarro baseball world in my opinion.  Jim Thome attempts to bunt, Mark Buehrle homers and Trevor Hoffman gives up his first run of the season.  Corey Hart brought us back to reality by belting two homers and Casey McGehee appeared to be playing with Cubs ire as he went 3 for 4, falling a triple short of the cycle.  Thoughts ?

(MW) Hart does well in June, it’s his month.  It is the month of the harvest, when his ‘International Harvester’ as a batting song actually makes sense for 30 days.  JJ Hardy looked absolutely dismal.  He got shoved down the batting order to eighth on Monday as a direct result. He is something like 1 for 32 right now in at-bats.

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Buehrle surprised with his bat and I enjoyed watching White Sox fans cheer in utter shock!  I cheered with them.  Heck, who cares?  It was exciting. Looper didn’t deserve any cheering whatsoever, so…. 

Also, let’s describe how Melissa watched the 0.00 ERA on the gigantic wrap scoreboard flicker at status quo for the last time in Brewers history for Hoffman.  Let’s pause 30 seconds for silence.  Now let’s never speak of it again. I heard he was .8 innings away from making club history.  I said let’s never speak of it again! This is me, writing to myself in my alter ego.

(SM)  I actually did a Sox Exchange once with my alter ego Bruce Wayne Parker, so I know how these things go.  It will get better.  Earlier this season, I scouted the Brewers farm system, taking in Nashville Sounds game.  All the buzz surrounded super-prospect Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar, yet most of the return on investment thus far seems to be coming from McGehee, who only hit .167 with the Cubs last year despite driving in 92 runs for AAA Iowa.  Former Brewer Scotty Podsednik has been that guy for us.  Left for dead by the Colorado Rockies, Pods was out of work until mid-April when the Sox took a chance on him.  The 2005 World Series hero has made the  most of his second chance with Sox, posting a .360 OBP, and hitting .311, 1 HR, 13 RBI, and 8 SB.  The Brewers and Sox both have a history of getting the most out of frugal signings.  Do you think its that Midwest mentality or dumb luck ?

(MW) It’s karma…we lose people like Richie Sexson and Geoff Jenkins who go on to semi-resurrect their careers with other organizations.  But we also give away people like Scott Linebrink to the White Sox and watch him implode on himself, like he did Saturday. 

You win some, you lose some.  So, somewhere smack in the middle of Midwest mentality and sheer dumb luck. That dances around your question like a circus performer on hot coals. Sorry, Soxman. But I agree, kudos to the Sox for picking up Scotty Po Po.  I cheered for him this weekend and I was in the vast majority!  You would have been proud of my Milwaukee Brethren.

(SM)  Finally, lets play Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox (and Brewers) and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly?  Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words!  Let’s play ball… 

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White Sox pitching was good for Corey Hart.
 

(SM) Maybe, He was in a 2 for 23 slump on Wednesday, looks like Ryan Braun against the Sox. 

 

(MW) Mirage, it had nothing to do with the pitching. In June 2007, Hart batted .336 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs from the leadoff spot. June of ’08 was decent, too.

 Jose Contreras is back.
 

(SM) Maybe, 2 starts, 16 IP, zero ER, and three hits allowed.  Enough said. 

(MW) Maybe, watch his health, keep stretching that achilles and I don’t see why not.

The Brewers will be buyers at the trade deadline.

(SM) Maybe, they need another solid starting pitcher and perhaps a hitter hat can get on base. 

(MW)  Strong Maybe if not Definitely. For the first time in years, more MLB teams are looking to trade for bats. It may give us an advantage when seeking pitchers. Starting pitcher = happening for us.

 The Sox will be buyers at the trade deadline.

 (SM) Mirage, who are they going to give up on?  Sellers are a possibility. 

(MW:) Mirage, they’ll be selling to teams like the Brewers and salvaging the future. My sincere apologies, but…

The Brewers and the Sox will meet in the 2009 World Series.
 

(SM) Mirage.  Not unless we start scoring more runs. 

(MW)  I like your thinking!  But probably not, so mirage it is. Bless what we have in common until then–our hatred for the Cubs!

(SM) Great exchange Melissa!  Good luck to you guys down the stretch.

What’s Brewing in ’09: Opening Week Woes, Cold Soup & Hot Hitting

By: Melissa Wollering


It wouldn’t be rivalry if there weren’t highlights and lowlights to the Brewers Opening home stand against the Cubs this past week.

 

 

     
Personal highlights include the first christening of my new handmade cornhole game with my little brother, having a Brewers fan tell me ‘that’s an impressive amount of liquor you brought for two people,’ a picture on the Warren Spahn plate near the outfield entrance in honor of the late Walter Wollering, and of course Rickie Weeks safe at the plate last Friday.


Plus, at 10:33 a.m. Opening Day, sitting in traffic backed up before the off-ramp to Miller Park Way, Bill Schroeder decided to get out of the vehicle dropping him off and walk the rest of the way to the press entrance.  First he came by our car, peeked in and asked, “What’s everybody waiting for?”
Personal lowlights include Suppan’s pitching, Vanillawafer’s pitching and the four male Cubs fans next to me calling me blondie and exiting from the middle of the row a combined 42 times in 9 innings while I’m trying to score the game in my new geekster Uecker-carbon-copied scorebook (made it myself).


