Category: Brewers

The Ides of June, 1982

In this year that may be without baseball (and numerous other things), it has been entertaining to read chronicles of the 1982 Brewers season, courtesy of the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers page, which has been chronicling 1982 in simulated real time.

The ’82 Brewers are actually a story that started four years earlier. The Brewers, remember, started as the Seattle Pilots, the last major pro sports franchise to go bankrupt in its first season of existence. Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig, a former minority owner of the former Milwaukee Braves, purchased the Brewers in bankruptcy court during 1970 spring training, and thus begat the Brewers … and eight years of mediocrity.

Then Selig hired former Baltimore Orioles general manager Harry Dalton, who in turn hired Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger to be their manager. The Society for American Baseball Research shows how Dalton was successful before coming to Milwaukee.

The cupboard was not entirely bare when Dalton and Bamberger arrived — 22-year-old shortstop Robin Yount was a four-season veteran already, and the Brewers had previously swapped first basemen with the Red Sox, getting future star Cecil Cooper for aging star George Scott, while the Brewers had drafted Paul Molitor in the 1977 first round. But the 1977 Brewers won only 67 games (at least they were consistent — they were 11th in runs scored and 11th in earned run average)  while the 1978 Brewers won 93 games and, for the first time in their existence, were a contender.

How did that happen? “Bambi’s Bombers” emulated the style Bamberger’s former manager, Earl Weaver, used in Baltimore — pitching (for the first time), defense and three-run home runs. (Instead of 11th, they led the league in runs scored, though pitching improved only from 11th to eighth.)

Dalton replaced Jim Wohlford (.248, 2 home runs, 36 RBI) in left field with Larry Hisle (.290, 34 home runs, 115 RBI), and Von Joshua (.681 OPS) with Gorman Thomas (.866 OPS) in center. Nearly everyone else’s hitting improved. Molitor, having played all of 64 minor-league games, played well enough to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

As for pitching, Mike Caldwell, whom the Brewers had obtained from Cincinnati’s farm system when the Reds were making annual postseason trips, went from 5–8 with a 4.58 ERA to 22–9 with a 2.36 ERA. Lary Sorenson went from 7–10 and a 4.36 ERA to 18–12 with a 3.21 ERA. Every starting pitcher who was with the team a year earlier had a better record than the previous season.

Dalton must have taken a big gulp before trading his best pitcher of 1977, Jim Slaton, to Detroit for outfielder Ben Oglivie, but Oglivie batted .303 in 1978 for the Brewers. Slaton, meanwhile, came back to the Brewers as a free agent in 1979, and ended his career as the Brewers’ all-time winningest pitcher. (Which says volumes about the traditional state of Brewers pitching, but we’ve already covered that here.)

The Brewers remained a contender for the next four seasons, though Bamberger had to step down for health reasons during and at the end of the 1980 season, replaced by Rodgers, his third-base coach. Thomas led the AL with 45 home runs in 1979 and 39 home runs in 1982, and Oglivie tied Reggie Jackson for the lead with 39 1980 home runs. “Benji” and “Stormin’ Gorman” also got more than their share of RBIs despite relatively low batting averages because of how well Molitor and Yount got on base in front of them. Cooper was the quietest elite hitter in the league, with an OPS of .833 or more every season between 1978 and 1983.

Then came The Trade. In November, Dalton traded outfielder Sixto Lezcano, Sorenson and pitcher Dave LaPoint and David Green, the Brewers’ top minor league prospect, to St. Louis in exchange for starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich, relief pitcher Rollie Fingers (who had been with the Cardinals for four days as part of a 10-player trade) and catcher Ted Simmons.

How did that trade work out? Fingers won not just the 1981 Cy Young Award but the 1981 American League MVP. Vuckovich won the 1982 AL Cy Young Award. Simmons didn’t hit well for a season and a half, but was a big improvement behind the plate, moving out Charlie Moore, who found a spot in right field, as Reggie Jackson would find out:

(Sorenson, by the way, pitched one year for the Cardinals, then went to Cleveland as part of a three-team trade to get outfielder Lonnie Smith from Philadelphia. Lezcano was traded with shortstop Garry Templeton to San Diego so the Cardinals could get shortstop Ozzie Smith. LaPoint was part of a group of players traded to San Francisco to get Jack Clark, the hero of most of the Cardinals’ 1985 season, but a World Series goat.)

The 1981 Brewers made the postseason for the first time …

… and there was considerable hoopla about 1982. That hoopla didn’t pan out at first, and by the start of June the Brewers were 23–24 and in fifth place in the AL East.

There was considerable underperformance, and there was considerable disgruntlement with Rodgers, who one year earlier decided to move Molitor from second base (where Jim Gantner was waiting to play) to center field, pushing Thomas unhappily to right field (Lezcano’s former position), until Molitor got hurt and the 1981 baseball strike interrupted the season.

Then in 1982, Molitor moved to third base, pushing Roy Howell unhappily into a platoon at designated hitter with Money, while Moore went from behind the plate to right field. All these moves might have been all right if the Brewers were winning, but through the first two months of 1982 they were not.

All may have come together in a 5–4 11-inning loss in Seattle June 1 that dropped the Brewers to two games below .500:

Once again, the Brewers blew leads (2-0 in the first, 3-2 in the ninth and 4-3 in the 11th). This time, it was the trifecta.

With a runner on second and two outs in the ninth of a 3-2 game, manager Buck Rodgers went to the bullpen in an attempt to retire lefty Bruce Bochte. Was it Rollie Fingers, the closer? No. Rodgers went with usual-starter Mike Caldwell, who many fans remember had given up a home run to Bochte into the third deck of the King Dome in the 10th inning two years ago.

Bochte hit a single to score Rick Sweet and force extra innings. It was only then that Fingers came on to get the final out. It would be the only batter he would face.

Why? In all likelihood, words were exchanged between innings.

Fingers after the game: “That’s probably the final nail in the coffin,” Fingers said, presumably referring to Rodgers’ fate. “Does he think I can’t get a left-hander out? I’m getting good money to do that.”

Fingers wasn’t done: “That’s my job, to come in save situations. Mike Caldwell is paid to start. I’m paid to relieve.”

Did Rodgers panic, over thinking the move? “I shot my wad in the ninth inning,” he explained. “I was trying to get the game over in the ninth.”

Other players in the clubhouse weren’t shy when talking about the current state of the team. “We’re in serious trouble if we can’t beat these guys,” said Cecil Cooper, “especially when you take the lead three times and can’t hold it. There’s just no answers. What do you do? What do you do now? We’re losing every way we can. Those two games we lost in Anaheim, we were up three runs and we lose. We’ve lost three games on this trip and we should have won every one of them.”

[Jim] Gantner made a not so subtle hint at the change he expected to be made: “You can’t fire 25 players. Sometimes the manager’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s really too bad. We’re going to have to do something to shake up this club. I’m not saying fire the manager, but something has to be done to shake up this club.”

It was the Brewers’ 14th loss in 20 games, dropping back to two games under .500. For the first time since April 18 when they were 6-9, the Brewers are in sixth place.

(Note to current coaches and managers: The phrase “shot my wad” is probably one you should avoid today.)

The next day, Dalton fired Rodgers:

Yesterday, Harry Dalton told us that the job of a general manager is to remain patient. Apparently, his patience has run out. …

“I think Buck’s a good baseball man,” Dalton said today. “The chemistry went sour. We hadn’t been getting what we had the right to expect with the talent we have available. I recognize everything that happened wasn’t Buck’s fault. I wanted to give Buck every opportunity to right the ship.”

And that opportunity ran out. Brewers fans would argue that Rodgers was given far too much time to “right the ship.” You can’t right a ship that’s sinking, and water’s been flooding a gaping hole in the SS BrewCrew for quite some time.

It’s interesting this announcement was made today, given the Brewers beat the Mariners 2-1 yesterday. But the rumor is that the decision to make the move had already been made prior to yesterday’s game, which would make sense considering the collapse that led to three blown leads in that game. Dalton knew that change was coming when he spoke of patience. Rodgers was a dead man walking and he was made aware of the change this morning.

In something of a surprising move, the Brewers have replaced Rodgers with longtime coach Harvey Kuenn… at least for now. “We have appointed Harvey Kuenn as interim manager,” said Dalton. “That can mean anytime from two to three weeks to the end of the 1982 season. We have been looking for someone to take over on a permanent basis.”

So who will be that permanent solution? Good question. It won’t be former team captain Sal Bando, long rumored to be waiting for the opening. He isn’t interested in committing to managing.

