Tag Archives: The Crew

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.

The Maturation Of The Ax Man

The list of successful Canadian baseball players is not a long one. Joey Votto and Justin Morneau are probably the most well-known contemporaries. Larry Walker and Fergie Jenkins are the more recognizable names from days gone by. Overall, Canada is definitely more known for producing talent that can perform on the ice, rather than the baseball diamond.

Tastes in foreign entertainment aside, Ax Man has been as consistent and reliable as the Secret Service. This was a guy who did not miss.

That being said, for the last three years, Crew supporters have had the privilege of watching a relatively unknown Canuck, John Berton Axford, lock down the ninth inning like the Secret Servi…well…you get the idea. Axford has basically dominated since arriving on the scene. He earned his first save in 2009. He notched 24 of them in 2010, grabbing the Brewer’s closer role, and never looking back. The Ax Man was officially born.

In 2011, the Ax Man took his act to a whole other level. He has always had the Rollie Fingers wanna-be moustache.  But, unlike other imposters, he actually has shown the skills to match it. And, as his hair grew, it almost seemed like he was the modern day Sampson, shrinking his ERA and converting save after save. Ax Man started a streak that would run to 49, only falling last week in a wacky game against those lovable losers, the Cubs.  During that streak, the Crew was spoiled by Ax Man’s consistency. When you have a good closer, it is easy to forget how nerve-racking the 9th inning can be (just ask a Twins fan how it is working out since Joe Nathan departed and Fat…I mean….Matt Capps took over).

Though, what might truly be the best thing about Ax Man is the understated way in which he has gone about dominating the National League. I mean, even this guy’s intro music, “New Noise” is from underground punk rocker, Refused. Nothing about this guy is flashy. But, his numbers scream dominance and, a less grounded individual (thank you for those Canadian sensibilities) would let it go to his head.

And, even though the compensation for most MLB closers is significantly inflated. Having a reliable and steady presence to handle 9th inning duties is a luxury to be enjoyed. Just ask the Yankees. When the great Mariano Rivera went down a couple weeks ago shagging fly balls, he was replaced by the talented, though unproven, David Robertson. In Robertson’s second save opportunity, he promptly gave up 4 runs and blew a game against divisional rival Tampa Bay.

Not sure if it is the hair, the moustache, or just his overall swagger, but, the Ax Man definitely has IT.

The Crew are fortunate not to have to worry about that. They have a guy who has IT. IT. Talked about often. Rarely properly defined. IT is that intangible that only a select few relievers have to draw upon when their back is up against the wall. Call it swagger, call it irrational confidence, Crew fans call it Ax Man. The good ones, the ones you know who have IT, usually have a snarl on their face when they take the mound. Almost a, “wait, you think you can hit me??” attitude. Ax Man has been snarling at hitters for two plus years and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Now, does that mean Ax Man is never going to blow another game? Absolutely not. In fact, Ax admitted as much, quite hilariously I might add, in a self-deprecating letter to the media announcing his wife’s delivery of their second child (turned out to be false alarm). However, amateur comedy and psychoanalytical skills aside, Ax is a luxury that Crew supporters should enjoy. There are only a select few teams that have 9th inning guys as reliable as the Ax Man. It is easy to take that kind of consistency for granted. Personally, I am going to try to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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.