A’s get revenge, win 11-4

29 02 2008

Oakland evened up the two-day series against Milwaukee today, winning 11-4.  Jack Cust started off the scoring for the A’s in the first with a grand slam off Dave Bush.  The pitchers struggled overall today.

Batting:

It is difficult to say that the Crew had a bad day at the plate, as they managed to post 12 hits.  Prince Fielder went 2-3.  Hardy went 3-3 with three singles, and Corey Hart finished the day 2-3 with a two-RBI triple off Alan Embree.   Gabe Gross hit his first home run of Spring Training today, belting a solo shot in the 7th.

Rickie Weeks had a rough day at the plate, going 0-3 with three strikeouts.  That is not the ideal line for a leadoff man, to say the least.  I do know that Ricky was focused on taking pitches, but striking out three times is unacceptable at the top of the order.

Pitching:

Dave Bush, Eric Gagne, and Derrick Turnbow all struggled today for the Brewers.  Bush gave up a first inning grand slam to Jack Cust, after letting the first the batters get on base.  He was able to right the ship in the second inning and get through unscathed.  Gagne, in his much hyped debut, could simply not keep the ball down today.  Even all three of his outs were fly-outs.  After his outing, Gagne said that he felt tired and began to overstride in his mechanics.  I’m a little concerned that Gagne felt tired after a simple bullpen session today…perhaps something to keep an eye on.  Turnbow gave up a two-run homer to Bobby Crosby and walked someone in one inning of work.  Mitch Stetter also struggled mightily in the 8th inning, giving up three hits and allowing one run.

On a side note, I do not like the excuse “it’s only Spring Training, so I’m not worried.”  That seems to be a double standard.  If players perform well in Spring Training, fans and managers get excited and sing a player’s praises, yet when a player struggles, everyone is quick to say that it’s too early to make judgments.  While there is admittedly some truth to that statement, there needs to be some consistency.  If we are going to judge a player for playing well and praise him for that, the exact opposite should happen in Spring Training.

Manny Parra had an average outing today.  He pitched two innings of one-run ball, with a walk and a strikeout.  Manny did only give up one hit, but it was Jack Cust’s second home run of the day.  A little concerning is the fact that 4 of Manny’s outs were fly-ball outs.  That will not work in Miller Park.

Tomorrow:

Ben Sheets and David Riske are scheduled to pitch tomorrow for Milwaukee, as they will face the Colorado Rockies at 2:05pm central time.





Kapler, Jackson, and Yost

29 02 2008

Looking for your Brewers fix for today? Good thing I have some articles for you:

  • Peter Gammons takes a look at Gabe Kapler and his insatiable desire to play baseball. Just to let you know, this is an ESPN insider only article. Sorry.
  • Adam McCalvy does a mini-minor league report for us. He talks about Zach Jackson’s mechanical changes and how he’s developed more of a complete arsenal of pitches now that he’s had time in the minor leagues. Zach will most likely never be a dominant pitcher, but he will be an innings-eater. After all, Zach did have 28 starts and the second-highest innings total in the Pacific Coast League.There are a couple other little tidbits about Luis Pena, who Ned Yost apparently loves, and Matt LaPorta. Bobby Cox had never heard of LaPorta before the Arizona Fall League, but he continues to be impressed with the level of talent that Milwaukee is bringing in through its farm system.
  • I am a little reluctant to comment on this video, as Buster Olney surprised me with his…less than insightful comments. He names the Milwaukee Brewers and the New York Yankees as surprise teams this season. I thought maybe he misunderstood the question because neither of those teams making the post-season would surprise anyone around the league. I guess I can understand how Milwaukee may be a surprise team if you did not watch or pay attention to baseball at all last season, but to call the Yankees a surprise team with A-Rod, Mariano River, Ching-Ming Wang, and Joba Chamberlain is just crazy. Do I need to mention Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada as well? I think you get my point.
  • The Sports Bubbler agan continues with its bullpen preview. Today they argue that Yost’s decision making will be better this season. I’ll leave that to you all to decide how you feel about that.

I think that’s enough to keep you all busy for a while. I’ll be posting later when the Brewers start play against Oakland at 2pm.





Jeffress battles addiction

29 02 2008

Jeremy Jeffress is not ashamed that he went to rehab last fall.  He had a problem, and it needed to be fixed.  Jeffress is suspended 50-games for testing positive for marijuana, and he is determined not to let his addiction get in the way of playing the game he loves.