The interesting twist in all of this is that the man the Brewers really want, former manager George Bamberger, is no longer available. Bambi stepped down due to health concerns and Rodgers took over. Had the Brewers not made the playoffs last season, they were primed to invite Bamberger back. Instead. they did take that next step and felt obligated to bring Rodgers back. Meanwhile, Bamberger took a job to manage the Mets.

A couple of possibilities are on Bambi’s staff. Jim Frey, the former manager of the Royals and current coach on the Mets, could be an option. Frank Howard, a former Brewers coach who was fired after managing the Padres last season, is also a coach on the Mets’ staff who could be on the Brewers’ radar.

Rodgers did not go quietly

Contacted for his comments on being fired as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers today, Buck Rodgers tried to be diplomatic.

On whether he feels like he failed: “Sure, there’s a little sense of failure. I thought this club could win. I’ve never failed in my life. I don’t like to fail. But that’s all part of the game, you know that. It wasn’t exactly unexpected. I’ve had my mind made up for the last two weeks it might happen.”

Then Rodgers decided that if he were going to go down, he’d take someone with him. He went down swinging.

“I think there are a couple of cancers on the club,” he said, not mentioning their names. “I think you’ve got 18 or 19 players who want to win. You’ve got three or four who will go any way the wind blows. I’m not going to name the cancers, and I’m not going to name the ones who blow with the wind.”

… leading to speculation about to whom Rodgers was referring:

We’re left guessing about the two players he’s speaking of, but those following the team tend to believe they are Mike Caldwell and Ted Simmons.

Caldwell was often a critic of the way Rodgers handled pitchers. In fact, as recently as May 23, he made this comment to the press following a loss to the Mariners: “I don’t know. I’m just a player. I’m just trying to do my job. I don’t know if I’m getting a chance to do it.”

The Brewers also tried unsuccessfully to trade Caldwell during the winter. Knowing that the team didn’t want him likely didn’t make relationships with management or his performance on the field any easier. Caldwell is sporting a disappointing 2-4 record and 4.70 ERA.

While Ted Simmons didn’t provide the juicy quotes like Caldwell, he and Rodgers did not see eye-to-eye. Rodgers, a former catcher who prided himself on his defensive ability, was thought to prefer Ned Yost and Charlie Moore as defensive backstops. Simmons has yet to live up to the hype as an offensive producer either, and Rodgers may even prefer Don Money or Roy Howell as the DH.

In other words, Simmons was forced upon him, and Rodgers wanted him off of the team. Some believed that if Simmons stayed with the team all season, Rodgers would quit.

If Rodgers wasn’t referring to one or both of Caldwell and Simmons, he may also have been talking about Roy Howell. Howell has received very little playing time and has been a thorn in the side of the team since spring training. Unable to trade him, Howell has sulked and thrown tantrums while producing very little.

Not Howell? It could also be Gorman ThomasRollie Fingers or Pete Vuckovich. But at this point, we’re reaching. And to be honest, it’s why making the comment without naming names is a cowardice act.

Rodgers’ former players didn’t seem heartbroken at their former manager’s departure:

Mike Caldwell, who many believe is one of the “cancers” that Rodgers referred to, thinks that his former manager didn’t give the pitchers equal billing on the team: “He’s the one who said we didn’t have a team leader. He mentioned several players who could be leaders. None of them were pitchers. I think there are some pretty good pitchers around here who have the guts and integrity, who are the types who could be leaders.”

Cecil Cooper: “I think we needed a change. Not necessarily the manager, but something had to be done. We’re not a .500 team. Harvey told us if something is bothering us to come in and we’d talk about it. That might have been harder with Buck. Guys didn’t feel relaxed with him.”

Just two days ago, Jim Gantner seemed to know what was coming. Always willing to speak his mind, he had this to say: “You can’t fire 25 players. Sometimes the manager’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s really too bad. We’re going to have to do something to shake up this club. I’m not saying fire the manager, but something has to be done to shake up the club. Make some changes somehow. That’s not my decision, though, that’s the front office.”

So whose fault was it?

We know that Buck Rodgers was a bad fit. We tried to accept him for a while. We blamed a bad attitude here, bad luck there. But Brewers fans have collectively come to the realization that the reason for their team’s under performance may have been much easier to explain than we thought.

When rumors surfaced of Rodgers’ demise weeks ago, you couldn’t find a player who had their manager’s back. And whether it was Rollie FingersTed SimmonsMike CaldwellPete VuckovichRoy HowellJim Gantner or the countless other malcontents, someone was always spouting off.

Players weren’t happy. They didn’t respect their manager. The inmates were running the asylum, and they were plenty crazy. Should it be any wonder that they played below expectations?

Roy Howell is a role player. He never understood his role. As a result, he was never happy when each day passed by and he wasn’t on the lineup card. Isn’t this a communication issue? Howell should never be surprised about when he will or will not be playing.

Buck Rodgers lacked confidence in his starting pitchers, often giving them the hook rather than letting them fight their way through jams. Based on complaints from Mike Caldwell, it’s also possible that he lacked respect for pitchers in general. Is it any wonder that the rotation as a whole has been shaky?

In steps Harvey Kuenn, destination unknown. He’s known as a loose leader, one who wants his players to relax and have fun. He’s a communicator. He’s everything that Buck Rodgers wasn’t.

The change, whether directly or indirectly, resulted in a win. One win in one game. But what we saw were things we had seen rarely during the past two months. A starter fought through his own jam and pitched a complete game, shutting down the opposition during the final three innings. The offense was timely, collecting 12 hits. And the defense didn’t commit an error.

Most importantly? The players are happy. For the most part, that was rarely the case under Rodgers, even after a win.

Soon after being fired, Rodgers didn’t hold back when referring to two cancers on the team. Given the time to cool off, he hasn’t backed down: “I can’t say too emphatically how good this club is, except for a couple of players. I know who they are, the players know who they are and the front office knows who they are. They may have tried to stab me in the back, but they didn’t get me fired. They’ve stabbed everyone they’ve been involved with in the past, and they’ll do the same in the future.”

We shouldn’t be surprised about reports surfacing that Mike Caldwell, during a card game on the May 30 flight after a 7-3 win over the Angels, said, “I hope we lose 10 games in a row just to get rid of that sucker.”

The Brewers are littered with strong personalities. They need someone to lead them. They don’t need someone who is paranoid, constantly worried about who is trying to stab them in the back. This happens when a leader fails to communicate or loses the respect of his team.

Keep in mind this was not the same era of baseball as today for numerous reasons. There were managers known as disciplinarians who were successful — Fred Haney was not friends with his players, but won the 1957 World Series and got the Milwaukee Braves into the 1958 Series. Dick Williams took Oakland and San Diego to the World Series and Montreal to the cusp of the playoffs; Dallas Green, who was perfectly fine with his players not liking him, was the manager of the 1980 World Series-winning Phillies (who wrote an interesting book about his dealings with his players), and Earl Weaver won four pennants (three in a row) and the 1970 World Series with Baltimore. There were also managers known as, shall we say, colorful yet successful — Billy Martin took Minnesota, Detroit, the Yankees (during his four stints as manager) and Oakland to the playoffs, getting fired afterward in each case; and Tommy Lasorda won two World Series and managed in two more with, as one sportswriter put it, his “outrageous combination of pasta and theatricality.”

The pattern in pro sports for decades used to be that a team would hire a disciplinarian, get some wins (they hoped), and when the winning stopped hire a so-called “player’s” coach or manager, get more wins (they hoped), and when the winning stopped go back to the disciplinarian. Or if the franchise started with the nice guy and he failed, bring in the head-knocker. (None of this, you’ll notice, includes how well the GM does, or not, in bringing in players, nor the manager’s ability to manage in-game situations or use players correctly during the long season.)

Rodgers was far from the last manager who had to deal with players who disliked him. (Casey Stengel’s famous line about one of his Yankees teams was that one-third of his team liked him, and he was trying to keep the one-third of his team that hated him away from the one-third of his team that hadn’t made up their minds yet.) The next player who says he likes his manager but feels misused or not used enough will be the first, since the latter always outweighs the former. Rodgers was far from the last manager who appeared to have disdain for his pitchers, or vice versa, or was accused of mishandling pitchers. (Lasorda, a pitcher, was accused of burning out Fernando Valenzuela, and Martin was accused of burning out his entire starting rotation in Oakland. Sparky Anderson took disdain for beyond pitchers when he announced to his team that he had four stars — Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez — and the rest of the team, including all of the pitchers, were all, to directly quote him, “turds.” The manager known as “Captain Hook” for his pulling of starting pitchers nonetheless won five division titles, four pennants and two World Series in Cincinnati.)

