Tag Archives: Ryan Braun

New Faces, Same Old Rivalry

Both teams involved in the I94 rivalry come into this weekend’s series with losing, though, semi-competitive records in their respective divisions. Let’s hear one for our sponsor this weekend…parity!!!

The Crew are the more respectable of the two, checking in at 16-22, good for 4th in the NL Central, and only 6 games back. The Twinks are a ghastly 12-26, good for the worst record in baseball, and yet, are still only 10 games back in the AL Central. Only might seem a bit “glass half full,” but, consider that they would be 13 games back in the AL East or NL West.

The Twins come into this weekend’s series hot, fresh off their first sweep of the season. Will they get to use their brooms again this weekend?

In terms of momentum, amazingly, the Twins have that market cornered right now, winning their last two games. Sweeping the division rival Tigers in Detroit. The Crew have lost two in a row and four of their last five. However, that is nothing that a little home cooking with an ancient rival won’t fix.

The Crew are 4-2 against the Twinks the last two years and have been particularly dominant in Milwaukee. The pitching sets up nicely for the Brewers who will run Estrada, Yo, and Greinke to the hill in this weekend’s tilt. The Twins are countering with Scott Diamond (more on  him later) Carl Pavano, and Jason Marquis.

Needless to say, particularly with Pavano and Marquis, the Miller Park scoreboard operator should consider asking for a bonus this weekend, he is likely going to be working overtime. In fact, does the scoreboard at Miller Park have an infinity symbol? Marquis has been pitching lately like a guy challenging that frontier. To call his recent outings glorified batting practice is an insult to batting practice pitchers everywhere.

That lack of quality starts, in large part, has driven the Twins into a youth movement. Hence, Scott Diamond. Diamond is a 6’3″ lefty who has dominated in his first two starts since his call-up on May 8th. Diamond joined fellow youngster, P.J. Walters in the rotation as the Twins, who are using the spaghetti method of building a line-up, want to see what they have in these young arms.

The youth movement has been even more prevalent on the offensive side of the ball. Of the Twins 12 position players who see the most innings, 8 of them are not yet 30 years old and 5 of them are not even halfway through their roaring 20s.

The brightest star of these diaper dandies has been SS Brian Dozier. Dozier is hitting almost .300 with 5 extra base hits while playing stellar defense. He really has been a sorely needed spark and, should there be any kind of turn around, he will definitely be considered the guy who help initiate it.

FedEx snafu aside, at least the Crew’s nine figure guy Braun is delivering. Not sure Twins fans are as happy with their guy Mauer at the moment.

The Crew have yet to stoop to the Twins level of desperation, refraining from calling up all their young prospects. Instead, sticking with the “veterans” (Braun, T-Plush, Weeks, and Hart). Although, even those veterans are still relatively young. Brewers fans should be happy about the core of young players that the organization has to build around. And, on top of that, the Crew do have some guys in the minors who look like they could be contributing soon.

Pitcher Tyler Thornburg is dominating at Double A. His 1.91 ERA and 9.8 SO/9 are downright filthy. If the back end of the rotation continues to struggle, he might just force the Crew’s hand. His teammate, Khris Davis, is also raking at Double A. Stuffing the stat sheet in all the counting categories while roaming the OF at Huntsville. Though, unless the Brewers decide to trade Plush or Hart, Davis probably will not get the ABs he needs to justify a pre-September call up.

As of right now, only the Twins have fully embraced the youth movement. It would not shock me to learn that their is some sort of underground expressway from Target Field to Rochester. Barring a turn around, hopefully the Twins see enough out of their young guns that they can be player at the trade deadline in terms of moving talent (Span, Burton, etc.) for additional prospects. The Brewers have the prospects knocking on the door to follow suit and embrace their own youth movement. Though, the memory of last year’s run to the NLCS may cause them to hang on to hopes of another playoff run a bit longer than is appropriate.

The nice thing is, regardless of the new faces, the rivalry goes on. It is still Twins v. Brewers. And that always makes for a good time.