It was very interesting to read this article, as most that go to rehab try to make it a non-issue.  Jeremy readily admits that he’s been there and constantly stresses that it’s helped him get through what’s going on.  He’s now tested clean three separate times since being in rehab.  People may not think that’s much, but for someone battling addiction, that’s something to hang your hat on.

Jeremy’s talent is undeniable.  He posted a 3.13 ERA in West Virginia, and his fastball has been clocked above 100 mph many times.  Haudricourt mentions that many project Jeremy as a closer because of this, but I’ve read that most in the Brewers organization are pushing him as a starter.  I think this is the route Milwaukee wants to go, especially since Jeremy’s throwing motion is so easy and non-stressful.  Pitchers with his effortless-power are groomed as starters, and the max-effort type are usually pegged as closers.

Either way, Jeremy has to battle every day to keep him dream alive.  I think I speak for all of us when I wish Jeremy good luck.  It takes maturity to admit you have a problem, and a bigger man to address it head-on like this.





Player Profile: J.J. Hardy

29 02 2008

J.J. Hardy is a bit of a mystery to Brewers fans. Is he the player that had more home runs than Prince Fielder early in the season, or is he the player that slumped in the middle of the year? No matter your answer to that question, J.J. was an All-Star caliber player for the Brewers in ’07. He says that he’s grown mentally in the past year, and he expects to play much more consistently than he did last season.

Strengths:

J.J. Hardy is an above-average hitter for a shortstop. He is a very streaky hitter, but when he is seeing the ball well, he can hit in bunches. Early in last season, J.J. battled with Prince for the league lead in home runs, but his power abruptly fell off in mid-summer. Still, a .277/.323/.463 line is solid for a shortstop, not to mention his 26 home runs and 80 RBI. Not to beat a dead horse, but the main question remains whether J.J. can keep it up for an entire season. He has shown that he can hit, but can he prolong that hot streak to become a more consistent player?

The Brewers shortstop is solid all around defensively. Despite a lack of ideal foot speed, J.J. is able to glide around the infield and get runners out. His fielding percentage did drop rather dramatically last season, from .986 to .978, but I expect that fielding percentage to come back up a bit. He has a very accurate arm, and he makes up for his lack of athleticism by playing very smart in the field.

I suppose I should add that J.J. is personally adding female fans to the Brewers fanbase, as all the girls think he’s by far the most attractive Brewers player. That can really only be classified as a strength.

Weaknesses:

Every year since he has been in the majors, Hardy has gone through a prolonged slump at some point in the season. As I said above, he is a streaky hitter. When he’s seeing the ball well, I cannot call his hitting anything but a strength. When he’s struggling, however, it is awful. J.J. is strictly a pull-hitter, and he struggled mightily last season when pitchers began to pitch him away consistently. He needs to be able to show that he’s willing to drive the ball to the opposite field. J.J. showed flashes of that in the last month or so of the season, but his plate discipline and pull-happiness is still a major weakness.

I may be overstating this a bit, but Hardy showed real mental fragility last season after slumping in June and July. A great player never doubts his own ability. To make a comparison to basketball, a shooter keeps shooting when going through a slump because he knows they’ll eventually drop. J.J. needs to keep getting on base, even if the swing is not there. He needs to still believe in his own abilities even when things are not going his way. That said, J.J. showed great maturity pulling out of his slump in September. Perhaps he’s turned a corner in the mental part of the game.

Projections:

ZiPS – .262/.318/.421
The Hardball Times – .273/.324/.446

These projections are fairly conservative, but they seem quite accurate given J.J.’s history of inconsistency. I believe that he will turn a corner this year in that department and become much more of a consistent hitter at the plate for Milwaukee. Expect J.J. not to fall into one of his famous two month long slumps this year, and his plate discipline should continue to improve a little bit as well. I expect J.J.’s OBP to jump a little this year, but I think his slugging percentage will not be as high. As pitchers study tape, they will continue to pitch him away until he proves he can handle it. Even if J.J. begins to hit the ball to the opposite field, I don’t think he’ll do it with much power.

Unfortunately, I don’t think J.J. will be able to keep up his All-Star status next season, especially with Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins in the same league. Hardy is only 25, so it would be foolish to believe his development as a player will stagnate. He should become much more consistent this year not only at the plate, but also in the field. J.J.’s reputation as a fine fielding shortstop should resurface again this season, as his fielding percentage climbs compared to last season. J.J. Hardy should not be as streaky and not to provide the same home run power, but expect his consistency as a player to increase and allow him to be a main cog in Milwaukee’s lineup this season.