But Gantner was right then (and certainly now) when he observed that it’s impossible to fire 25 players, at least during the season. Whether it was Rodgers’ fault, it was Rodgers’ responsibility, and it appears from nearly 40 years’ perspective that he failed to get his team to play better than it should have. (If the “cancers” included the three players for which Dalton traded, that probably made Dalton think it was time to change managers.

Rodgers went on to win more games than he lost as a manager, though he fit in better with a young Montreal team than he did with a veteran Brewers team. Kuenn, meanwhile, followed Rodgers’ start with a 72–43 finish, winning the AL East on the last day of the season, and then coming back from an 0–2 hole to win the American League Championship Series and go to the World Series for the only time in team history.

That, however, has yet to be covered.

 

Come see what’s now Brewing

The biggest Wisconsin sports news for a team no longer playing is …

… the Brewers’ new uniforms to go with their new/old logo:

I wrote about what might be happening a couple of weeks ago. The logo is modified somewhat from the original …

… but not enough for non-uniform geeks to notice.

The obvious inspiration is the “Bambi’s Bombers” and “Harvey’s Wallbangers” Brewers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which includes their only World Series trip. This is despite the fact that the previous uniform design was in the playoffs four times, as opposed to twice in the ball-in-glove era.

One of the colors changed, from metallic gold to yellowgold. The other did not; navy blue, which is a uniform color of nearly every Major League Baseball team, will remain instead of going back to the Brewers’ original royal blue colors. (Most likely because the big rival to the south on Interstate 94 wears royal blue.)

Also new is the primary home uniforms’ cream color, matching the Bucks’ home uniforms to represent cream city brick, a Milwaukee thing. The other home set brings back the 1978–1993 pinstripes, which I have argued are inappropriate for a team with little heritage, unlike such pinstripe-wearers as the Yankees and Cubs. (In the later case, consistent losing is heritage too.)

The one uniform that doesn’t match the others is the navy alternates. Those supposedly will be worn mostly on the road, though the only thing preventing them from home use is the tradition of having the team’s name on home uniforms and the team’s location on road uniforms. If you watched the Brewers on TV, you may have noticed how often the Brewers wore their navy alternates the last few seasons, so you might see those more often than the word “alternate” might make you think.

 

Come see what’s Brewing next year

Those of us who remember these days …

… should be pleased with what Clint Evans reports:

Sources have indicated that the Milwaukee Brewers will change their uniforms and primary logo for the 2020 MLB season. Indeed, this would mark the first full uniform change for Milwaukee as a franchise since the 2000 season when they opened Miller Park. Remember, in 2020 Nike will take over as the official uniform supplier of MLB next season.

Furthermore, the organization will be going to a throwback classic from the past. From 1978 to 1993, Milwaukee had a classic baseball glove with a ball inside the glove logo on a lighter toned blue cap. Now, that is very similar to what the new logo will look like. Without question, this is the logo that many middle-aged fans remember the Brewers wearing during their formative years watching the club.

The team is expected to go with a pinstripe look similar to their current alternate uniform set. This will become the primary uniform set along with the new ball glove logo.

Equally important, a major Milwaukee Brewers site has also heard of the same rumor. Therefore, see the following tweet from ‘Reviewing the Brew’:

It’s always exciting when a team changes it’s logo or uniforms, especially if it’s a classic franchise with a rabid fan base like the Brewers. By comparison – floundering teams who change uniforms like the Miami Marlins or Cleveland Browns – don’t seem quite as exciting.

However this situation is different.

With a star player like Christian Yelich under contract and a solid manager like Craig Counsell, the Brewers have the organizational arrow pointing up entering 2020. They followed up a trip to the NLCS in 2018 with a Wildcard appearance in 2019, losing in heartbreak fashion to the Washington Nationals.

Now, the Brewers will have new uniforms in 2020 that should make their great fan base very happy. Equally important, a lot of people will run out and buy that new swag; which should in turn make Nike very happy as the official uniform supplier of MLB.

Which would mean something more like this …

1978–1990

… or this …

1990–93

… than this:

2000–present (multiple alternate uniforms not included)

I wasn’t especially a fan of the ball-in-glove look, which frankly ripped off teams with actual tradition, namely the Yankees. I also am not a fan of baby blue road uniforms, though as a blue team the Brewers were more appropriate for blue (as were the Royals, the Cubs — though white-pinstripes-on-blue is an abomination — and the Blue Jays) than the White Sox, Cardinals and Phillies.

Blue and gold is an accident anyway. Those were the colors of the 1969 Seattle Pilots …

… which hurriedly became the Brewers, thanks to stitch-pulling instruments, when Bud Selig purchased the Pilots (who managed to go bankrupt during their first season, believe it or don’t) during 1970 spring training.

Selig’s original idea was to emulate the Milwaukee Braves’ navy blue and red color scheme. (As if there aren’t enough teams wearing that color scheme now.)

But the uniforms the Brewers have worn since the year before Miller Park opened (they were supposed to debut in Miller Park, but the 1999 fatal crane accident delayed the stadium opening by a year) are quite uninspired, especially the name and number fonts. (Times New Roman? Really?) They have been augmented, if that’s what you want to call it, by navy blue (“Brewers” and “Milwaukee”), Spanish-language (“Cerveceros”), German-named (“Bierbrauer”), gold and even green and red (the Italian-themed “Birrai”) jerseys since then.

The MB-logo uniforms have always been more popular, perhaps partly because of the blah nature of the current uniforms, though more likely because of the success of those days. (As in one World Series appearance and a division half-title, and a few non-playoff winning seasons.) By that measure the current Brewers uniforms should be as popular since they have been worn during four postseasons, though no World Series visits.

I have argued here before that the Brewers really should adopt beer colors, such as black (for dark beer), gold (obviously) and cream (since Milwaukee is the Cream City). However, no one is paying attention to my correct views. (As usual.) Therefore, I suppose the question is whether the Brewers will go with navy blue (now) or royal blue (before the 1994 “Motre Bame” uniforms) and metallic gold (now) or yellowgold (first version) colors.

 

Today’s season

The Washington Post:

The Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers have opposite approaches to the question of how best to win with pitching. The Nationals will start ace Max Scherzer on Tuesday and hope he goes as deep into the National League wild-card game as he possibly can. The Brewers will start Brandon Woodruff, their ace on the mend, and probably lift him after around 40 pitches — at which point the bullpen will become a revolving door. The Brewers match up with relievers as much as any team in baseball.

“It’s basically like we’re starting in the sixth inning with their pitching staff,” Nationals right fielder Adam Eaton said. “There’s nothing we can do to prepare for that.”

The contrasting philosophies on display for the one-game playoff reflect the heart of these organizations. The Nationals, principally owned by the richest family in baseball, committed $525 million dollars to three starting pitchers — Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer — and rode them here. The small-market Brewers cobbled together one of the sport’s better bullpens on largely inexpensive deals and deployed it liberally to string together 18 wins in their last 23 games and eke into the postseason. The Brewers paid their entire pitching staff $39.2 million this season, according to Baseball Prospectus, which is only slightly more than Strasburg ($38.3 million) and Scherzer ($37.4 million) will earn this year alone.

The answer to which approach works best — quality or quantity — could play an outsize role in who advances to the National League Division Series against the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers. Both teams expressed confidence in their way, but Brewers Manager Craig Counsell didn’t believe one was better.

“Playoff teams should be different; I think that’s cool,” he said. “Teams have to play to their strengths [and take advantage of their personnel]. . . . Our depth and our numbers are what makes our pitching good, and that’s how we’re going to treat games.”

If Counsell had the Nationals’ roster, he would manage accordingly. He called Scherzer a probable Hall of Famer and intimated that if Woodruff were further along in his return from injury he’d probably lean more heavily on him, too. The Brewers’ star right-hander tossed six stellar innings against the Nationals in May, but he missed two months with an oblique strain and has thrown fewer than 40 pitches in each of his two starts since. Counsell seemed pessimistic Gio Gonzalez, a former National, could be available for the game because he started Saturday.

Whether Scherzer can get into the sixth or seventh inning and deliver an ace-caliber start is unclear. He has been shaky since returning from injuries of his own — a balky back sidelined him for several weeks — though he has had seven straight starts since and feels 100 percent. Manager Dave Martinez will apparently afford him some leeway; he intimated Sunday that he wouldn’t lift his starter at the first sign of trouble.

But Scherzer could need relief early. If he does, Martinez must make hard decisions. He could go with regular relievers, who said they will be available from the first inning on, or Strasburg or Corbin. Even if this doesn’t happen, the Brewers said they would feel more confident the longer Scherzer stays in.

