Archive for June, 2007

Brewer Fan, You May Now Panic
June 13, 2007

It’s panic time. Yes, for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but we’ll get to them in a minute.

No, I mean it’s panic time for your Milwaukee Brewers.

Why not panic? You know you want to. I’m talking to you, skeptical Milwaukee Brewer fan. You watched as your team built what once was the best record in the entire major leagues at 24-10. While you enjoyed the wins and the increasingly positive buzz that surrounded the Brewers, you remained skeptical. You reminded yourself after every win that it is a long season, that the Brewers built that fat record up by playing largely incompetent NL Central teams, and that the Brewers have sucked wind for 25 years and would find a way to screw things up.

You wanted to panic after a tough stretch of 19 games that the Brewers had against some of baseball’s elite. I mean, they finished that stretch a miserable 5-14 even after some smart-aleck bloggers (ahem) said they would finish at worst 9-10. But you didn’t panic. You noted that no team should be judged too harshly for losing road series to the likes of the Mets, the Dodgers, and the Padres. You noted that every team, especially a young team like the Brewers, will have “bumps in the road.” You used the “long season” excuse again, but this time as a way to try to stay positive and not be mired in cynicism. And most importantly, you saw that the Brewers, even after losing so many games, hadn’t lost any of their NL Central lead. And you took comfort in their upcoming schedule.

But things aren’t improving. If anything, they’re getting worse. Going into the Detroit series, the Brewers were 5-5 in their previous 10 games despite playing significantly lesser competition. They lost a home series to the rival Cubs including a game to the hated Carlos Zambrano and a road series to Texas, a team with the worst record in baseball. Yes, worse than the Kansas City Royals and worse than the Washington Nationals.

The bats have quieted down. JJ Hardy’s batting average has dropped a whopping 53 points in the last month. Prince Fielder’s June batting average is 35 points lower than his May average, while Corey Hart’s is a mere 63 points lower. The team is still providing plenty of long ball highlights for ESPN, but home runs alone don’t win games: The only team with more four-baggers in the NL is the Reds, and they’ve got the fewest wins in the National League.

But the last three games have been the worst. First closer Francisco Cordero, who had converted 22 straight saves, blows not one but two in a row. Then the Brewers – those power-hitting Brewers — get no-hit by the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. It was only the third time in franchise history the Brewers had been no-hit and the first time a Detroit Tigers pitcher had thrown a no-hitter at home since 1952. Being no-hit is the ultimate insult to a club, especially one that fancies itself as having a murderer’s row-type lineup as the Brewers like to think they do.

I take Verlander’s dominance of the Brewers as confirmation that a club that just a month ago seemed capable of nothing but positives is now capable of doing almost nothing positive.

Take heart, cynical Brewer fans. You don’t have to worry anymore about when you can start to panic. The time is now.

The time is also now to thank the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers for giving us one of the most excruciatingly dull NBA Finals ever. With the exception of the late rally by the Cavaliers on Sunday night – which happened after most of the already tiny viewing audience had tuned the game out – this Finals series has been a nightmare for the NBA. There’s been little offense and even less excitement, the series is being dominated by a team that comes from a small market that no one likes anyway, and the superstar that the NBA hoped people would tune in to see hasn’t been the impact player he’s needed to be. There’s been little reason to watch, unless you love those cut-away shots of Eva Longoria, which ABC cuts to whenever they fear viewer interest is waning. The network should make it easier on itself and for Game 4 (which let’s hope is the last game so we can all be put out of our misery) just put up a slide show of one of Longoria’s Maxim photo shoots while running an audio play-by-play at the same time. Wouldn’t make the broadcast less interesting, that’s for sure.

Wait, You Mean That Donkey’s Voice Isn’t Garrett Morris?
June 1, 2007

I must admit that I’ve been in and out of the NBA playoffs a little more than usual this year. In the first round, I picked up on the Golden State/Dallas series only when it seemed like a real possibility that Golden State could win. In the second round, I — and I certainly wasn’t the only one — followed the dramatic Suns/Spurs series with great interest, all the while cursing the NBA for not reseeding and saving what was surely to be the best series of the postseason for the Conference Finals. I also picked up on the Pistons/Bulls series, although it wasn’t nearly as competitive as I’d hoped — yeah, it went six games, but after Detroit got out to a 3-0 lead, it was only a question of when — not if — they were going to win.

Then after the Western Conference Finals — which is usually the most compelling round in the NBA postseason — turned out to be a turkey, I was about to give up and concentrate on English Premier League soccer. Besides, I had missed the first game (it came up against the season finale of 24), and I assumed that those wily veterans from the Pistons would have about as much trouble with the youthful Cavaliers as Lindsay Lohan has with draining off a six-pack. But I was intrigued enough by the close scores of the first couple of games to start paying more attention. I’m glad I did.

By now I’m sure every single superlative in the English lexicon has been used to describe LeBron James’s performance in Thursday night’s game 5 victory over the Pistons in Detroit. I probably uttered most of them out loud to myself while I was watching the game in my kitchen. So I hope I’m not too redundant here. But I don’t think I have ever seen a more jaw-dropping display of athletic prowess and single-handed game dominance than I witnessed last night. Forget about comparisons to Michael Jordan, I’m talking about any sport. Now a cynic might say that when an individual player scores the last 25 points for his team and the last 29 of his team’s 30, that something is wrong, that the NBA is more about superstars than team play. And they might have a point. But to watch LeBron’s performance unfold and gain in intensity as the game rolled on through two overtime periods and he was making ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot was to have all of those pessimistic thoughts melt away and to be left with just pure amazement and excitement to have witnessed a game and a performance that you will — here comes the cliche — tell your grandchildren about. It was a stunner.

LeBron has been hailed as the new Jordan, as the player to bring the NBA back to the level of popularity that it enjoyed during MJ’s prime. As far as I’m concerned, he is the new Jordan and if he can’t get people following the NBA, no one can.

Did I mention LeBron is only 22 years old? When I was 22 years old, I couldn’t handle the pressure of performing in my friend’s softball league, much less the NBA playoffs. Wow.

Much less impressive than LeBron James are the Milwaukee Brewers. Before their victory on Thursday night over the Marlins, they had lost six straight series, posting a 6-13 record in those 19 games. Now to go along with a suddenly sluggish offense (only Hardy and Fielder are the exceptions), is the dreaded injury bug. Rickie Weeks was just put on the 15-day DL with problems with his right wrist — the same wrist that sidelined him for a couple of months last year. Ben Sheets has had issues with his groin and hand blisters (insert tasteless joke here) — nothing serious, but enough to get Brewer fans concerned about Sheets’s overall durability.

As much as I’d like to see the Brewers on the same torrid pace with which they started the season, it is easy to be lax about their recent struggles. After all, no other team in the NL Central has been able to gain much ground on Milwaukee. Perhaps this same attitude has pervaded the Brewer dugout. Maybe what the Brewers need to improve is for the Cardinals or Cubs to go on a little bit of a run here — give ’em a little scare. On second thought, forget it. The Brewers are a young team and they have enough issues to worry about. Let’s keep the rest of the division under .500. Because Milwaukee might not be much above .500 for the remainder of the season.