Monday, September 24, 2012

End-of-Season Grabbag

As is customary, here are a few miscellaneous stories I've been following that I wanted to get out there before the end of the season:

- There was an interesting and insightful story on (I know, I'm as shocked as you) about actual attendance versus paid attendance at a ballgame.  It talks about how teams will always announce the paid attendance but that doesn't necessarily mean that is how many people are in the stands.  This article was written particularly in response to the fact that the Red Sox supposedly have a consecutive sellouts streak remaining in tact, when in fact anybody who watches a game can easily tell the park has seats available.  Erik and I always have sort of a running joke, particularly when we go to Beloit Snappers games, of how we can physically count the number of fans in attendance but the number announced is always way more than that.  Things like donated tickets, standing room seats, suites, and even people who just buy season tickets but don't show up, all factor into actual attendance numbers.

- Speaking of the Snappers, in 2013 I will be watching them play not as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins for the first time.  The Twins signed a new PDC with Cedar Rapids this past week, displacing the Angels who had previously resided there for nearly 20 years.  The Twins had had their A-ball affiliate in Beloit since the Brewers left in 2005.  There's been a lot of shuffling in the Midwest League this year as teams scramble to find a better fit for the future of their organization.  The Cardinals have returned to Peoria after an 8-year absence, and the Cubs made a sensical geographic move in putting their team in Kane County.  Burlington and Beloit are two of the worst attended ballparks in the minors, and Erik and I agree it will be a fight to the finish to see who's left standing in these two unfortunate situations.  With the case of Beloit in particular, I wouldn't be surprised if the next MLB parent to reside there will already have a plan in place to move the team or build a new park.

- Congratulations to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who took home their first Midwest League title in franchise history!  I was proud to attend a victory in one of their first round playoff games a few weeks ago.  With this new hardware, a major stadium renovation next year, and an extended contract with the nearby Brewers, exciting times are in full swing in Appleton.

- In a long overdue ceremony, "Mr. Baseball" himself Bob Uecker received a bronzed 8' tall likeness of himself outside of Miller Park last month.  Despite all of the fame he has attained over the years in movies and television, Mr. Uecker has always stayed true to his roots in Milwaukee, and calling Brewer games on WTMJ radio has always been his first love.  Brewer fans recognize the struggles to keep prominent stars in town because of its market size, and in cases like Ueck, are always proud to honor its "homers."  I wish I could have seen the ceremony in its entirety, but with Bob Costas as MC and a speech by Uecker that went way past its alloted time, I can only imagine how hilarious it was.  I saw the statue at a game last week and it looks great next perched next to the other Milwaukee legends of Bud Selig, Robin Yount, and Hank Aaron.

Brewers 79-73, -12.5, -2.5 WC (3 @ Reds, 3 v. Astros, 3 v. Padres)
Reds 92-61, +10.0 clinched NL Central, (3 v. Brewers, 3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 64-89, -17.5 E (3 v. Yankees, 3 v. Tigers, 3 @ Blue Jays)

Erik - 31
Peter - 40

Monday, September 17, 2012

Brewers Making a Late-Season Push

Say what you want about the additional 2 wild cards, but nobody can deny that it certainly has created more excitement for the last month of the season. If it weren't for these additional playoff spots, the National League would have pretty much been locked up 6 weeks ago, and many fans would have switched to preseason football.  At the beginning of August, the Braves were coasting, the Pirates finally looked like they were going to get things together, and the Yankees had a 10 game lead in the division.  But now here we are, with 16 games left in the season, and all of sudden we have tight races in 4 of the 6 divisions, and in 3 of the 4 wild cards.  As of September 17th, 19 of the 30 teams still have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs, and this is exactly what Selig wanted when creating the additional wild cards - more parody, more playoff money, and more excitement down the stretch for more cities.

