Monday, July 24, 2017

Brewers Sliding After Unexpected First Half

At the All-Star break, the Brewers were 50-41 and 5.5 games up in the NL Central, both their high-water marks of the year up to that point.  They even extended that to 11 games over .500 with two wins out of the gate against the lowly Phillies.  But since that day, the Crew has dropped 7 of their last 8, including 1-6 so far on this road trip against two sub-.500 teams.  Couple that with a unfortunately timed hot streak by the Cubs and the two teams are now deadlocked for the division lead.  After spending 3.5 months building a 5.5 game lead, it has completely evaporated in the span of a week.  It doesn't get any easier for them either.  Next up are the Nationals who are a running away with the NL East and yet again a favorite to win the pennant.  Then they return home to face the two teams chasing them - the Cubs and Cardinals.  Then it is off to Tampa Bay and Minnesota who are both right in the thick of the AL Wild Card race.

There are a lot of things you can point to for why the Brewers are in a slide now.  Ryan Braun has been in and out of the lineup and playing through a number of maladies all year.  Junior Guerra and Zach Davies have been nowhere near where they performed a year ago and their best pitcher and hitter - Chase Anderson and Eric Sogard - have been on the DL since June (Sogard was activated on Saturday).  The Brewers were about 6-for-a-million with RISP in Pittsburgh, a problem that has plagued them in years past.  Bullpen explosions caused then 2 games on the road trip and almost a 3rd.  Perhaps it is just the young guys tensing up now that they are actually playing meaningful games, or just the results of an overworked bullpen finally catching up with the team.  Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes are among the league leaders in appearances, and the team is on pace for 2nd all time in relief innings pitched in a season.

The solution in years past would be for Mr. Attanasio to sign a blank check and hand it to Doug Melvin to get whoever he needed to.  Mark has never been afraid to spend money and go for the kill.  But this year is a little different.  Most experts, fans, and even myself, figured the Brewers were at a minimum another year away from contending, more likely even 2 or 3 years off.  The team performing much better than expected has certainly been fun to watch, but has also thrown a wrench in the carefully laid rebuild plans.  David Stearns is now faced with the difficult decision of either trading away some of the key pieces he has traded for in the last 2 years, or staying the course and perhaps risking losing out on a great opportunity this year.  I think a lot of smart Brewers fans would not want to lose sight of having a competitive team for a 3-5 year window and throw it all away on something that isn't a sure thing.  But on the other hand, playoff opportunities for this franchise are few and far between and I would completely understand wanting to go all in this year.  More than likely there is some middle ground there where a few prospects are "untouchable" but Stearns will be willing to listen on anything that could help this team without mortgaging the future.  I think he is smart enough and not shortsighted to throw away what he has built, but he also has to answer to millions of fans and a hungry owner who will stop at nothing to win.  I certainly don't envy his position and I will be on the edge of my seat for the next week leading up to the trade deadline.  We've been linked from everyone from rental bullpen guys to elite pitchers like Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Brewers 53-48, --, -4.5 WC (3 @ Nationals, 3 v. Cubs, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 41-57, -10.5, -15.0 WC (1 @ Indians, 2 @ Yankees, 4 @ Marlins, 3 @ Pirates)

Twins 49-48, -2.5, -1.0 WC (3 @ Dodgers, 3 @ Athletics, 2 @ Padres)

Erik - 11 (+23 worked)
Peter - 27

Friday, July 14, 2017

Juiced Balls Could be Cause of Homerun Spike

As of the All-Star break, the MLB is on pace to hit over 6,100 homeruns, which would shatter the previous record of 5,693 set in the year 2000.  That is significant for a couple of reasons.  First, 2000 was right in the middle of the so-called "steroid era" of baseball.  Barry Bonds was a year away from breaking the season homerun mark only 2 years earlier, and 4 years away from a season in which he slugged over .800.  The fact that an entire league that is presumably being drug tested more than ever before can still hit that many homeruns would leave one to believe there are other factors at play.  Secondly and perhaps most telling, MLB has been on a sharp upward trend in homeruns since around this time 3 years ago.  Since a lot of teams restock their balls at the break, there is speculation that there was something tweaked in the game ball around that time.