We Have To Play 159 More Of These…

Well, both the squads in the Border Rivals rivalry got off to a GLORIOUS (think Frank The Tank in Old School) start to the 2012 MLB season. Due to the fact that they have a number higher than 0 in the left hand column in the standings, we will recap all the Brewers’ action first.

Someone should have told Yo that spring training was over and that this one counted. Definitely not a performance to remember.

The Crew took on the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. With Yo taking the mound in Friday’s tilt, the Crew had to like their chances. Unfortunately, Yo decided to get one of his semi-seasonal  “blow up” games out of the way early this year. Classic Yo. If he could just limit these games to one or two a year, his ERA would likely compete with the best in the league. Or, if he could learn to keep a 3 or 4 run outburst from turning into 6 or 7, like the really good ones do on their off days, he would finally realize the immense talent that he possesses.

Saturday’s matinee saw Zach Grienke squaring off with former Cardinals ace, Adam Wainwright. The Brewers made Wainwright look like the guy coming off Tommy John surgery that he is. They really made him work for every out he got and took him to the wood shed a bit for 3 ER in only 5.2 innings. Corey Hart got things started with a mammoth HR in the 2nd inning and the Crew never looked back. Rickie Weeks continued his hot start, smashing a HR in the 8th off of Ranger-killer Fernando Salas.

So, this is what popped up when we Wiki'd Lance Lynn. All seriousness aside, apologies to his mom and sister, he does have a page. He just has a round face.

Unfortunately, Sunday saw a repeat of Friday’s result.  The Crew made spot starter and Cardinals long reliever Lance Lynn look like the second coming of Dizzy Dean (Googlebox him on the interweb — that one was from the way-back machine). Lynn scattered 2 hits and struck out 8 Brewers. He mixed up his pitches and flummoxed the Crew’s line-up. On top of that, Randy Wolf decided to throw the Cardinals’ hitters a little extra batting practice. He “scattered” 9 Hs in 5 innings and, an already heavily used Brewers pen got another chance to pitch some extra innings. This includes a less than wonderful performance by the Ax-Man, who gave up a 3 run HR to someone called Suger Shane Robinson. Not a great start to the season.

Despite the less than sterling start to the season, there were some positives to the homestand. Weeks and Hart have started the season strong, Braun jacked his first bomb of the year, and Zach Greinke looked like a potential Cy Young candidate. PLUS, the Brewers travel to Chicago to take on the Cubs for a 4 game set. Definitely an opportunity to get some momentum going in this very young season. Like “they” say, you cannot win your division in April, but, you can lose it. Just ask a Twins fan.

Look for that recap tomorrow…

2012 AL Central Preview (With A Throwback Twist)

The recent (and sudden) heat wave here in the Midwest means that spring is here and America’s pastime is ramping up for its 2012 debut.

Brewers fans going to miss watching Fielder turn those massive hips on opposing fastballs and sending another moonshot to downtown Milwaukee.

This past offseason saw the movement of one of the Greatest of All Time (GOAT), Albert Pujols, another potential GOAT, Prince Fielder, (if he can lay off the Tofu bacon cheeseburgers), and multiple other big names like C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes.

Unfortunately, none of the big names that switched teams landed with Border Rivals squads the Minnesota Twins or Milwaukee Brewers.  Both the Brewers and the Twins were active in the offseason, though, only the Brewers made a marginal splash in bringing in a semi-marquee name.  With that mind, let’s get to Part 1 of the 2012 AL Central Preview (with a throwback twist):

Milwaukee Brewers

The Crew had a wild offseason.  Right off the bat (to be punny), they had to come to grips with the notion that Prince was not coming back.  A guy who averaged 40+ bombs, 110 RBIs, and 90+ Rs, for the past six years was packing up his vegetarian patty press and skipping town.  He leaves behind him a pretty significant void. Both literally and figuratively. Not only will Prince’s numbers sorely be missed, but, the protection he provided in the line-up, the insurance for Mr. Bernie Brewer, Ryan Braun, is what Brewer fans (and Braun) will miss the most.