Leading the charge of the second-half surgers are the white-hot Milwaukee Brewers, who I believe have won something like 22 of their last 28 and are trying to give the Cardinals a taste of their own medicine pulling within 2.5 games of the 2nd wild card.  Everybody, myself included, counted the Brewers as dead after an embarassing sweep in Philadelphia in July and trading Zack Greinke shortly thereafter.  With a rotation that at one point featured four rookies, the Brewers have clawed and scratched their way out of a hole and proved doubters wrong.  The offense has been remarkable all year and has been the most exciting I have seen in a long time - they're smart hitters, they hit in the clutch, they hit for power, they run the bases aggressively, and they steal bases.  The Brewers lead the league in homeruns, extra base hits, slugging, and are 2nd in steals.  Starting pitching has also been pretty solid since May, and the defense should turn out at least one gold-glover in Aramis Ramirez.  Corey Hart, Martin Maldonado, Norichika Aoki, and Jean Segura all began the year either not starting at their current position or were in the minors, and have all stepped up to play great D as well.  And Ryan Braun has followed up his 2011 MVP campaign with another MVP-quality season, but that rests in the hands of the voters and the team's performance.  The Brewers always seem to put together a run in August and they've been very exciting to watch lately.  Anyone who has watched the Crew this year knows that the bullpen is probably the sole reason the Brewers are not leading the division right now.  They lead all of baseball in blown saves, so it is not surprising that the key to the resurgence has been the relative stability of the relief core.  If the bullpen can hold it together for another two weeks, the Brewers have a legitimate shot at this, because the three teams ahead of them - Dodgers, Cardinals, and Pirates - all look lifeless right now.  The upcoming 10-game roadtrip to Pittsburgh, Washington, and Cincinnati will be the ultimate test to determine if this team truly is good enough to make any noise in the playoffs.

Brewers 74-72, -13.5, -2.5 WC (3 @ Pirates, 4 @ Nationals)
Reds 88-59, +11.0 (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 60-87, -20.0 E (3 @ Indians, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 31
Peter - 40

Monday, September 10, 2012

Midwest League Playoffs

All photos of MWL West Quarterfinals Game 3 available on Flickr.

I visited Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin for the first time since 2009 on Friday to take in some playoff ball.  Both Wisconsin teams - the Snappers and the Timber Rattlers - were in the Midwest League playoffs this year, so I knew there was a good chance I would get to go to some game this weekend.  I chose Appleton even though it was further way, because I wanted to see the Brewers' minor league affiliate.  Beloit has since been eliminated, and Wisconsin has advanced to the Midwest League Championship!

I was surprised to find that parking has been jacked up to $5 since I was last there, how ridiculous for A-ball!  What was also ridiculous was the small crowd for this 1st Round elimination game.  Yes, there was a substantial rain delay and it was kind of cold, but still.  I got a seat right in the front row along 3rd base and, aside from my row, it was not very crowded, even despite it being dollar beer & dog night.  Not much has changed at Fox Cities Stadium in the last 3 years.  I suppose it doesn't matter though, because the ballpark is slated to begin construction on a $6 million renovation starting the day after the playoffs end, to be ready for the start of the 2013 season.  So, I'm not going to bother updating the rankings of the ballpark until Erik and I make a return visit next year.  There were renderings of the renovation in the display case in the atrium, and it looks like there will be some nice additions.  Three things that this ballpark lacks - exterior aesthetics, a continuous concourse, and a suite level - will all be addressed with this renovation.  I am hoping that the team store remains in tact for the most part, because I was amazed by the selection of Appleton Foxes retro gear and I am totally wasting a bunch of money on that stuff if they still have it next year.  They just don't design ball team logos and fonts like they used to.

Rain delayed the game by about an hour, but it was well worth the wait.  The T-Rats tossed their 2nd consecutive CG shutout in the 3-0 victory over the Bees.  This win gave Wisconsin a 2-1 series victory over Burlington, and advanced them to the 2nd round against Clinton (whom they recently swept 2-0).  David Goforth was masterful, scattering only 4 hits over his complete game, and striking out 9.  For the most part it looked he was only throwing an average slider and about 93-mph heat, but something in his delivery must have been fooling Bees hitters.  Back-to-back solo jobs by Ben McMahon and Nick Ramirez in the 4th were all the T-Rats would need to secure victory, although they did add an unearned run in the 5th.  There was a really interesting moment in the 5th when DH Cameron Garfield was clearly hit by a pitch on the hand, but the umpires got together and determined it hit the bat.  After 10 minutes of arguing by the manager/3rd base coach, Garfield was not even able to finish the at-bat because he couldn't grip the bat.  So either the T-Rats staged an elaborate injury hoax, or the umps blew a call.  After that calmed down, not too much excitement til the end, when Goforth fanned 5 of the final 6 batters he faced en route to victory.  The team now awaits the winner of the Fort Wayne-Lake County eastern finals.  Go Timber Rattlers!