Let’s go good, bad, ugly. Good is Mike Cameron snapping out of his – I need to speak with a psychologist after I fractured Joe Martinez’ scull three times – hitting slump.   Cameron returned to glory Wednesday with two solo home runs to help the Brewers actually win a game. He was freakin’ after leaving San Fran and probably needed to rid himself of nightmares before being able to smack the ball again.


Braden Looper may be the only Brewers starting pitcher who knows walking multiple batters is generally unfavorable in the game of baseball. Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice were the only men who impressed me from the pen.  Maybe now that David Riske’s been put on the DL, lefty reliever R.J. Swindle can also contribute.  He was just brought up from AAA.  God knows we need Hoffman and fast. Hells Bells need to ring throughout Miller Park more than ever.

 
First however, Brewers bench coach and former Mets manager Willie Randolph will get a chance to seek revenge on the team that gave him a raw deal. Maybe the Brewers can beat up on the Mets in their new house to help Willie out with that.

 
I have also received a few apologies from Wickie-haters this week. For most of his four years with the organization, Wickie Reeks has earned his nickname by being called the biggest underachiever on the team. On Opening Day, quotes unlike anything anyone has ever heard before came spewing from his proud teammates and coaches.

 
“He pretty much won the game for us,” says Ken Macha. “I just know it’s going to come together for him. It might be happening right now.”

 
“You can’t ask for anything more than Rickie gives,” Seth McClung said.  “He gets here early and works so hard. Nobody deserves it more.


Weeks tied the home opener with his bat and won it with a slide to the plate as the Brewers rallied in the bottom of the ninth.  The swarm of B’s at the plate said more about Rickie’s overdue break than the team though.  The team then went on to SUCK IT UP by losing the next 4 in a row.

Which brings us to the bad.  Or in this case, sad.  Merle Harmon, the original radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers passed away this week.  Harmon partnered with Bob Uecker from ’71 to ’79 and he’s as legendary as they come. With the recent loss of so many baseball greats these last few weeks, the only consolation I can provide is that these amazing men are probably playing a game of countless innings up in the heavens together.

 
Yovani Gallardo isn’t pitching like Yovani Gallardo either.  In his loss to the Reds this week, he went 5 innings giving up 7 runs on 3 hits and 4 BB’s. Also sad, at one point this week, Ryan Braun had hit like 2 for his last 18 or something awful like that. But the bigger picture reveals worse: the Brewers have left a total of 27 on base throughout the last few games. Vomit in my mouth. 

Jeff Suppan not only got a-talkin-to by Macha, not only will he sit out his next start but he should also consider retiring next year out of guilt and forfeit his salary back to the organization so they can pay SOMEONE WHO DESERVES IT. I’m torn because what is more alarming: 3 HBP? 10 BB in < 9 innings? 2 HR’s AND ONLY 2 K’s? 

 
It begs the question: can two terrible starts combined with an ugly performance down the stretch last season be enough to give a veteran pitcher an Essen Haus boot to the drawers? Among Brewers who pitched at least 300 innings for the organization, Jeff Suppan has the fourth worst ERA.  Here are your top five: Glendon Rusch, Jimmy Haynes, Gene Brabender, Jeff Suppan and Steve Woodard. You want league-adjusted?  Fine, when you use ERA+, then Soup drops to eighth. He’s also second worst in quality start percentage, behind Brabender again.

 
It used to be funny when Madison 1070 AM guys pulled the Conan O’Brien wonder-dog “for me to SUUPPP—AANNN” quote out, but now it’s just reality. In this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we study Jeff’s movement on pitches. Compare the difference between these four starts.


He threw a great deal of strikes in Sept. 07 and most of his misses were just shy of the zone, too. A year later, his pitches weren’t painting the corners; they were decent pitches to hit. Even so, Suppan managed to cash in a 3.00 ERA based on a joke-of-a .214 batting average on balls in play. Then by the end of last season, Suppan had just crumbled and combined his unimpressive throws with zero command and complete inaccuracy when it came to the zone. Commanding the strike zone is his only hope for saving himself. Painting corners and changing speeds will also need to be part of the equation. Note his falling velocity is also working against him.


In “Around the NL,” Cecil Cooper could be the first manager fired.  What?  He said the Astros were going to win 120 games?  Not if your entire team hates you. Tony La Russa says Chris Carpenter’s going to be out “for a while.”  Heh.  Meanwhile, the Pirates actually won some games and acquired Delwyn Young.  But Young hasn’t been a healthy OF.


This deserves a call-out but it also fits in this column – YOU DO NOT HANG A DEAD GOAT AROUND THE HARRY CARAY STATUE. No way.  No how. No matter who you are, you do not do that.  I’m not even going to expound on that.


But finally in, “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” I was pleased to see Cubs fans boo Jason Marquis only to have watch him beat his former team and cash in for 2 RBI’s at the same time. Rich Harden only lasted 3 innings, too.  Giggle.