“If he’s throwing well, he’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the game,” Brewers infielder Travis Shaw said. “But if you can get multiple shots at a pitcher, it benefits the hitter.”

Nationals hitters stressed the key against the Brewers is to find a balance between aggressiveness and patience. Hitters often try to attack early against relievers because they know the pitcher has little margin for error and prioritizes efficiency to be available the next day. But when every pitcher functions as a reliever, they must weigh the usual approach against seeing more pitches and stressing top-shelf arms. Eaton sees his role in the lineup as a taxer, and he preached the need for balance. Early, hard-fought at-bats might force the Brewers to face difficult decisions.

“If you can get some of their really good arms out of the way, I think it’s only going to benefit us,” Eaton said. “Patience and grittiness will go a long way.”

Whenever the Nationals go to the bullpen, they forfeit any advantage Scherzer might have given them. The Brewers’ bullpen is a well-conditioned machine, refined by the fire of their playoff push. It features three versatile, dominant lefties in Josh Hader (one of baseball’s toughest matchups for years), Brent Suter (NL reliever of the month for September) and Drew Pomeranz (a once-struggling starter who went to the bullpen and became Hader-lite.). Their top high-leverage right-handers are Junior Guerra and Jay Jackson.

The Nationals’ bullpen is still undefined. Washington doesn’t have the left-handed specialist it acquired at the deadline (Roenis Elías, out with a hamstring injury), and its relievers aren’t locked into definite roles. Strasburg, seemingly the Nationals’ first option in relief, has never appeared out of the bullpen. Their second choice, Corbin, has but not regularly in three years.

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman said Strasburg could get the job done in the must-win game but cautioned against changing habits developed over a six-month-long season. He joked: “Oh, just go out and get three outs in the big leagues against one of the better teams in one of the biggest moments, and it’ll be exactly the same.”

“You have to be careful doing too much of that,” he added. “I think people get carried away with it and just assuming we’re not humans. If you’re used to doing something, it’s hard to do it in that situation.”

Closer Sean Doolittle proposed normalizing the situation for starters-turned-relievers as much as possible by only using them to start innings. If Scherzer, for example, departed with two on and one out, let a reliever familiar in those spots “clean that up.” Doolittle emphasized that he felt confident the team will have three pitchers who will receive Cy Young Award votes available but that it’s all about what button to push and when.

“These are the questions that you have to think about,” he said. “You want to use your strengths, but where is that line where you’re putting somebody too far outside their comfort zone?”

These are the questions with which the Nationals must grapple as their season hangs in the balance.

The Brewers could have played a one-game division playoff had they won, instead of lost, two extra-inning games this weekend. Their play this weekend suggested a team that, after having had to charge from behind because of mediocre play in the first five months of the season, has run out of gas. What will end the Brewers’ season — because they have to play a one-game playoff on the road followed by, in the less-than-likely event they win tonight, followed by a trip to 106-win Los Angeles — is a poor record against the National League West (15–19) and in interleague games (8–12), of all things.

The only way the Brewers can win this game is if Scherzer is not on and the Nationals have to go to their bad bullpen (as in the worst ERA of any playoff team by far) early.  Pitchers like Scherzer and their postseason experience is why you pay them the big bucks, unless, like the Brewers, you can’t develop long-lasting starting pitching and can’t afford to purchase starting pitching and instead must cobble together a pitching staff.

You probably can tell I’m not optimistic about tonight. Remember, I was right about last year.

 

How is this happening?

I haven’t commented on the Brewers recently because I was waiting for them to collapse.

After all, a team with mediocre pitching by old (4.39 earned run average, which is 16th in the 30-team Major League Baseball) or new measure (1.32 WHIP — Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched) will be only playing out the string in September. Mediocre pitching certainly isn’t enough to overcome mediocre hitting, with the Brewers 18th in runs scored.

The Brewers were handicapped by the loss of relief pitcher Corey Knebel at the start of the season, and then lost outfielder Christian Yelich for the season on, of all things, a fractured kneecap from a fouled-off pitch. Add to that management’s refusal to get quality pitching (as in a starting pitcher you’ve heard of) and the struggles of closer Josh Hader, and the apathetic public persona of manager Craig Counsell, and it would be a miracle for this team to even compete for a playoff spot, especially against the much-better-funded Cubs, Cardinals and Mets.

So this makes no sense:

Or it makes about as much sense as the Brewers missing the playoffs by one game in 2017 and getting to one game of the World Series in 2018 with a roster lacking consistent pitching and with too many automatic outs in the lineup.

Maybe David Schoenfeld can explain it:

On Sept. 5, the Milwaukee Brewers lost 10-5 to the Chicago Cubs in the first game of a four-game series in Milwaukee. They were 7½ games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central with 23 games left and five games behind the Cubs for the second wild-card spot — tied with the New York Mets, with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies ahead of them. Their playoff odds with 23 games remaining, according to Baseball-Reference.com: 3.1%.

Their odds of winning the division? Less than 0.1%. Not less than 1%. Less than one-tenth of 1%.

Here we are, 19 games later, and the Brewers not only have clinched a playoff spot — they did that by beating the Cincinnati Reds 9-2 on Wednesday — but they are just 1½ games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. Miracle of miracles, after 17 wins in those 19 games, the Brewers now have their sights on a division title. What a story that would be.

Correction: After their 5–3 win over Cincinnati Thursday the Brewers are now one game back of the Cardinals after winning 18 of 20.

Consider some of the most famous September comebacks in baseball history and where those teams stood with 23 games left:

1938 Cubs: 4 GB
1951 Giants: 5 GB
1964 Cardinals: 5 GB
1973 Mets: 5½ GB
1978 Yankees: 3 GB
1995 Mariners: 5½ GB
2007 Phillies: 5 GB (but 7 GB with 17 left!)

The Brewers have a chance at history — and those final three games of the Cubs series early in the month got everything going. Given the Cubs’ lead at the time in the wild-card race, it was the turning point in the season for both clubs.

In the Friday game, Christian Yelich hit a three-run home run off Cole Hamels in the third inning, and Zach Davies and three relievers combined for a three-hitter in a 7-1 victory. On Saturday, the Brewers won 3-2 as Yasmani Grandal tied it with a home run in the eighth and Yelich hit a two-out, walk-off double in the ninth. On Sunday, the Brewers scored five runs in the fourth off Jon Lester — Tyler Austin hit a three-run homer — on the way to an 8-5 victory.

Let the good times roll. Just like that, the Brewers were hot and the Cubs were reeling. Milwaukee went into Miami and swept a four-game series, although Yelich went down for the season in the first inning of the second game when a foul ball cracked his right kneecap. The Brewers lost 10-0 in St. Louis but won the next two games. They beat the San Diego Padres in three of four, swept three from the Pittsburgh Pirates and have now taken the first two from the Reds. The Brewers have scored 103 runs in going 17-2 (5.4 per game) and given up only 53 (2.79 per game). Through Sept. 5, the Brewers ranked 18th in the majors with a 4.65 ERA. Since Sept. 6, they rank first with a 2.54 ERA.

“We had another great September,” Lorenzo Cain said after the game. “Back-to-back years we had great Septembers. We’re back in the dance again and it’s find a way to get to the World Series and win it all.”

Yelich, the possible NL MVP until his injury, was on hand to celebrate. “Everybody stepped up. It’s a true sense of a team,” he said as teammates dumped champagne over his head. “We never really cared what our odds were all year, nobody cares about that. We know what we were capable of as a team. We have a lot of talented players and the guys stepped up huge and did a great job. We managed to string them together when it counted, like we did last year. It was somebody different every night.”

At one point, manager Craig Counsell took the floor and pointed around the entire clubhouse: “Take a look,” he said. “This is what a team looks like.”

One thing Schoenfeld’s piece shows is that win odds are stupid to pay attention to unless you’re interested in losing money in sports betting. They fail to give credence to the human element, in which over a short period of time — say, September in a pennant race — people can exceed what they’re supposedly capable of, or perhaps reach what they’re capable of when they previously didn’t. Or, conversely, underperform, as did the Cubs, who appeared to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their epic September 1969 collapse with a collapse of their own.

(Statistics of any sort are not predictors. They tell you what happened, and they may give you insight into how and why, but they do not tell you what will happen. If they did, sports would die because no one would watch with preordained outcomes. Except in professional wrestling, apparently.)

There is a possible scenario that I would call crazy were it not for the fact it happened to the Cubs last year. It’s possible that the Cardinals and Brewers could tie for the NL Central title Sunday, forcing a one-game playoff Monday, just as the Brewers and Cubs did last year. The winner of that game would move on to the NL Division Series, while the loser would then have to play Washington in the wild card game.