This certainly isn't the first time this has happened in baseball and it certainly isn't a secret either.  There was the famed "dead-ball era" up until the 1920s that was so dramatically different that statistics are often referenced in terms of during or after this time period.  College baseball has changed both their balls and their bats over the past decade.  The change to a metal composite "wood performing bat" reduced homerun totals by so much that it was compensated with a flatter seam ball.  My opinion is that MLB is more ignorant of the situation than trying to hide anything, so more than likely there are several factors at play.  Exit velocity is stat-du-jour these days and they are ever-increasing.  Batters are getting stronger and pitchers are throwing harder every year and that obviously leads to further hit balls - I mean, that's just science.  But if the data of the last 3 years has shown us anything it's that we are perhaps in another golden age of the homerun not seen in 20 years.  There have only been two 50 homerun seasons in the last 10 years and I personally am not opposed to seeing more of them.  It certainly helps the Brewers, who almost always seem to be in the top 5 in longballs.

Read this article on The Ringer for more of the data on the topic.

Brewers 50-41, +5.5 (3 v. Phillies, 4 @ Pirates, 3 @ Phillies)
Reds 39-49, -9.5, -11.5 WC (4 v. Nationals, 3 v. Diamondbacks, 3 v. Marlins)

Twins 45-43, -2.5, -1.0 WC (3 @ Astros, 3 v. Yankees, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 10 (+19 worked)

Peter - 25

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tour 2017: MGM Park

All photos of Biloxi and MGM Park available on Flickr.

Immediately following the last pitch in Montgomery, we got back in the car and made the 3-hour drive down I-65 to Biloxi, which was considerably nicer than the drive through eastern Alabama.  Once we switched over to I-10 West we drove through some beautiful marshland and river basins right and this was around the time Erik awoke from his 2nd nap of the day.  I-110 took us the few miles south to the coast, and an off-ramp that is now completely within the Gulf of Mexico thanks to sea level rise took us right to our hotel.

If you moved Wisconsin Dells to the coast, and splashed in a little bit of New Orleans and Miami, you'd get Biloxi.  Sort of a "redneck riviera" to put it lightly, but actually quite charming.  Even after being decimated by Hurricane Katrina, it is still a popular vacation destination with a 12-mile long beach, casinos, lots of seafood and oyster restaurants, and take-out daiquiri shops.  The corner our hotel was on had the gleaming Beau Rivage across the street, Biloxi Beach kitty-corner, and the ballpark across the other street, so we had a perfect location right near downtown Biloxi.

We arrived around a half-hour before first pitch and walked over after checking in.  The ballpark is situated kind of like the Fort Wayne and Nashville parks where most of the pedestrian traffic is coming from the back of the stadium, but the main entrance is at home plate.  So there was a smaller gate in the outfield with the famous MGM lion statue, and the grander main entrance was up from a monumental stair towards home plate.  The ticketing was weird because it was just set up in a tent at the bottom of the stair, and this might be a byproduct of the stadium being shoehorned into the site.  The footprint is extremely constrained by a freeway, parking garage, and a street on 3 of the 4 sides, and this required some creative netting to prevent balls from smashing cars - even though there were some fouls that well cleared the 1st base net and probably startled some motorists at the least.  The constraints of the site also kind of limit how much of the outside you can see, so after getting our tickets from will call we ascended the steps into the park.

