This We Know

This We Know: The 2009 baseball season, though ridiculously young, has been plaguedby an alarmingly steady stream of bad news: Surely the deaths of 22-year-old Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, and 1976 AL Rookie of the Year Mark Fidyrch loom the largest, but we’ve also been subjected to Sunday’s ugly bench-clearing brawl between the Dodgers and Angels, the scary line drive that San Francisco rookie pitcher Joe Martinez took off his head, the injury-related absences of stars Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and an opening-day fight at Angel Stadium that resulted in the death of a fan.  

You can add the continued bad play of the Milwaukee Brewers to that list.

I took some flak last week because my annual baseball predictions blog failed to mention the Brewers. A fair complaint to lodge at a Wisconsin-centric sports blog. However, I tried to make it plain that the column was dedicated to teams that I expected to compete for postseason play. I didn’t expect Milwaukee to compete before the season started, and nothing I’ve seen in the Brewers’ first eight games has convinced me otherwise.

Most preseason concerns regarding the Brewers centered on their starting pitching. Unfortunately, those concerns have now been replaced by panic as the Brewers’ pitching staff is proving to be the biggest trainwreck since Billy Bob Thornton’s music career. Jeff Suppan has been so nightmarish that the fact that he has given up 11 earned runs in just 7-2/3 innings of work is overshadowed by his fourth-inning performance on April 12 when he issued no fewer than three bases-loaded walks to the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers’ response to Suppan’s disasterous performance has been to push his next start from this Saturday to Sunday, which is akin to NBC moving the series Kings from Sunday to Saturday: Bad is bad on any day of the week.

But saying the Brewers’ pitching problems begin and end with Suppan is like saying NBC’s problems begin and end with Ian McShane: Carlos Villaneuva has made fans long for Eric Gagne and Guillermo Mota as the interim closer’s ERA has ballooned to 11.25 after two terrible outings. Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra haven’t been much better, but at least each has given the Brewers one quality start, even if Parra’s outing Tuesday (6 innings pitched, 3 earned runs) resulted in a loss.

The bright spots in the Brewers’ pitching have been Braden Looper, who surrendered only one run in his first start, and Todd Coffey, who has allowed only two hits and no runs in 4+ innings of relief work. But for the Brewers to contend, the pitching staff — which is currently 25th in the league in team ERA (6.30) and first in the league in walks allowed with 42 — will have to pull off a transformation the likes of which even President Obama is not asking of the U.S. automakers. It’s simply not going to happen.

What’s perhaps even more troubling is the inconsistency the Brewers’ supposedly potent lineup is showing at the plate.  J.J. Hardy was hitting a jaw-dropping .087 before two home runs in the last two games raised his average to a still-lousy .156. Jason Kendall started the season o-for-15 before getting two hits on Monday. His batting average has now “improved”  to .095. The best thing that can be said of Ryan Braun (.200) and Prince Fielder (.179) is that they’re getting on base, but they’re not doing it with their bats, a big reason why Milwaukee currently ranks 24th in the majors in both runs scored (32) and runs batted in (31).

Thankfully, Corey Hart, Mike Cameron, and Bill Hall are all showing some early-season life at the plate, but all three players have proven themselves capable of going on long offensive droughts. And this pitching-deprived team can simply not withstand long offensive droughts.

Yes, it’s early and worrying about a team’s overall prospects after a mere eight games might seem foolish. But already there are early warning signs that should alarm Brewers fans: Milwaukee has lost their first two home series for the first time since 2003, a year in which they lost 94 games and finished last in their division. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, teams that begin their seasons 2-5 have a less than 7 percent chance of making the postseason. This We Know: The Brewers are now 2-6 and do not look like a team equipped to beat those odds.

This We Know: The NFL has screwed all Wisconsin CBS affiliates. Let me explain: Despite boasting an overall more attractive slate of games, CBS affiliates in Wisconsin still envy FOX affiliates when it comes to their football broadcasts. The reason being is that CBS, which carries AFC games, only receives the rights to two Packers games a year while FOX, which carries NFC games, receives many more — this year no fewer than a dozen.  

But for 2009, the NFL and ESPN have rudely taken one of the two potential CBS Packers games — the week 13 home game against Baltimore — for the once-proud Monday Night Footballfranchise. That leaves Wisconsin CBS affiliates like Madison’s WISC-DT with only the Bengals at Packers noon game on September 20, which comes as a blow at a time when local television stations don’t need any more bad news.

If I was more optimistic, I would say that WISC-DT will get two Packers games after all this year: The Bengals game and the Super Bowl. But despite a ridiculously easy schedule — only the Vikings and Bears have it easier in 2009, which goes to show you what playing the hapless Lions twice a year does to a team’s strength of schedule — I can’t with a straight face say that the Packers will be playing in February 2010.

This We Know: The NBA playoffs start Saturday. As intriguing as many of the storylines are, it just seems a given that the Lakers will represent the West in the Finals, which are played I believe about six months from now. Things are a little less certain in the East, but with or without Kevin Garnett — but certainly with — I like the Celtics’ depth and experience better than the one-man show that is the Cleveland Cavaliers.


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