The problem is that whether as a wild card or as the NL Central champion, the Brewers’ chance of getting to the World Series is less than last year. Even if they win the Central they will not have home field advantage for any series because they would have the worst record of a NL division champion. (Even though their home record isn’t earth-shattering, it’s better than their road record, as is usually the case.) If they tie with Washington in record the Brewers would host the wild card game, but then your season comes down to one game.

Out of the five NL playoff teams, the Brewers have the worst starting pitching (4.49 ERA) and the second worst bullpen ERA (4.28). The worst bullpen ERA belongs to the Nationals, so maybe the Brewers can win the wild card game, but against teams with much better pitching staffs — which would include the Dodgers, Braves and Cardinals — their postseason fate does not look promising. Their September successes have been with expanded rosters, but everyone must play only 25 in the postseason.

Can the Brewers possibly win the World Series for their long-suffering announcer?

I’m betting not. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I wasn’t wrong last year.

 

Baseball vs. whatever it is now

USA Today:

The game is still played with the pitchers’ mound 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, the bases 90 feet apart, three outs per half inning and nine innings in a regulation game.

Those are about the only constants resembling the game of baseball as we once knew it.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is the latest to express his fury at the baseball gods, but he’s at a decided disadvantage as opposed to the rest of disgruntled baseball lifers across the nation.

He is required to sit and watch these games.

But as for the likes of Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage, all-time hit king Pete Rose, and former World Series champion manager Lou Piniella, they certainly have a choice.

They can change the channel.

“I can’t watch these games anymore,’’ Gossage said. “It’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable. A lot of the strategy of the game, the beauty of the game, it’s all gone.

“It’s like a video game now. It’s home run derby with their (expletive) launch angle every night.’’

And if the changes to the way the game is played – more home runs, shifts, strikeouts – weren’t startling enough, Major League Baseball is experimenting with new technology and drastic rule changes in the independent Atlantic League, namely using an automated system to call balls and strikes.

These trials in the Atlantic League are part of a larger shift in the game. A new era of analytical baseball, where everything is measured, quantified and optimized by raw, heartless numbers

There’s more knowledge and information than ever before, which is relished in the industry, but critics say it’s sucked the heart and soul out of the game.

“All anybody wants to do is launch the ball,’’ Piniella said. “They’re making the ballparks smaller, the balls tighter, and all we’re seeing is home runs.

“There are no hit-and-runs. No stolen bases. Nothing.

“I managed 3,400 games in the big leagues, and never once did I put on a full shift on anybody. Not once. And I think I won a few games without having to shift.’’

Said Rose, who produced 4,256 hits and struck out 100 times only once in 24 seasons: “It’s home run derby every night, and if that’s what they want, that’s what they’re going to get. But they have to understand something … Home runs are up. Strikeouts are up. But attendance is down. I didn’t go to Harvard or one of those Ivy League schools, but that’s not a good thing.’’

League-wide attendance is down about 800,000 compared with the same point last year. The final 2018 attendance – 69.7 million – was MLB’s lowest figure since 2003.

It’s not just the bad teams, either. The first-place New York Yankees are on pace to see about 160,000 fewer fans walk through the gates compared to last year.

And you can’t blame the players; it’s the philosophies being taught all the way down to Little League these days.

“Just go to Twitter and search ‘hitting guru,’ ” Maddon told reporters last week, “and find out all these different people making money these days. They’re making it too complicated, and it’s really sad. I grew up as a hitting coach, and I taught hitting a certain way. And I still think it’s germane to the way you should hit today. …

“I’ve seen some of the videos that they’re selling online, that parents are paying for. Wow. They’re just promoting the strikeout. That’s all they’re doing.’’

For the 12th consecutive season, hitters are on pace to break the strikeout record with 42,607 – 1,400 more than last year.

This year, 36% of all plate appearances have resulted in a strikeout, homer, walk or hit-by-pitch.

“We’re seeing all kind of guys who can hit home runs,’’ Rose said, “but they can’t hit.’’

Of course, that dovetails with the record home run rate this season. Entering Sunday, the league was on pace for 6,823 homers, more than 700 above the record set in 2017.

“Most of the guys that go up to the plate just try to hit home runs.’’’ said Phillies hitting coach Charlie Manuel, 75, hired last week. The old school coach led the Phillies to a World Series as the manager in 2008 and was brought back in a desperate effort to shake things up and save the team’s season.

In the past two weeks, three rookies – Mike Yastrzemski of the Giants, Aristides Aquino of the Reds and Yordan Alvarez of the Astros – have hit three home runs in a game.

Never before had more than two rookies accomplished the feat in the same season.

Aquino set a big-league record with 11 home runs in his first 17 games.

Are we even supposed to get excited anymore?

And as the new generation of executives, scouts and coaches gains a foothold around the league, baseball experience – or lack thereof – has become a concern to those who have spent nearly their whole lives in the game.

“Where does experience factor in to teach these kids?” one high-ranking executive told USA TODAY Sports. “Why are we phasing those guys out? We’re not hiring guys with experience anymore, but guys who can read spreadsheets.’’

The executive spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his comments.

Said Gossage: “They got it so an [expletive] coming off the street who doesn’t even know what a damn baseball is can manage our sport. It’s like rotisserie baseball. These [expletives] won their rotisserie leagues at Harvard and all of those [expletive] schools and now they’re general [expletive] managers.”

Meanwhile, look around the other leagues. Is there a greater NBA coach today than 70-year-old Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs? Who’s better than 67-year-old Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots? Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, 72, continues to get it done. And of course, 67-year-old football coach Nick Saban keeps rolling at Alabama.

It doesn’t seem like anybody is trying to run those guys out.

“This is a game that sustained itself for over 100 years,’’ Gossage said, “and you don’t think those damn executives knew what the [bleep] they were doing?

“The knowledge you learned in this game was passing the torch. Well, there’s no one passing it anymore. You can’t pass it when they don’t want it.’’

Exhibit A is the Milwaukee Brewers, which, among their other flaws, have given up more runs than they have scored, and yet are one of three teams still in the National League Central race, largely because no one is any better than the Brewers.

Consider this stat line: At the start of this week, outfielder Christian Yelich had 40 home runs, but only 89 runs batted in. The Brewers are fifth in baseball with 202 home runs, but 16th in runs scored, partly because they are fifth in strikeouts and seventh in grounding into double plays. To what should be no one’s surprise, they are also second in most runners left on base.

 

50 years of bad baseball

No, this blog isn’t about the Brewers.

It’s about their predecessor and that team’s replacement, as Art Thiel reports:

The Mariners Saturday will be acknowledging, or commemorating — “celebrating” doesn’t seem quite the right word — the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, the awkward runt of MLB that lasted a single season. Enough time has passed that the criminal ineptitude of the operation now seems more like a childhood prank on the order of stuffing Aunt Thusnelda’s wig down the toilet.

To salute whatever that was, the Mariners are staging another Turn Back the Clock event ahead of the 1:10 p.m. Saturday start of the game against Baltimore. The players will wear Pilots uniforms and the first 20,000 fans will receive a replica cap, complete with the “scrambled eggs” trim on the bill.

Sadly, there is no scheduled appearance for buccaneer Bud Selig, the Milwaukee car salesman who in 1970 bought the Pilots out of bankruptcy for $10 million and made them the Brewers. If the ceremony included placing the early-day Clay Bennett in a dunk tank at home plate, a sellout would be guaranteed.

Alas, the best participant witness they can summon is Gary Bell, who pitched a complete-game, 7-0 win over the Chicago White Sox April 11, 1969, the Pilots’ first home game at Sicks’ Seattle Stadium in Rainier Valley. It was the harbinger of nothing.

Now 82, Bell, who had his 12th and final MLB season in Seattle, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. That will generate hundreds of lame jokes about his joining the Mariners’ current rotation. Then everyone can sit back and enjoy bags of popcorn at the 1969 price of 50 cents, the club’s magnanimous financial/nutritional instant ritual to reconnect with the ancients.

It is too bad the promotion doesn’t include distribution of copies of Ball Four, the seminal book by Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton that ripped the skin off the game and became one of the turning points in 20th century American sports journalism/literature. Much of the book was Bouton’s bemused reflections on the hapless Pilots and the tawdry customs and characters that populated America’s then-most popular sport.

Bell’s appearance Saturday evokes the irreverent mention of him by Bouton in the book:

Gary Bell is nicknamed Ding Dong. Of course. What’s interesting about it is that “Ding Dong” is what the guys holler when somebody gets hit in the cup. The cups are metal inserts that fit inside the jock strap, and when a baseball hits one it’s called ringing the bell, which rhymes with hell, which is what it hurts like. It’s funny, even if you’re in the outfield, or in the dugout, no matter how far away, when a guy gets it in the cup you can hear it. Ding Dong.

It’s funny, unless you’re Mitch Haniger. But we digress.

The larger narrative Saturday is that the Mariners are offering up something beyond Bell, hats, popcorn, video and music of yesteryear (yes, there will be an organist playing live).

They are offering the 2019 season as a replica of the 1969 season. It may be a reverence for history unparalleled in the annals of sport.

The Pilots finished 64-98, 33 games back of the division lead, thanks in part to the terms of expansion regarding player acquisition that left them largely with castoffs and unproven youngsters. The under-capitalized team drew 677,944, 20th among 24 MLB teams, thanks in part to a hastily renovated minor-league ballpark that opened with only 19,500 seats, some of which were still damp with fresh paint, and tickets priced among the highest in baseball.

The 2019 Mariners are operating under no similar constraints.

The franchise, originated from a settlement of a lawsuit over the Pilots departure that was destined to prove the American League team owners to be a gang of scofflaws, scalawags and brigands, is owned by prosperous members of the community. They operate a vast regional monopoly with its own TV network in a spectacular, rain-proof stadium funded by taxpayers, who once gathered in sufficient numbers (3.5 million in 2002) to lead all of MLB in attendance.

All of these advantages that have accrued over a half-century put the lie to the claim from many critics in MLB, from the 1960s through the the mid-1990s, that Seattle was a bad baseball town. It was, instead, a town of bad baseball.

Then. And now.

Entering Wednesday’s games, the Mariners were 31-46, a winning percentage of 40.3. Maintaining that pace for the balance of the 162 games would give the Mariners a 65-win season.

Again, the Pilots won 64. As did the Mariners in 1977. Both were first-year expansion teams.

If the Mariners fall off their their current languid pace just a tick — the pending trades of starter Mike Leake and other older veterans with a lick of value makes the proposition seem likely — they can match the win totals of predecessors from long ago.

The case can be made, then, that the 2019 outfit is tantamount to Seattle’s third expansion baseball team. Given the number of World Series appearances in the half-century (zero), the 3/0 ratio is one of the more astounding counting stats in baseball history.

The regression makes clear they are Benjamin Buttons of Baseball.

The difference between then and now is, of course, intent. The 1969 Pilots and 1977 Mariners didn’t want to be bad, but were crippled by outside circumstances. The 2019 Mariners, despite benefiting from the accrued advantages mentioned above, want to be bad.

The modern-day purpose of deliberate badness, we have been told, is to acquire younger, better, cheaper, contract-controllable talent in order to have, down the road at a time unknowable, sustained competitive success at a high level.

The psychological problem is that nothing in MLB’s largely misbegotten half-century in Seattle offers hope of that possibility. Nor does the volume of MLB teams currently tanking along with the Mariners suggest that strategy will do anything but become more difficult. The competition is more intense for the same talent. The small middle class in today’s game means there’s too many teams in the same shallow end of the pool.

Not counting two strike-shortened years, the Mariners have had 11 seasons in which they had fewer than 70 wins, including six seasons of 61 or fewer. The full-season franchise low was 56 in 1978. In 43 years including this one, they have had four seasons of playoffs.

Since the Mariners have failed as a have-not team and a have team, with a bad stadium and a great stadium, with local ownership and non-local ownership, with no local TV revenues and lots of local TV revenues, the aspiration should be to set the franchise record of 55 or fewer victories. Everything else has been tried.

At least this time, the club won’t go bankrupt and move to Milwaukee.

As of Wednesday, 17 of the 25 active players were not on the roster at the end of last season. That’s expansion-level churn. For the rest of the season, I’d stick with the Pilots uniforms and 50-cent popcorn as physical reminders of the attempt to go where no Seattle team has gone before. And never wants to go again.

As it happens, YouTube has video and audio of the 1969 Pilots:

The documentary shows different attitudes about the Pilots from what Bouton wrote about in Ball Four. If Bouton is to be believed, the Pilots spent more time doing, shall we say, other activities than baseball — not quite to the level of the fictional North Dallas Forty, a thinly veiled portrayal of the 1960s Dallas Cowboys, but suffice to say Ball Four was a real shock to baseball fans when it was published. (My thought upon reading Ball Four and North Dallas Forty was to want to be a pro athlete, irrespective of whether I had any actual athletic skills.)

All of this shows how much professional sports has changed in just the past 50 years. It is unconscionable that any major pro sports league would allow an ownership group as undercapitalized as the Pilots’ owners were to own, by purchase or by expansion, a team. One would think Major League Baseball was mortified to have a franchise sink into bankruptcy after one season. The Pilots made the United States Football League appear to be a model of financial stability, and you know what happened to the USFL.

 

 

Sometimes I hate to be proven right

On Friday I wrote that the Brewers’ season would end either Friday or Saturday, meaning the Brewers were not going to be in the World Series.

Given the reality of this meme ..;

… you can imagine how popular my opinion was, including such Facebook comments as:

  • Arrogant article, full of holes.
  • I would love it if the Crew makes him eat his words.
  • Seems like a hedge article, if he is right then he has just listed 10 reasons how the Brewers are being victimized. If he is wrong, his next article will not be how he is wrong, but how the more virtuous Brewers overcame it all and still succeeded. Pointless article all together.
  • how in the world can anyone complain after the year we have had, and yes we could win tonight but that will not keep quiet the doubters

And one visual response:

I’m not happy I was right. “Fan” is short for “fanatic,” of course, and fans generally overstate the abilities of their team and lack objectivity about how well, or not, their team is playing. This team stopped hitting after game 3, perhaps because they were facing superior pitching. It turns out that, as I argued repeatedly and was ignored for the same, starting pitching is more valuable than bullpen pitching, as the Dodgers demonstrated with Clayton Kershaw after game 1 and with Ferris — I mean Walker — Bueller.

However, Major League Baseball deserves an assist for the Dodgers win for not suspending Manny Machado — for not even throwing him out of the game — after he attempted to injure shortstop Orlando Arcia and first baseman Jesus Aguilar. I would also love to see an analysis of the borderline pitches that were called strikes for Dodgers pitchers and balls for Brewers pitchers.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as this fan, but take it for what it’s worth:

Is there a mechanism for an average citizen to petition the FBI to investigate MLB for fraud?

The MLB rigged the 2018 postseason so heavily that something has to be done!:

1) First, MLB rigged it so the Rockies would have an easier path to the playoffs by getting the Nationals to bench Max Scherzer on the last day of the season, despite his incentive to go for the franchise record in strikeouts.

2) Second, MLB convince the Athletics to lay down for the AL Wild Card Game by starting their 13th best pitcher in an elimination game, so MLB could have Yankees/Red Sox.

3) And now MLB rigged Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS to ensure two big market teams compete in the 2018 World Series to help boost TV ratings!

I am sorry, but you cannot flail your arms with your legs totally still on a ball off the plate outside and hit it 410 feet!

If a normal ball was used, that is a weak flyout to center field.

MLB clearly used some special dynamite balls for the top of the 6th inning to ensure the Dodgers won the game.

The sad part is, out of the 3 teams, the Brewers actually deserve the most respect because I believe they refused to go along with MLB’s plan.

That is why MLB went to the dynamite balls to rig the game themselves.

You could certainly hear the sighs of relief in the MLB office and at Fox Sports (which allegedly broadcasted the NLCS, not that you could find it on a Fox station) with a Dodgers–Red Sox World Series instead of the Brewers in it. I certainly hope this World Series generates record-low ratings for Fox, and those viewers will not include myself.

A losing sports team is not a tragedy. (Although, as former baseball Bart Giamatti said, it is designed to break your heart.) It is a shame, however, that Bob Uecker probably now will die without covering a World Series. This is because the Brewers are not going to make a future World Series. In fact, they’re not even going to make the playoffs next year. (I already have a lunch bet on this point that I will spend the next year planning.) These playoffs exploited all the holes that every team playing the Brewers next year will seek to exploit.

Teams win because many of their players have career seasons all at the same time. The 1983, 2009 and 2012 Brewers seasons were full of optimism and even picks of the Brewers winning the World Series following their playoff appearances. That didn’t happen.

Fans were excessively optimistic after the 2017 season because the Brewers just missed the playoffs, even though the Brewers had zero chance of winning a single playoff game, and despite the presence of automatic outs Jonathan Villar and Keon Broxton in the lineup. Were it not for the offseason acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich and the in-season acquisitions of Joakim Soria, Mike Moustakas, Curtis Granderson and Gio Gonzalez, the Brewers wouldn’t have made the playoffs this year. What are the chances that (1) everyone on this team will play well or (2) the Brewers will successfully fill next season’s lineup holes, or even try to?

The prevailing opinion is that the sky is the limit for the Brewers’ young pitchers. To that, I point out former Brewers young pitchers Teddy Higuera, Juan Nieves, Chris Bosio, Bill Wegman, Cal Eldred, Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo, among numerous others. All were considered promising pitchers. Every one of them flamed out.

Josh Hader is more likely to blow out something in his arm than he is to duplicate the season he had this year. Fans seem to want Jeremy Jeffress gone because he gave up a three-run home run Saturday night when the Brewers were already down 2–1. Had Jeffress not given up that home run, the Brewers would have still lost 2–1.

The 2002 Anaheim Angels won a World Series with a team full of young players. They never got within sniffing distance of the World Series again. This, I think, will be the Brewers’ fate yet again. (One reason conservatives are smarter than liberals is that conservatives always expect the worst, so they’re never disappointed.) In order for the Brewers to win, as a small-market team in a sport that doesn’t want small-market teams to exist, basically every player decision has to be correct. There is no way that can happen again as well as it did this year.

I hope Brewers fans enjoyed the 2018 season. You won’t see one like this again.

Season (about to be) over

Either tonight or Saturday night, the Brewers’ season will end, once again short of getting to the World Series, let alone winning the World Series.

It is not because a 3-games-to-2 lead is insurmountable; it isn’t. But the last two games of the National League Championship Series have exposed the Brewers’ weaknesses that are not going to be fixed before the Brewers’ season ends. Almost no one is hitting right now, and this is a bad time for a team-wide power outage. The Brewers deserve points for, shall we say, imaginative use of pitching, but imagination only gets you so far. The bullpen is predictably worn out, and as I have said here before there is no starting pitcher who can go even seven innings and keep the Brewers in the game.

Sadly, the Dodgers and the now-likely American League champion Boston Red Sox demonstrate that all you have to do to win in baseball is whip out your checkbook to acquire the right players. (Which is not the same thing as whipping out your checkbook to acquire players.) So the highest (Red Sox) and third highest (Dodgers) payrolls are playing each other next week. That will be another World Series I won’t, and you shouldn’t, be watching.

Speaking of money, the NLCS has served as a nationwide audition for Dodgers third baseman Manny Machado, for whom the Brewers tried to trade with Baltimore before the Dodgers picked him up. (Which is somewhat ironic since there were questions about where Machado would have played given the surplus of Brewers infielders. And then the Brewers picked up Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop.)

Machado started his week by admitting he loafs his way through games, which could be this year’s example of “Manny being Manny,” a term originally used for former outfielder Manny Ramirez.

And then came Tuesday, when, as the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke reports …

You know who should have been booed Tuesday? That would be Machado, who caused the oddest of all sights, a bench-clearing incident in the 10th inning. It happened when Brewers’ first baseman Jesus Aguilar objected to the way Machado seemingly intentionally clipped his leg while running out a groundout. It wasn’t the first time Machado has taken a physical shot at the Brewers this series — in Game 3 he was called for runner interference when he slid out of the baseline hard into shortstop Orlando Arcia. This time, benches briefly cleared before the incident ended with no punches thrown.

Yet afterward, the Brewers Christian Yelich said, ‘’It’s a dirty play by a dirty player’’ — but Machado just shrugged.

“I was trying to get over him and hit his foot…if that’s dirty, that’s dirty, I don’t know, call it what you want,’’ Machado said.

The Dodgers are better than that, and should probably keep Machado’s erratic postseason behavior in mind when considering whether to keep him when he becomes an expensive free agent this winter. Remember in Game 2 when he stopped running hard to first base on a ground out?

“I don’t think he’s playing all that hard,’’ said Brewers Manager Craig Counsell Tuesday night in a fairly stunning rebuke,

The Orange County Register’s Mark Whicker adds:

The playoffs maximize everything, so the world is just now learning that Manny Machado is not the modern-day Hal McRae.

Shortly after Machado came to L..A. on July 18, Dodger Stadium fans learned that he not only has a Home Run Trot, he also has an Almost Home Run Trot, in which he adores his long drives until he has to scramble to make sure they’re doubles.

He has a Double Play Trot, which was in evidence at Milwaukee on Saturday in front of Fox’s cameras, and the dwindling number of people who are watching this postseason.

Joe Buck picked up on it. From Baltimore, Jim Palmer tweeted, “Once again Manny doesn’t run hard. Down 0-1 in series, 0-0 game in 4th. Too tired to run hard for 90 feet. But wants the big $$. #pathetic.”

Palmer, of course, had broadcast almost all of Machado’s game in Baltimore.

But the Dodgers broadcasters, who are not exactly known for hunting for the negatives, cited Machado at least twice this season.

Then, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series Tuesday night, Machado inflamed things by stepping on the front of first baseman Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar objected, the benches emptied, and Christian Yelich and other Brewers termed Machado a dirty player. Told that Machado said he was just playing hard, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell even questioned that.

Since Machado is an upcoming free agent, it’s important to put this to bed before the bidding starts. Machado tried to do that with Ken Rosenthal, of Fox and The Athletic. Whether he succeeded depends on which quote you hear.

“There’s no excuse for it, honestly,” Machado said. “I’ve never given excuses for not running. Obviously, I’m not going to change. It does look bad, it looks terrible. I look back and I’m like, ‘What was I doing?’

“I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle. … That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am. There are things you learn, things you gotta change. I’ve tried changing it for eight years and I still can’t figure it out, but one of these days I will.”

It resonates with the Dodgers because of what happened in San Francisco on April 30.

Cody Bellinger swung hard enough to fall to a knee as he sent a shot into the right-center alley. He only got to second base and said later that he wasn’t going to risk anything, four runs down. Manager Dave Roberts thought Bellinger “cruised into second base.” He benched him forthwith.

That story went national and planted a false seed. Nobody in blue goes down the line as furiously as Bellinger, and he keeps surprising infielders with his speed. Now Roberts sees Machado play at 33 rpm just like you do, but says the good outweighs the bad. One imagines that Bellinger and quite a few other Dodgers notice this.

It also reinforces the feeling that Machado will play elsewhere next year. The Dodgers don’t do big free-agent contracts, and Corey Seager is expected to reclaim shortstop, at some point in 2019.

It’s not as if Machado isn’t known for being a jackass:

But, to show how life is unfair, Machado will be playing in the World Series next week — because MLB didn’t suspend Machado for the rest of the playoffs — and the high-character Brewers will not be. MLB’s failure to penalize Machado is a sign that MLB wanted the Dodgers and not the Brewers to win. So is MLB’s failure to act on this, from the Sporting News:

The Brewers suspect the Dodgers are attempting to steal their signs in the National League Championship Series. And, according to the Athletic, who cited unidentified league sources, Milwaukee is suspicious Los Angeles is using video cameras to do it.

“They use video people to get sequences,” an unidentified source told the Athletic. “It’s known throughout the league. MLB knows it’s an issue.”

Milwaukee catcher Erik Kratz pointed to a specific instance in the sixth inning of Game 5 when he saw Manny Machado motioning toward Chris Taylor, who was at the plate in what he thought was an attempt to inform him of the upcoming pitch. That was just an allegation of stealing signs in general, but the suspicion goes deeper.

The Brewers reportedly suspect the Dodgers of sending an employee around the stadium to relay stolen signals.

“There is concern amongst some Brewers that the Dodgers are using video to pick up their signs, multiple sources tell The Athletic,” the report says. “One person inside the organization said that on videos of the games, a coach could be seen running from the hallway into the Dodgers’ dugout whenever a runner reached second base, possibly a sign that L.A. was relaying a pitchers’ sequences to the runner during those at-bats.”

Other sources from around the league have pointed out the Brewers are clearly trying all they can to keep the Dodgers from stealing signals, as Milwaukee is using multiple signs even with no runners on base.

“That’s a dead giveaway they think something is up,” one rival executive told the Athletic.

You may think the Brewers still have a few years of being a contender. History shows that is not necessarily the case. The only extended period in franchise history where the Brewers were a contender was from 1978 to 1983, including one American League pennant and 1½ division titles. The Brewers made the playoffs in 2008, but not in 2009 and 2010, and got to the NLCS in 2011, but not since then until this year. Unexpectedly good seasons in 1987 and 1992 led to nothing.