The first thing that hits you when you walk in is the Beau Rivage glistening across the street.  It's not an award-worthy building by any stretch, but it is a stunning backdrop watching the golden accents change with the setting sun.  The other really noticeable thing in the park is the extremely wide concourse.  It's much wider than a typical minor league concourse, I would say at least 40' wide.  Maybe this is just an optical illusion since the concessions/suites building is set back from the grandstand but nonetheless it was a nice feature and provided lots of mingling space and areas for drink/food carts.  Other than the view and the concourse, nothing really jumps out at you.  It doesn't have any really unique design features like Montgomery had with the train station.  It's primarily a stucco finish painted a coastal cream color like you would see in Miami or any other seaside city.  The lackluster architecture aside, it's the location and being a Brewers affiliate are definitely is what makes it memorable for me.  It was cool to see prospects such as Jacob Nottingham, Clint Coulter, and Luis Ortiz playing in the game.  It was only a couple of years ago that some of our top propsects like Orlando Arcia, Michael Reed, Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, and Brett Phillips donned the Shuckers uniform, so in just 3 years of existence the residents of Biloxi have seen some really good ball.  I love minor league baseball but it's always more fun watching a game you are more invested in, so Erik and I were both excited to root for the Brewers again on our trip.

We picked up one of the best meals we've had on this trip before heading to our amazing seats right behind home plate.  Erik had a muffaletta sammich and I had a shrimp po' boy.  Both were delicious but I'd be lying if I said I was not extremely disappointed and confused why a team with an oyster logo did not serve oysters.  That'd be like the Biscuits not serving biscuits!  Erik also added another souvenir ice cream helmet to his collection and I brought home a souvenir margarita glass, both of which I'm sure our wives were just thrilled about.  The Shuckers lost in extra racks 4-3 to the Mississippi Braves.  Luis Ortiz got the start for Biloxi, who was acquired in the Jonathan Lucroy trade last year.  He pitched okay, giving up 2 runs on 6 hits in 3.2 innings, but the relievers behind him were phenomenal.  Jon Perrin, UW-Milwaukee alumnus Josh Uhen, and Nick Ramirez combined for only 1 earned run in over 7 innings of work.  Ramirez is an interesting case as he was actually drafted as a first baseman by the Brewers in 2011.  After stalling at the AA-level for the last 3 years he decided that maybe his bat was not going to get him as the major leagues and switched to pitching.  In his 3rd season in Biloxi he is finally enjoying some success with a 1.47 ERA as of this game, and he even still rakes from time to time with 2 homeruns on the year.  He's no Brooks Kieschnick but still pretty damn impressive.  The offense for the Shuckers primarily came in the form of a Nottingham 2-run bomb in the bottom of the 1st.  He was the key piece in the Khris Davis trade and is undoubtedly our catcher of the future if he can get the defensive aspect of his game figured out.  Kade Scivicque hit the game-winning homerun for the M-Braves in the top of the 11th, who by the way very much just stole the old Milwaukee Braves logo for their caps.

With the 11 innings tonight, that put our total at 20 for the day and 47 in 4 days.  We capped off our night with a few drinks at the Hard Rock Casino and a to-go daiquiri at the New Orleans-style shop next to our hotel.  Tuesday morning we had a little bit of time to kill before our flights, so we did some swimming/wading/bathing in the Gulf and the hotel pool.  Well, I should say that I had a little time to kill - Erik ended up spending nearly 7 hours at the Gulfport airport bar, which had a pretty solid gate-to-bar ratio of 7:2.  We had an outstanding time as always and are already kicking around ideas for 2018!

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 3
views from park – 7

view to field - 5 (lots of foul territory)

surrounding area – 8 (beach, casinos, downtown)
food variety - 5 (points deducted for no oysters!)
nachos - 5
beer - 8 (good price, surprising amount of local brews)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 7 ($13 box seats)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - 2 (sketchy parking lot with lady holding $10 sign)

concourses - 6 (wide)
team shop - 8

best food – shrimp po' boy
most unique stadium feature – view/area
best jumbotron feature – Krispy Kreme K counter
best between-inning feature – crawfish boil race

field dimensions – 325/400/325
starters – Kolby Allard (MS) v. Luis Ortiz (BLX)

opponent – Mississippi Braves
time of game – 2:52
attendance – 2210
score – 4-3 L

Brewers score that day – off