Brewers 69-71, -14.5, -6.0 WC (3 v. Braves, 3 v. Mets)
Reds 84-57, +8.5 (3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Marlins)
Twins 58-82, -17.5 (3 v. Royals, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 29
Peter - 39

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Rocket is Back!

This is sort of old news now, but I haven't had a chance to report on it yet.  Roger Clemens, who was recently acquitted of perjury in Federal court, has decided to make a comeback of sorts.  He threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League a couple weeks ago, and has signed on to take the mound again this Friday.  This league appears to run a few weeks later than most independent leagues so technically he could make a couple more starts for the Skeeters, but myself and many important people in baseball believe that this is the first step before eventually signing on with a big league team, perhaps even before the end of the season.  Having won 7 Cy Youngs, and arguably being one of the top 5 pitchers of all time, Clemens really has nothing left to prove on the baseball field.  So what is the motivation here?  He claims it is just for fun and because he was already keeping in shape anyways - despite whether or not you believe he took PEDs, he is renowned for his work ethic.  And speaking of PEDs, that is the added layer to all of this.  If he was truly doing this for fun, he wouldn't have rushed in to try to pitch this season.  His goal is to try to get back to the majors this season to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility by 5 years, plain and simple.  He saw that he could still throw 88 and that the Astros were so bad that they might sign on for this publicity stunt, so he's taking a chance and seeing what his 50-year old body can handle.  Nothing is set in stone and obviously Clemens is not going to tip his hand, but I would be very surprised if he does not suit up for Houston before the season is over.

My own personal view on this is, I don't blame him for trying.  He's always had a need to be liked, and I think it is important to him to try to restore his good name.  By appearing in a game this year for an MLB club, his original 2013 eligibility date for Cooperstown would be pushed back 5 years, and it would give writers and voters a longer period of time to either forget what has happened, or rethink his career.  I think that there are always going to be a core group of voters that will never ever vote for anybody even associated with PEDs, so I don't think it will do much.  But players like A-Rod, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire have already gone through this stunt trying to clear their names by coming clean, and I think that is Roger's best option here.  If he wants to keep pitching he needs to come clean and take that doubt out of everybody's mind, and allow voters to vote solely based on his merit as a ballplayer.  If he didn't do PEDs that's fine, but I find that hard to believe given his renaissance beyond the age of 35 with the Blue Jays, Astros, and Yankees.  Even if he juiced every day, I still love Clemens and think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  My view on it is that you have to assume 95% tried steroids at least once in the 1990s, so just like with any other era, you have to vote for the best players of that time, and you also need to take into account how good the players were at their peak.  For instance, Clemens had 3 Cy Youngs and Barry Bonds had 3 MVP awards before the age of 30, which is typically the age when ballplayers start to decline.  If you throw everything out past that, they both still had really good numbers, even before they remarkably continued to improve into "old age."  Yes, steroids is cheating I understand, but just like you can't hold it against certain pitchers who pitched in the dead ball era, or threw spitballs, or played when the mound was higher vs. today's pitchers, I don't think you can hold it against players who excelled during an era when everybody took steroids and felt like they had no choice but to take them if they wanted to compete.  PEDs can't make you throw a splitter on the black or square up a baseball, they only improve strength and longevity.  I hope that eventually voters will agree with me and that Roger Clemens gets into the Hall of Fame someday, even if it takes a scherade like he's doing now.

UPDATE: It was announced today (Wednesday) that Roger's oldest son, Koby, was granted his release by the Toronto Blue Jays organization and subsequently signed by the Sugar Land Skeeters.  He will be in uniform on Friday night to catch his dad's 2nd start for the Skeeters, for what I'm sure will be the first father/son battery in professional baseball history.

Brewers 65-69, -16.0, -7.5 WC (4 @ Marlins, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 82-54, +8.5 (3 v. Philles, 3 v. Astros)
Twins 55-80, -18.5 (3 @ White Sox, 4 v. Indians)

Erik - 29
Peter - 38