Consider how many moves the Brewers made this year to get to this point — signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich in the offseason, and during the season acquiring Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Curtis Granderson, Joakim Soria and Gio Gonzales. And all for naught, and not likely to be repeated in future seasons.

The playoffs also show how stupid baseball is being run these days. None of the NLCS or ALCS games have been shown on over-the-air TV, which means that roughly one-fourth of Americans haven’t been able to watch, nor have they been able to stream the games without paying for them. It’s as if MLB doesn’t want the country to see the highlight of its season.

 

Views from the home away from home

Game 3 of the National League Championship Series is tonight in Los Angeles, with the series tied at one game each.

The Brewers are not playing at home, but some of the Brewers are playing pretty close to home, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

Your National League Championship Series matchup: L.A.’s team vs. L.A.’s team. …

“I don’t think there’s any team that has more L.A. connections than we have,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said.

Braun attended Granada Hills High. Outfielder Christian Yelich, the MVP-to-be, attended Westlake High. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who attended Chatsworth High, said all three players now live in Malibu.

So does Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who last month tore his Achilles tendon on the beach, charging to the rescue of his labradoodle, who was under attack by a larger dog. His dog is fine. His rehabilitation includes a modified scooter, decorated in Brewers gear.

Milwaukee is the smallest market in the major leagues, and a long way from the Pacific Ocean.

“We’ve got a lake,” Attanasio said. “Maybe not an ocean, but a lake.”

Attanasio loves to tell the story of how, not long after he bought the team, a guy driving a garbage truck ran up to welcome him to Milwaukee.

“And he took his glove off too,” Attanasio said.

The kids that grew up in the big city swear by Milwaukee, even if they did not know much about the place before playing there.

“I just had the vision of watching Brett Favre play in the snow, so I just assumed that it was cold,” Braun said.

Braun, a six-time All-Star, twice skipped the chance for free agency to sign contract extensions with the Brewers. Attanasio calls him “a cheerleader for the city.”

Said Braun: “It’s such a special place to spend the summer, because it’s such a small window of good weather. In L.A., we’re spoiled. We have good weather year-round. In Milwaukee, it’s a three- or four-month window, so every day, there’s a carnival, concert, festival, something going on. Everybody is outside. It’s 45 degrees, and they have shorts and T-shirts on.

“The time we spend there is the best time of the year in Milwaukee.”

Braun, in his 12th season there, said he has helped newcomers Moustakas and Yelich find good places to eat, nice neighborhoods, and ways to navigate what relatively little traffic there might be.

“It’s an awesome city,” Moustakas said. “I’m from L.A., but I try to keep to myself. I’m not a big-city guy.”

“It’s a great baseball town,” Yelich said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

The Brewers ranked in the top 10 in attendance this season and last, despite ranking 30th in market size and playing in a city with a population closer to the size of Fresno than L.A. In Attanasio’s 14 seasons as owner, the Brewers have had seven winning seasons, three postseason appearances, and one 90-loss season.

The smallest market in the majors might be the easiest one in which to sell tanking, but Attanasio wants no part of it.

“You can break things down, but it’s not easy,” he said. “Just because you break them down doesn’t mean you’re going to get back to where you want to get to.

“Plus, I just hate to lose.”

Attanasio could have eliminated his frequent Milwaukee commute without sacrificing ownership of a major league team. However, he declined to assemble a group to bid on his hometown Dodgers when Frank McCourt put them up for sale in 2011, even though one of Attanasio’s investors in the Brewers has season tickets “literally behind the dugout” at Dodger Stadium.

“I’ve got things set up, where God willing, my kids can take this over some day,” Attanasio said. “I’m dug in here, for the long haul.

“Every ownership group is different. This is all mine. It’s all the fun, and all the pain. It’s all on me. I have other investors, but I’m the only decision-maker.” …

“It’s going to be way different than when we played there during the regular season,” Yelich said. “It’s going to be strictly a business trip. You won’t be able to cater to anybody’s needs. You’re not going to be able to say hello. You have to minimize the distractions.

“I may even turn my phone completely off.”

But how will all your friends track you down to ask for tickets?

“No one,” Yelich said with a small smile, “is getting any tickets.”

This blog reported Friday about how Major League Baseball hates the idea of the Brewers possibly in the World Series. Nancy Armour can’t understand why:

Why do they hate fun?

Yes, the Brewers are a small-market team. The smallest of the small markets, to be exact. They don’t have the cachet of the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Boston Red Sox, and they don’t have Houston’s bragging rights. The radio guy rivals the soon-to-be NL MVP for star power.

But, man, is Milwaukee fun.

Just the kind of wacky fun baseball needs.

The Brewers took down the mighty Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Friday night with the kind of quirky game you’d normally see in spring training, not Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Manager Craig Counsell pulled Gio Gonzalez after two innings, the pitcher who relieved him took Kershaw deep and the guy who pinch-hit for him singled in a pair of runs.

There also was a catcher’s interference call to keep one inning alive, and an overturned call on a steal to extend another one. The closer nearly gave the game away, only to strike Yasiel Puig out.

And if that’s not enough for you, the 6-5 victory gives all of Milwaukee a free hamburger.

See, wacky.

“We’re a fun team to watch,” infielder Travis Shaw told USA TODAY Sports. “I think once people get to watch us a little bit, they’ll enjoy watching us.”

You wouldn’t know it from the rabid, towel-waving, sold-out crowd at Miller Park, but baseball is in the doldrums. Attendance was down sharply this season, TV ratings lag well behind the NFL’s and kids just don’t dig baseball like they used to.

Part of that is the length of games and the late starts – Friday’s game lasted 4 hours and 2 minutes and ended at 12:14 p.m. Eastern. But the bigger problem is that all the fun has been sucked out of baseball by esoteric stats, shifts and pitch counts that serve the same purpose as bubble wrap.

The Brewers are not immune to this. Few other managers have embraced the shift like Counsell, and he’s a matchup savant.

But he’s not afraid to turn traditional philosophy on its head, either.

Take Friday’s game.

Gonzalez hadn’t pitched since Sept. 30, so he was fresh enough to pitch a complete game. Yet Counsell’s plan was to have him go two innings and let the bullpen take over. Sure enough, he brought Brandon Woodruff in to pitch the third, and he retired the Dodgers in order the next two innings.

He also took Kershaw deep to right-center to lead off the bottom of the inning and tie the game.

“It certainly changed the energy in our dugout from what you think is going to be the kind of grind-it-out game against Clayton,” Counsell said. “That happens, it gives everybody life.”

With Woodruff dealing as he was, you’d think Counsell might have let him go deeper in the game. Nope. When Woodruff’s spot in the order came up in the fourth, Counsell brought Domingo Santana in to pinch-hit.

Smart move, as Santana drove in a pair of runs with a single to left.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got this kind of stuff where you’ve never been a part of it and now you’re doing it. It’s exciting to see the revolution.”

OK, but some pitchers would be less than pleased at getting such a quick hook. When that question was posed to him, however, Gonzalez’s face left no doubt how crazy that idea is.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “At the end of the day, everybody’s pitching. Everybody gets a chance to pitch. Which is what you’re playing this game for. Everybody wants to be a part of it. Everybody wants to grab an at-bat.”

That’s the most appealing part of these Brewers. They’re playing with the kind of abandon that made them fall in love with the game in the first place. The roster is a glorious mishmash of home-grown products and castoffs reveling in a second chance, so they don’t much care what roles they’re playing or who’s getting the credit.

Derek Jeter will rue the day he thought trading Christian Yelich was a good idea — if he doesn’t already. Jesus Aguilar, whose solo homer in the seventh turned out to be the game-winner, bounced around the minors and had a few cups of coffee in Cleveland over three seasons before the Brewers claimed him off waivers before last season. Mike Moustakas escaped the purgatory that is now Kansas City before the trade deadline.

“We play like a family,” Aguilar said. “We don’t got like a specific hero. The most important thing is to win games.”

And win games they are, 12 in a row — thus, the free hamburgers from local institution George Webb.

The team that wins Game 1 of the NLCS is an overwhelming favorite to reach the World Series. Since the NLCS expanded to seven games 32 years ago, the Game 1 winner has gone on to clinch the pennant 23 times. The last team to buck that trend was the San Francisco Giants back in 2012.

Which means the whole country could be seeing more of the Brewers, like it or not.

“It’s something different,” Shaw said. “The three teams that are left besides us have all been there, done that. We haven’t been … so it’ll be a nice change.”

If you don’t enjoy what the Brewers are doing, then you don’t really enjoy baseball.

And you sure don’t enjoy fun.