Ryan’s (False) Hope

Greetings, sports fans. I have returned from a nasty back injury that hasn’t exactly 100% healed but I thought I’d better return so I could give all of you that incisive Tour de France analysis that I know you all crave like a drunk craves a White Castle chicken ring sandwich at bar time.  

Speaking of back injuries, you remember back in 2004 when Sammy Sosa got placed on the DL because a pair of violent sneezes brought on back spasms? Remember what a boob we all thought he was because of that? Well, thanks to Mr. Sosa and my sensitive back, I worry every time I have to sneeze.

That’s why I never pluck my nose hairs or look directly into the sun: The potential for sneezing fits and resultant back spasms is off the charts, almost as strong as the potential that I will now cry whenever I see Captain EO. Good thing the 3-D movie theater that I had installed in my hyperbaric chamber is soundproof.

I also took advantage of my debilitating pain to use some of my furlough time — or as my warden used to call it — work release time. 

And after reading Ryan Braun’s comments over the weekend, I’m wondering if some of his teammates — particularly his pitchers — wish that his mouth would take a furlough.

For those of you too caught up in mourning Karl Malden to know what Braun said, on Sunday after the Brew Crew were slaughtered 8-2 by their hated rival the Chicago Cubs, Braun laid into Milwaukee’s starting pitching, claiming that playing “constantly behind in games” is “not easy and not fun.”

It’s a shame when you make only $6,373 a day and can’t even have fun doing it.

Now I have no idea how Braun’s teammates react to statements like this one or the one he made early last season after he questioned the team’s heart after a five-game losing streak. (Yes, they improved after, but methinks playing the next group of games against the Pirates and Nationals helped more than Braun’s soundbites.) And obviously what his teammates think about what Braun says is a heck of a lot more important than what I think.

But if I was a pitcher in that clubhouse, I’d be a little annoyed at the pointing of fingers, especially since in the last eight games that so-called vaunted offense that Braun represents was shut out twice and batted a paltry .250 while going 6-for-28 with runners in scoring position.

But clearly Braun feels that lousy pitching is to blame for losses such as last Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to the Mets and Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Cubs, two games in which Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Suppan pitched a combined 14 innings and gave up a combined two earned runs.

Look, it’s hard to dump too much on Braun, who is generally productive enough and likable enough that if he had accepted ABC’s offer to be The Bachelor, even I — who swore off dating shows after wasting hours on Joe Millionaire several years ago — would probably watch it.

And you’d be challenged to find too many Brewers fans who in essence disagree with Braun. No one I know believes that this team can ride Mike Burns, Seth McClung, or a returning Manny Parra to a .500 record, much less a postseason berth.  

But Braun’s kidding himself if he believes that there’s a miracle cure out there for the Brewers’ pitching woes a la CC last year’s acquisition of CC Sabathia. The simple fact is that the best bets in this year’s lousy market tend to be aging veterans with injury issues like Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Ben Sheets, not pitchers in their prime like Sabathia.

The best hope that the Brewers have is that lightning strikes twice and the stumbling, bumbling, crumbling Cleveland Indians decide to dangle Sabathia’s old pitching teammate Cliff Lee as trade bait.

The good news for Braun — and Brewer fans — is that should Lee become available, it’s not hard to see Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio making a run at him like they did with Sabathia.

And that’s the key: Braun is lucky enough not to play for the Pirates, but for a team whose management has proven is not afraid to make its team better when the right possibility presents itself.

Unfortunately, should a pitcher of Lee’s caliber become available, who does he replace in the rotation? Parra? Burns? McClung? The addition of someone like Lee would give Milwaukee basically three quality starters, and that’s including Suppan, who, despite his recent successes, I trust about as much as I trust my two-year-old daughter not to bite me when I’m not looking. Which is not much.

And if they would make a move to shore up the pitching rotation, Melvin and Attanasio would still be left with a team whose batting average is solidly in the bottom third of the majors. Which isn’t too promising.

I can appreciate Braun’s craving for pitching — the NL Central is right there for the taking. Unfortunately, it’s right there for the taking for pretty much all of the teams. The Cubs in particular look to improve the most as they get some key starters — Aramis Ramirez in particular — back from the DL.

Satisyfing Braun’s pitching craving could amount to little more than that drunk satisfying his White Castle craving — momentarily satisfying, but ultimately a waste of time and money.


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