 

 
Plus, in a rewind to Sunday, Prince rightfully tipped his hat to Reed Johnson after Reed robbed Prince of a grand salami.  See, when Milton Bradley left with an injury, it was the luckiest thing that could’ve happened to the Cubs. Milton would NEVER have made that play at the wall, but Reed Johnson is just ridonkulous. Game-changing catch on a moon shot.  Classy describes what I think of Prince’s gesture, too.

 

What’s Brewing in ’09: Milwaukee’s Bullpen & Prospects

By Melissa S. Wollering

Is it just me or are you as baffled as I to see the Brewers now have 39 players on their 40-man roster?  It sure doesn’t feel like we’ve made that much progress in the off-season.

We’ve previously discussed the starting rotation situation in length. This month, Brian Anderson weighed in on whether the Crew needs another starter in his blog. Either way, Yovani Gallardo may step into the top spot in the rotation. Meantime, here’s a preview of what the Brewers’ bullpen may look like come spring

Closer: RHP Trevor Hoffman      RHP Carlos Villanueva       RHP David Riske
RHP Jorge Julio                        RHP Todd Coffey             LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Eduardo Morlan (Rule 5 Pick)

Don’t count out Tim Dillard, Mark DiFelice, R.J. Swindle or Luis Pena.  They’re still in the running.

If you’ve seen the latest edition of Baseball in America , then you know some of the Brewers’ prospects are getting as much attention as the American Idol bikini girl; namely their cover boy Alcides Escobar. Tom Hardricourt is behind the Top 10 Prospects list each year for BA and he’s listing SS Escobar, 3B Mat Gamel and C Brett Lawrie as his top three within the Brewers organization.

Canadian prep player Lawrie was the Crew’s first-round pick in ’08.  He insisted on converting to that position full-time. The last time the Crew nurtured a catcher that made it to the big leagues may have been Mike Matheny…AGES ago.

Personally, I’ll be on the edge of my seat for another year until RHP Jeremy Jeffress is ready (at the earliest). He’s approached the 100 mph mark, but is nowhere near ready for this season.

Someone who may not have to wait that long is OF Lorenzo Cain, 22.  “The Toastman” didn’t start playing baseball until high school, but by age 20 he had won the short-season Arizona League batting crown. The reason “Lo-Cain” has got a shot at the bigs this season: in ‘08 he combined for 11 homers, 61 RBIs and 25 steals in the minors.


In the “Arbitration Update,” RHP Seth McClung avoids it by signing for more than $1.6M. Prince Fielder is King after snagging a two-year $18M deal. It’s no surprise Agent Satan ‘figure-dropped’ Ryan Howard’s $10 million from last winter (this year Howard filed for $18M for one year).

For anyone who’s counting, $18 million buys you approximately 29,032,258 veggie burgers. All 5’11’’ and 270 pounds of Fielder would also equal out to $253,521 per inch or $66,667 per pound. Really, he’s as tall as Michelle Obama and only 270?  Which scale were you using?

Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks are still working on coming to terms with Bernie Brewer.  Speaking of, you ever notice Bernie could be anyone one of the following men: Phil Garner, Robin Yount or Doug Melvin?  Rollie Fingers says mustaches are the new black.

The Texas Rangers and New York Mets are still eying free agent Ben Sheets. Signing with either would give the Brewers another second-round pick in June. I wager this with Sheets’ future team now: the man will suffer a hangnail, sore elbow, groin pull, ear infection and come down with the stomach flu before he obtains five wins for you next season.  He’ll be on the DL by the All-Star break. But if you want him, take him.  Read NY Daily News John Harper’s case for signing him.

Meanwhile, Doug Melvin may still have a go of it with Braden Looper, according to Ken Rosenthal.
Craig Counsell is back However, word is wiener-whacker Randall Simon did not impress Melvin at last week’s open tryout. Sausages everywhere are rejoicing.

Former Brewer Eric Gagne may be able to choke on a Twinkie this season. Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal III says the Twins would use him in a setup role. Texas has also been mentioned in association with Gag Me.

This week in “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” Rich Harden’s shoulder joint tear is making Ben Sheets’ bill of health look clean. The Baby Bears also traded OF Felix Pie to B-more for pitchers Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson, probably giving up too soon and, in my opinion, getting a less-than-acceptable return for him. The Cubs also inked So Taguchi to a minor-league deal.  He’s 39, over the hill and TERRIBLE at baseball.  I recommend he take up ping pong, chess or underwater basket weaving.

And finally, in “Just a Bit Outside,” farewell to Brewers’ announcer Jim Powell. Since 1996, he’s been bringing Bob Uecker back to the play-by-play at hand and providing much needed Usinger Sausage back-and-forth banter. Powell will announce for the Atlanta Braves who are also trying to bring back former Brewer Don Sutton. This is where I shamelessly plug his wonderful son Darren Sutton, whom I had the pleasure of tabulating stats for in the FSN booth for from 2000-2003.

Also, I sweat our comrades at Right Field Bleachers who outlined the history behind the trade of former Brewer Richie Sexson in flow chart magnificence.  Do not miss this one: