Tag Archives: John Axford

My mind is tellin’ me no…

Posted by Steve

I remember in 2005, 2006, before the Brewers were expected to contend, how badly I wanted the team to win. “Maybe Carlos Lee and Dave Bush will be enough to get them over the top?” Because they weren’t totally awful like teams I grew up with, I sort of got attached. I enjoyed watching a team that won more than 40% of its games, so when July rolled around, I wasn’t excited for the trading deadline. Fans liked the team, but rationality eventually won out. They weren’t going anywhere that year, so selling made perfect sense–even though I liked watching. That’s how most teams are that aren’t quite good enough, really. At some point, you have to admit that they just aren’t going anywhere and cut your losses.

I feel the exact opposite about this Brewers’ team.

Swept by the Royals. Out-managed by Ned Yost. There have been about six “This has got to be rock bottom” games so far. We just saw three in a row.

Emotionally, I want to blow this up. I’ve been reading the Brewerfan “Shopping Greinke” thread for weeks now. ‘He’s not going to sign during the season anymore… Wonder what they’d get for him?’ ‘Marcum, Wolf, Morgan, KROD, even Aoki, Axford and Hart have trade value. What if they just blew it all up? They could get a haul.’

It’s sad when that’s where I’m going emotionally. Not saying, “Well, they’re only 5 1/2 out. Baseball Prospectus is still (somehow) giving them an 18% chance at making the playoffs,” but instead saying, “I wonder what they could get if they just blew up the whole damn thing?”

And then, the rational part of me says it’s still too early to do that. If they have another two-week stretch like this in them, then fine. But really, it’s still only mid-June. Only the worst of the worst are selling at this point, if any.

Still, the worst case scenario isn’t blowing up the entire team. It’s continuing to lose and then not selling. I’m pretty terrified that the Brewers will be, oh, 9 games out of the playoffs at the deadline, and Melvin/Attanasio will say “We’re still in this. Look at the Cardinals and Rays last year!” Then Greinke leaves, Marcum leaves/signs a too-expensive deal, and the Brewers toil around 70-75 wins next year as well.

It’s not time to sell yet, but it’s getting closer. The Brewers have two or three weeks to seriously turn it around. If they don’t, I will actually be rooting for the Cardinals and Reds in hope that the Brewers will do the smart thing and start selling.

 

This is getting to be amazing (Kottaras)

Posted by Steve

That was about as good as a mid-April game can get.

I was at the game last night, and a few things come to mind:

1. Interesting to see that the team who used their best reliever against the heart of the order got through the inning cleanly, while the team who didn’t blew the lead. Of course I’m talking about not using John Axford in the eighth inning when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were up. K-Rod gave up the bomb to Ethier that could have cost the Brewers the game. Meanwhile, against Morgan, Braun and Ramirez, the Dodgers used Kenley Janson to carve the Brewers up in the eighth.

Now, I’m really not holding this against Ron Roenicke much at all, because there might not be a manager in baseball who would have used Axford there. That doesn’t mean it was the right choice not to, though. A team’s best relief pitcher should pitch in the highest leverage situations, and clearly that was the eighth inning with the only two great hitters in the Dodgers lineup coming up (By the way, I’m not giving Don Mattingly credit for using Jansen in the eighth, either. He’s not their closer, so they just happened to luck out that the heart of the order was coming up. You can bet that if he was the closer, he wouldn’t have come in then either).

2. What I will blame Roenicke for is ALL OF THE BUNTING. Goodness, I cannot believe how stupid it was to bunt with Jonathan Lucroy in the ninth inning with tiny Cesary Izturis on deck. He even left the bunt on with a 2-0 count! What kind of message is that sending to your catcher? More importantly, why is he so anxious to give up an out? Even if he was planning on using Kottaras the whole way (I bet anything he’d have kept Izturis in if the bunt had worked), it’s a bad move.

My brother gave me crap, because I told him this would be a game that I’d still be mad about even if they won, and then of course I was celebrating a minute later. I stand by it, though. I can still be angry that Roenicke called for that bunt, and that he is so bunt-happy in general.

3. George Kottaras is awesome.

Hyperbole aside for a minute. Honestly, I’ve always liked his bat, and I’m really glad to see that Roenicke finally seems willing to use him more. It’s good for a couple reasons. Obviously, it’s good because he is a power hitting lefty who is much better than Mark Kotsay, Travis Ishikawa, or whomever. But it’s also good because maybe now Roenicke won’t be so quick to yank Kottaras early on Lucroy’s days off. Last year, Kottaras often left games he’d started so Lucroy could come in as a defensive replacement. This left Lucroy without many full days off. It’s likely he wore down as the season went on, and his numbers last year support that claim: .844 OPS in March/April, .850 in May, and then never above .673 for any month afterwards.

Letting Kottaras play should help keep Lucroy fresh. Now, if we can only get Roenicke to break the Kottaras/Wolf pairing to avoid having to start George against lefties…

4. One thing I’m guessing may not have been noticeable on tv is the reaction of the crowd after Corey Hart’s hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth. I’m not talking about the initial cheer for the hit itself. After the cheering had died down a bit, Roenicke sent Carlos Gomez in to pinch run. As he did, a buzz spread around the stadium. You know a guy is exciting when a pinch running appearance gets a crowd buzzing.

5. This is perhaps a little cheesy, but I had sort of forgotten how enjoyable regular season baseball can be. Those playoff games are such a grind to watch mentally, especially when you’re at the game. I probably should have had an IV after Game 5 against Arizona. It’s nice to watch an exciting regular season game. You still pull hard for a victory, and it’s still great when they win, but there is a noticeable lack of a horrible feeling in your stomach that comes with tense playoff games. Of course, I’m hoping for more nerve-wracking playoff games again this year, but I enjoyed last night’s game quite a bit.

Mainly because I saw a Kottaras walk-off in person. Look at all those people trying to touch him. It’s like a Beatles concert.

The forgotten pitchers

Posted by Steve

Despite the return of Francisco Rodriguez, I have my doubts that the Brewers’ bullpen will be as good as it was last year. Takashi Saito will certainly be missed, and so will LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, the Brewers are entering Spring Training with only four short relievers who had big league success last season (Axford, K-Rod, Loe, Veras).

This of course means they will need a lot of contribution from guys who didn’t play a role last year. Notice I didn’t necessarily say new pitchers, though. That’s because it’s quite likely that most of that production will be filled by old faces–the likes of Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and Brandon Kintzler. Parra, Rogers, and Kintzler are all coming off surgeries that cost them much or all of 2011, and Braddock is attempting to bounce back from some sleep/personal issues. The (very) early report on all of them is pretty good.

The fact that Rogers, a guy plagued with one injury after another over his career, is even throwing and feeling okay is good news. The former high first round pick is out of options, which means he’ll need to make the team this season. It seems the surgery he had last season for carpal tunnel syndrome was somewhat responsible for his sometimes high walk total, if you believe what Rogers says. If that’s the case, I feel pretty good about Rogers’ chances of becoming a good reliever. He still has great stuff, even after all this time, and I hope the Brewers give him a real shot in the pen. He will miss the first eight games of the season, however, as he finishes a 25-game suspension for a banned supplement. Seems the Brewers can’t get away from that stuff.

Another former starter who will need to be turned reliever is Manny Parra. Parra missed all of last year with shoulder surgery, but it sounds like he’s 100% this Spring. Parra and Rogers are very similar: missed last year due to surgery, former starter, and out of options. For this reason, I consider Parra all but a lock to make the team. If you remember, his last couple years he was being yanked around between starting and relieving, which yielded mixed results. Perhaps finally entering the year with a clear role will be beneficial for him.

Then there’s Zach Braddock, who not very long ago was my favorite Brewers prospect. Braddock had electric stuff, especially for a lefty, coming up through the system and into his rookie year. Then came 2011, which was a mess. Braddock battled off-field issues (which are fruitless to speculate on, in my opinion) that pretty much threw out his entire season. Reading his quotes yesterday, he sounds to me like he’s feeling great and throwing the ball well too. The Brewers basically went all of last season without a lefty reliever. Now it seems like they could have two power lefties out of the bullpen if things go well with Braddock and Parra.

Lastly, there’s Brandon Kintzler. He threw 14 strong innings before falling to injury himself last season. In 2010, he had a phenomenal year between AA and AAA. I expect him to play a role in the bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make the big league team immediately.

Obviously, the Brewers can’t bank on all four of these pitchers have successful seasons, but if they got strong performances from even two of them, it would go a long way toward matching the production of last year’s bullpen, a huge strength of the team. You figure the locks for the pen are Axford, K-Rod, Veras, Loe, and Marco Estrada (although I’m not personally convinced Estrada should be a lock). That leaves two spots for the four I’ve mentioned, with Rogers being eliminated because of his suspension to start the season. Due to the fact that Parra has no options, I expect him to make the team. That means Kintzler, Braddock, or others such as Frankie de la Cruz, Mike McClendon or Tim Dillard will likely battle it out for one spot. Due to the nature of the long season/inevitable injuries, though, I expect to see most, if not all of these players in Milwaukee at some point in the season.

 

Ron and his bullpen

Posted by Steve

One thing Ron Roenicke has continued to do throughout the playoffs is manage his bullpen like it’s still the regular season. In the games that the Brewers’ starter has been knocked out early, he’s brought in people like Marco Estrada or Kameron Loe. Twice he’s done this with a day off the next day. In fact, the Brewers lost Game 5 without pitching any of their three best relievers.

This cannot happen. The only way I’d be okay with seeing Estrada pitch today is if the Brewers are winning by six runs or more.

If Marcum gets knocked out early tonight, and the Brewers find themselves down by three or four runs, it needs to be Hawkins/Saito/KROD coming in to keep the deficit where it is, not Estrada to let the Cardinals tack on to their lead.

There is some debate over whether the Brewers should be pitching Marcum tonight. Other options could be to pitch Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest, or to start Chris Narveson.

I like the decision to stick with Marcum. He hasn’t been sharp lately, but I didn’t think he was horrendous his last time out. Plus, we know Marcum is a good pitcher–better than Narveson. He’s proven that over the course of the season and his career. I also don’t like bringing Yo back on three days’ rest. He’s never done it in his career, so doing it in the most important Brewer game in almost 30 years seems pretty crazy. Plus, then they’d be in a mess for Game 7.

I know I generally say you need to worry about winning the next game before managing for Game 7, but when the decision isn’t clear-cut (bringing back Yo on three days’ rest isn’t an obvious move), you might as well play to give yourself a better chance in Game 7.

I can’t say why, but I’m definitely expecting a win tonight. The crowd will be crazy, the team will be happy to be back home, and I expect them to score a lot of runs.

Most importantly, I’m just not ready for baseball season to be over yet. This team has been so fun to watch, and it wouldn’t be right for this to end before Game 7.

Playoff Cornucopia

Posted by Steve

I had hoped to post an extensive series preview, but I just haven’t had the time. I figure a few random thoughts are better than nothing.

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The Brewers are considering starting Zack Greinke for Game 2. This would be the second time in a row he’d start on three days’ rest. I can’t say I’m crazy about that idea. It would be different if they hadn’t thrown him for six innings on Wednesday. Carlos Gomez’s three-run homer came in the bottom of the fourth. I wanted them to take out Greinke as soon as that happened; a 5-1 lead on the Pirates should have been plenty at that point. Instead, they kept him in for two more innings. If they had taken him out after the fourth, I’d feel much better about throwing him on Sunday. As it is, I’d just hold Greinke back until Game 3. It’s frustrating to wait until the third game to start your best pitcher, but it’s better than starting him when he’s less that 100% rested. Gallardo-Marcum-Greinke-Wolf is just fine for the first four games.

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Yovani Gallardo vs. Ian Kennedy is a great matchup. Kennedy is getting some play for Cy Young, which is mainly because of his win-loss record and not because he’s been one of the three or four best pitchers in the league. Still, he’s been one of the ten or 12 best in the NL, much like Gallardo.

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Overall, these teams are quite similar in their makeup.

They are both above-average offensive teams with no clear edge to one over the other. They are within ten runs scored of each other on the entire season, and within six points of wOBA.

Judging by defensive metrics and staff ERAs compared to xFIPs, Arizona has the stronger team defense (the eye test also tells us it shouldn’t be surprising that someone is better defensively than the Brewers).

The Brewers have a slight edge in the starting rotation, although once again, both teams are above average. Both teams’ 1 and 2 starters are just about a wash, but the DBacks don’t have a third starter on the level of Shaun Marcum.

The bullpen is where the Brewers pull away a bit. Brewers relievers had an ERA of 3.32 and an xFIP of 3.43. Diamondbacks relievers have an ERA of 3.71 and an xFIP of 3.92. That’s a fairly large difference. The DBacks have a good closer who is comparable to John Axford (J.J. Putz), but the Brewers have better depth after the closer. The bullpen has been such an asset all year, and I expect them to continue that against Arizona.

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The Brewers are a very slightly better team than Arizona overall, and they have homefield advantage, so they should win the series. Of course, anything can happen in the playoffs, especially in five-game series, so I’d only favor the Brewers at maybe a 55-60% chance to win. Seven of ESPN’s eight “experts” pick the Brewers to win, and Sportsnation says 73% of American expects the Brewers to win, for whatever any of that is worth. Again, the Brewers are a little better, so that makes sense, but the better team often loses a playoff series.

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As far as from my personal perspective, I think it’s similar to most Brewer fans. In 2008 I was just overjoyed to have made the playoffs. The Brewers were expected to lose to Philly, so I wasn’t overly crushed when they did. This year, though, the Brewers have a much better team than in ’08. They’re one of the two best teams in the NL, so if they don’t win their first series, I will be extremely disappointed.

***DISCLAIMER***
I’ll say one thing about the playoffs. I HATE hearing things like, “You have to play small ball in the playoffs” or “Teams manufacture runs in the playoffs.” It’s baloney. Why would you play any differently than the way that won you games throughout the course of the season? The Brewers have a dynamic offense. I’m going to be very upset if I see an excessive amount of bunting, hit-and-running, or steal attempts from players other than Ryan Braun or Carlos Gomez. Don’t give up outs; play for the big inning. You have an offense that certainly can get you one. I will say this: From what I’ve seen of Arizona this year, we’re going to love facing a team managed by Kirk Gibson. He sure seems to love the small ball. He’s made a few questionable bunting calls already just this week. Here’s hoping that works in the Brewers favor.

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I’m going to the game on Saturday. Let’s just say I have better hopes for this one than for the last playoff game I attended. It was started by Jeff Suppan and capped off by a mammoth Pat Burrell homer. With the way Yo has been pitching, I like their chances to grab Game 1 and give themselves a big advantage in the series.

B!B!K.T.U.T.H!

… And continue to roll

Posted by Steve

The Brewers seemingly cannot lose.

It’s easy to think back to the terrible teams, or even the teams under Ned Yost, and remember how they used to seem to find ways to lose. This team is finding ways to win.

The only aspect of the team that has been great over this incredible run is the pitching. The defense has been just as bad as it has all year, and the offense is up and down. Over their last two games and 19 innings, they’ve scored three runs… And still managed to win both!

They are 19 games over .500 and have a 5-game lead. They have won 16 of 18 games. This is so surreal that I cannot express my many thoughts in one standard post. We’re going to need a cornucopia of thoughts.

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This has gotten me in trouble before, but I’m addicted to Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Report. As of Sunday morning, the Brewers had an 87.6% chance to make the playoffs, and it will be even higher after they won Sunday. That’s a big number. We’re approaching the point where if they don’t win the division, it would have to be considered a choke. Maybe it’s not quite there yet, but anything over 90% and then missing is a choke in my book.

It’s worth noting that this streak has pulled them even with the Braves, who lead the wildcard. They’re now tied for the second-best record in the NL. Soon the secondary goal of finishing ahead of the NL West team (and avoiding the Phillies in the first round) will come into play. 

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The starting pitching has been the story all year, and it has been very good lately. However, it’s not like any one starter has been completely dominant–it’s more like they’ve been consistently good, something to the tune of 6-7 innings, 1-3 runs allowed on most nights.

The area that has been dominant, however, is the bullpen. The bullpen has been number 1 in xFIP in the NL in August, and in the last 30 days, it’s 3.28.

John Axford is simply overpowering–he is the best Brewer reliever I can remember. The most important part of the K-Rod trade wasn’t adding K-Rod himself (more on this in a moment); it was bumping down guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Kameron Loe. When you have those guys pitching the sixth and seventh instead of the eighth, your bullpen is going to be in better shape. It’s the deepest pen they’ve had in years, and the haven’t even acquired a lefty reliever yet (fingers crossed). I think the bullpen is the biggest reason for their incredible run the last three weeks.

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K-Rod is a pretty good reliever. That said, I hate watching him pitch. He’s like Claudio Vargas–guys are always on base. You always feel like he’s teetering on the edge of blowing the game. His walk rate is too high, and his strikeout rate isn’t enough to make up for it. 

This isn’t to say he sucks. He’s just not what he was in his early/mid-twenties, and I would love it if Ron Roenicke would stop automatically using him in the eighth inning. In fact, K-Rod is third or fourth on my list of relievers I’d like to see in a high-leverage situation. Takashi Saito has been great lately, and he’s been a superior pitcher to K-Rod the last few seasons–he just doesn’t have the big name. LaTroy Hawkins has done a very good job as well, and when Kameron Loe is used correctly, he’s an asset.

So basically, I just want to see K-Rod utilized for what he is instead of what he was. He was a dominant closer; he is a solid but not great reliever.

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It’s time for the Felipe Lopez experiment to end. It was worth a shot when Rickie Weeks went down, but Flip just doesn’t have the 2009 magic in him. His bat speed is gone, so his laziness on the field isn’t worth it anymore. It’s time to get Taylor Green up. For the love of God, it is time to get Taylor Green up. To be eligible for the playoff roster, he needs to be called up before September. DFA Lopez and call up Green.

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Speaking of Weeks, that studmuffin is already taking ground balls, not even three weeks after that hideous ankle injury. It sound like he may be back ahead of the six-week timetable, which would obviously be a huge lift. It’s incredible that the Brewers have been able to win so much without him, so getting him back ahead of time just seems like a cherry on top of the sundae.

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If I had a nickel for every time someone has said something along the lines of , “Hey Steve, how about your boy Yuni now! You have to eat some crow!” I’d have, like, six nickels. Still, there is sentiment that Yuni is somewhat making up for his abysmal first half.

He isn’t. Hitting for a few weeks won’t make up for the fact that he was one of the five worst regulars in baseball for three months. Secondly, while I’ve never been a fan of his offensive game, that’s always been my secondary concern. To anyone who gives me a little crap about Betancourt, I just point to his defense. It’s still terrible and hurting the team.

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I want more Jerry Hairston! Okay, it’s not like he’s a world-beater, but he’s being used like he’s a right-handed Craig Counsell. He’s currently a better option than what the Brewers have at second base, shortstop, and third when you factor in both offense and defense. Yet, he really only starts against lefties. He also hasn’t played an inning at shortstop, which is incidentally where he should be spending most of his time.

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Tomorrow is a huge day for the Brewers, and it has nothing to do with starting a series against the Dodgers. It is the deadline to sign draft picks. Both of their first round picks, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, remain unsigned. All indications are that they will be signed, but it’s still a little unsettling–particularly when you think back to just last year, when they were all set to sign Dylan Covey.

Jed Bradley is the one who is particularly concerning, because the Brewers used the comp pick from Covey to select him. If they don’t sign Bradley, they don’t get another comp pick next year–that pick is lost. No doubt Bradley is using that as leverage, and it’s likely the Brewers will have to pay him more than they’d like because of it.

Still, it will be inexcusable if they don’t sign both of these pitchers. They realize the need to get impact arms in the organization, though, and I’d be very surprised if both do not sign tomorrow.

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Back to the big league team. There is no reason to expect the hot streak to end. Their next four series are against teams under .500, so they should keep rolling. They’ll need to, because the Cardinals also have their next four series against losing teams too.

Well, that was unexpected.

Posted by Steve

The Brewers are the center of the baseball world today, with Prince Fielder winning All-Star MVP and the shocker of acquiring Francisco Rodriguez late last night.

Relief pitching is not the Brewers’ biggest area of need, but from the sounds of things, this is something that fell into Doug Melvin’s lap and was too good to pass up. The Brewers send two players to be named later (PTBNL) and get some cash (amount unknown at this time) in return.

I wouldn’t expect those PTBNLs to be anyone of significance. The reasoning is actually a bit complicated.

K-Rod has a whopping $17.5 million option that kicks in next year if he finishes 55 games. He has already finished 34 games. K-Rod is still a solid reliever, but he isn’t nearly as dominant as he was a few years ago. In other words, nobody wants to pay him $17.5 mil next year.

The Mets had to trade K-Rod. Their financial woes are well documented, but they couldn’t simply remove him from the closer’s role when he was having success. The union would have cried foul, and K-Rod probably would have won an appeal.

So not only did the Mets have to trade him, but they needed to trade him somewhere that he A) didn’t have on his 10-team no-trade list, and B) had an established closer in place so they could justify not using K-Rod to finish games.

Pretty tricky, huh? Suddenly the Brewers look like one of the only teams who could have taken him. This is why the Mets were backed into a corner and were obviously eager to deal him as soon as they could.

One thing I’m unclear on is his free agent status. If K-Rod is a Type A and the Brewers can offer him arbitration and get comp picks for him, this is potentially a steal. However, I’m unclear if this is possible once they buy him out after this season. I’ve found conflicting reports on this, although MLB Trade Rumors has him as a Type A.

So… All business stuff aside, how’s this trade for the Brewers?

The only way it’s bad is if the amount of money they’re spending on K-Rod prevents them from upgrading shortstop. Shortstop is a much, much bigger priority than bullpen help, and I will be furious if they don’t address it. I don’t believe this move prevents it, though. The Mets are contributing some money for this season, because their main concern was the option for next year. Therefore, I don’t think the Brewers took on a large financial burden here.

There won’t be a closer controversy or anything. Axford has been outstanding, and they won’t let K-Rod get near that 55 mark. I’m sure he’ll notch a few saves the rest of the way if Axford is overworked, but nothing crazy. As Doug Melvin said, this was just a way to add a quality reliever.

This does give Roenicke, who has shown signs of much better bullpen management in recent games, another weapon to play with. You’d think he’ll use K-Rod as his “eighth-inning guy,” but at least that’s a much better option than just Kameron Loe (by the way, see how effective Loe can be when used effectively, as in only against righties?).

With the additions of K-Rod and Saito the rest of the way, the bullpen should be an area of strength. Doug got a good move out of the way early, and this should give him plenty of time to address priority number one: a new shortstop.

Oh, and the most underrated part of this trade? That $17.5 million option should keep K-Rod from celebrating like an idiot. He can’t celebrate a save when he’s not closing, right?