Considering Braun’s off-season, if he was not a principal owner of FedEx stock before this season, he certainly is now, losing his battery mate could make life a lot more difficult.  Without Fielder’s presence in the line-up, pitchers can go after Braun a little bit more aggressively. This is particularly nasty for a guy who hits most MLB fastballs like he is hitting them off a tee.  Add to that the cloud of uncertainty overshadowing Braun’s every move, that void will likely be amplified.

To help fill that void, the Crew went out and signed All-Star 3B, Aramis Ramirez, to a 3 year, $36 million deal.  It is the kind of deal that actually balances the risk (Ramirez is an enigma — to say the least) and the reward (he is an undeniable talent).  If the talented/semi-driven Ramirez  shows up, he will be serviceable protection for FedEx’s No.1 Fan and will help drive a better than average MLB offense.

Gamel has some mighty big shoes to fill, but, if this year's spring training is any indication, he just might be up to the task.

The other question marks for the Crew are perpetual prospect-in-waiting, Mat Gamel, and consummate professional, Corey Hart. Gamel has had a terrific spring-training (.400 AVG and 4 HRs), and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to fill-in Fielder’s shoes at 1B.  If he can finally perform at he level scouts have long-projected him at, Fielder’s departure will not hurt nearly as bad.  Hart has been a mainstay in the Crew line-up for the past 8 seasons.  He is a versatile player, he can leadoff or hit 5th, who does a little bit of everything for the team.  He underwent off-season knee surgery and has yet to play an inning of baseball this spring.  His successful return from that surgery is going to be integral to the team’s success overall.

From a pitching perspective, the Crew did not make any significant moves in the off-season.  They will rely, for the most part, on the same stable of arms that they had last year.  That stable is headlined by Zach Greinke (pitching in a contract year), Yovani Gallardo, and Shawn Marcum.  When healthy, and that is the critical distinction, these three starters are probably as good, or better, than any other 3 starters in the NL. Only the Phillies can run out a set of 1-3 starters that can match up with the Crew. But, health is the wild card with all three guys.  Marcum is already on the shelf with shoulder issues. Both Gallardo and Greinke have had their own injury issues in the past. If those three guys can remain relatively healthy, they will keep the Crew in most games.

The bullpen is still anchored by All-Stars John Axford and K-Rod.  Both men were steady performers in the late innings for the Crew.  If the starters can get the Crew to the late innings, these horses will take it from there.

Ultimately, the Crew’s success this season is going to hinge on the squad’s ability to ignore the outside distraction (Braun’s FedEx miracle, Fielder’s absence, K-Rod’s age, Gamel’s boom-or-bust label, etc.)  and focus on the business of playing baseball.  If they can limit the outside distractions, this team can make a push to win the NL Central crown.  And, if they can find their way into the playoffs, they have the staff to match-up with anyone in the National League.

Prediction:     91 wins.  NL Wild Card.

Braun is Innocent – Kind of

Apparently this is a new concept in this country: innocent until proven guilty

By now you’ve heard the news… Ryan Braun becomes the first player to successfully challenge a positive drug test. And not because he was proven innocent by a false positive or because the “insane” levels of testosterone were from an unknown substance. Braun won the appeal because MLB failed to follow the necessary protocol.

According to reports, the individual that collected Braun’s sample did not take it immediately to a FedEx shipping store, as demanded under MLB’s protocol. Instead, the individual, thinking the FedEx store would be closed at the hour he picked the sample up (because it must have been too inconvenient to at least make the effort to go to a FedEx store to see if it actually was closed), took it home and kept it in his basement – a cool place. What matters is that the MLB’s policy required the sample get to a FedEx as soon as possible. Based on the sparse details available, this was not done.

The outcry from this result has been swift. And, disturbingly, the outcry seems directed primarily at Braun. For instance, this from ESPN: “Braun’s lawyers apparently found a flaw, a mistake[,] or a loophole in the drug-testing system. And that’s the problem.” No, ESPN, that is not the problem. The problem is MLB  blew it.