Projected Offensive Line: .274/.338/.414
Projected Season Rating (out of 10): 7.6





Brewers bash A’s, 7-1

28 02 2008

The Milwaukee Brewers started their 2008 Spring Training schedule with a bang, beating Oakland 7-1.  Oakland’s ace, Joe Blanton, had an awful day on the bump, giving up 6 earned runs in two innings of work.

Batting

The usual suspects, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, came out today and raked, both going 1-2 with an RBI sac fly mixed in there.  Prince had a long RBI-double to left-center.  Braun lined a monstrous 2-run home run to center that broke a “batter’s-eye” camera.  Ballpark officials estimate the bomb to measure about 450-feet.  So much for those who thought the two sluggers would start slowly this Spring.

Mike Cameron made his debut in a Brewers uniform today, and he did not disappoint after going 2-3 with an RBI.  After singling up the middle in the 1st and later being driven in by Prince, Cameron followed it up in the second with a bases-loaded single in the second.  Brewers fans hope they see much more of that.

Craig Counsell rounded out the scoring, slapping a two-out RBI single that plated young Matt LaPorta.  LaPorta went 1-1 with a single and a run.

It is also notable that Bill Hall seemed to have no ill-effects from his the finger he injured earlier this morning.  In the top of the first, Billy made a nice diving play to rob Daric Barton of extra bases and to double up Mark Ellis at second.  He then proceeded to scorch a double into center in the bottom half of the first.  So much for an injured finger.

Pitching

Claudio Vargas pitched two shutout innings, scattering three hits.  Many looked upon this outing as Claudio upping his trade value for Milwaukee.  I suppose I would not argue with that sentiment.  Claudio usually starts the season off pretty strong, though.

The six other pitchers only gave up run.  Scott Cassidy gave up a solo shot to Oakland’s Dan Johnson in the 8th.  It was nice to see Guillermo Mota pitch a scoreless inning, especially after the beating he’s been taking from Brewers fans.  I’m sticking with my inkling that he should bounce back pretty nicely this year.  He has motivation to pitch well…that is, if he wants to get paid next off-season, he does.  Luis Pena also pitched a scoreless inning.  Remember that Jim from Brewerfan.net says he’s one to lookout for the next couple seasons.

On Tap

Dave Bush and Manny Parra are scheduled to pitch two innings each tomorrow, as Milwaukee will battle Oakland again in a rematch.  The Brewers will look to have a lead going into the 9th inning, as Eric Gagne is also scheduled to pitch tomorrow.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get him in a “save opportunity” right away to see how he fares?  I for one am excited to see Manny pitch tomorrow.  I still feel as if he is a darkhorse to win a starting job if he pitches very well this spring.





Most Important Relievers

28 02 2008

The Sports Bubbler continued today with its bullpen preview.  They present their case that says Derrick Turnbow and Brian Shouse are the most important relievers this year.

I agree with their sentiment that Derrick is criticized way too much, as he did convert 87% of his leads last year.  It just so happens that when he’s off, many runs are about to cross the plate.  Brian Shouse, on the other hand, impressed me a lot last year.  I had been critical of him at times the previous season, but that changed last season.  How can you be critical of a guy who only allowed 24.6% of his inherited runners to cross the plate?  Not to mention converting 88% of his leads.

While they are important cogs in the machine, Turnbow and Shouse are not the most important pieces of the ‘pen.  They are known quantities.  Pitchers like Eric Gagne and Guillermo Mota could be huge for the Crew this year if they can bounce back after rough second halves of the season.  The unknown pitchers are the ones that are the most important in my eyes because I have no idea what to expect from them.  They have to pan out for the bullpen to be good this year.

Update on the Oakland game:

Brewers are winning 3-0 in the bottom of the 1st.

Normally I would not update you during the game because you can do that yourself, but I could not contain my excitement.  It is the first inning of the first Spring Training game and Ryan Braun already has a 2-run home run off of Joe Blanton.  Prince blasted an RBI-double just before Braun’s homer that scored Mike Cameron, who got a base hit in his first Brewers appearance.

In case you didn’t know, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are beasts.





Hall injures finger

28 02 2008

During fielding drills this morning, a ground ball took a bad hop and hit Bill Hall in the finger.  Apparently there was a little blood, but nothing too serious.

Bill went to the local Phoenix hospital, and doctors diagnosed him with a lacerated nail bed.  I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it must not be too bad.  Billy wanted to come back to the ballpark and play in the first game against Oakland still.

This seems like a relatively minor injury that will not keep Billy out for too long, but I will keep you updated and pass along any information that comes my way.