Lady Justice prevails again.

Protocols are put in place for a reason and need to be followed, especially when a man’s livelihood, reputation, and place in history are at stake. This may come as news to some – pay attention ESPN – but this thing called Lady Justice dictates that we are all innocent until proven guilty. And to prove guilt, the prosecuting authority (in this case, MLB) needs to do it with evidence that is reliable and trustworthy. Reliability and trustworthiness can only be ensured when protocols are established and followed. As soon as those protocols are not followed, reliability and trustworthiness goes out the door, and there are questions about the veracity of the evidence. That’s what happened here. It’s not a “flaw, mistake, or a loophole;” it’s a fuck up by MLB in implementing the proper procedures to ensure all protocol is understood and followed.

Refusing to acknowledge this, MLB issued the following statement: “As a part of our drug testing program, the commissioner’s office and the players’ association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today ….” Let me get this straight: (1) MLB finally gets off its lazy ass and starts testing for performance enhancing drugs two decades too late; (2) MLB implements a drug-testing program with rather little feedback from the players during the last CBA negotiation; (3) the MLB drug-testing program’s success hinges on having reliable and trustworthy urine samples; (4) the drug-testing program allows players to challenge a positive test result by submitting to a neutral arbitration process; and (5) and now MLB vehemently disagrees with the decision because the arbitrator found that the testing protocol was not followed correctly, resulting in a patently unreliable and untrustworthy sampleAs Seth and Amy would say… REALLY?!?!

But let’s take this a little further. The urine sample is the only piece of evidence to prove guilt (think about it – testimony, mistake, and a second sample provided by a player to an independent lab have never successfully defeated a positive test in MLB). Considering this, MLB has to know the importance in implementing a fool-proof protocol. The drug-testing program should have accounted for what the collector needs to do in this situation. For instance, (1) Samples must be placed in an envelope, box, or some container that is sealed tight (assuming this won’t affect with the science of the testing), sealed in front of the player, and signed by both the player and collector; (2) Samples can only be collected during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and must be directly taken to a FedEx shipping store and personally handed to an attendant to be shipped overnight; and (3) in the event a FedEx shipping store is closed after the sample is collected, the collector must store the container in a refrigerator or other place that will keep it cool (not the fricking basement!) and the collector must contact the commissioner’s office or the czar of drug-testing (whoever the hell that is), the general manager of the players team, and the player himself to alert each interested party so that the GM and/or player may see the container that night and/or the following morning before it is shipped to ensure the seal is still tight, the signatures are still accurate, and otherwise affirm the sample provided is untainted and reliable. Frankly, the fact the protocol only called for the sample being delivered to FedEx as soon as possible is embarrassingly amateur on MLB’s part. [Editor’s Note: after this matter has become more thoroughly dissected in the national media, it is learned that the first two points above were accounted for in some respect in the drug-testing protocol. Nonetheless, the point remains the drug-testing protocol had certain ambiguities, and “what-if” scenarios that should have been anticipated, but were not – like the third point above. The fact still remains that MLB had a protocol in place that created a situation that permitted a sample to become unreliable and untrustworthy; and for that, MLB is at fault.]

The bottom line is MLB absolutely screwed the pooch on this. And it’s pathetic MLB is now trying to cover its ass by releasing reports now, after the fact, that the samples were still reliable and the arbitrator got it wrong. No, MLB, you got it wrong. Stop blaming Braun and his attorneys for demonstrating its ineptness. This is on you, MLB.

The sad part in all of this is that Braun, at least in the general public’s eyes, is guilty. Despite MLB’s inability to prove his guilt, Braun will forever have the cloud of suspicion over him because there is no answer. All we know is that Braun had an “insane” level of testosterone in his system. We will never know whether Braun was using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. What we do know is that MLB deserves the blame and is shamefully shifting it elsewhere.