Tag: Milwaukee

Sal "The Barber" Maglie Finished Just a Little off the Top in 1956

Ninth in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

Sal Maglie’s 1956 season combines the “Elston Howard factor” of collecting more MVP votes than worthier candidates largely because his team inched out theirs at the finish line with the “‘Indian Bob’ Johnson factor” of a hot stretch drive that stayed fresh in the memory of writers come ballot time.

Maglie enjoyed the double-whammy of earning lots of votes this way in two award races: the National League MVP and the very first Cy Young honor.

Not to paint a picture that Maglie reaped undue reward for a marginal season. On the contrary, he was a key starter who contributed mightily to a pennant winner—but in my opinion, his runner-up finishes for the MVP and Cy Young Award came at the expense of more-deserving candidates.

Sal Maglie’s story is well known: Struggling for several pre-war years in the mid-minors, he went home to work in a defense plant as America mobilized, until finally making his debut with the New York Giants just as the war drew to an end. Three of his five wins came by shutout, including one against the World Series–bound Chicago Cubs.

But nearing his 29th birthday as Opening Day of 1946 approached, Maglie, along with Max Lanier, Mickey Owen, Giants teammate Danny Gardella and more than a dozen other major leaguers, jumped to the Pasquale Brothers’ outlaw Mexican League, nearly aborting his career before it started.

Maglie pitched in Mexico for two seasons under the tutelage of hotheaded Cuban fireballer Dolf Luque, who had enjoyed a successful 20-year NL career, including a 27-win season in 1923.

Luque taught Maglie to be a more aggressive pitcher, soon transforming Maglie into one of the most feared moundsmen in the National League for his eagerness to throw high and inside, resulting in his sobriquet, “The Barber.” (Despite his nasty reputation, however, Maglie hit only 44 batters in his 10-year major league career.)

Temporarily banned from the majors for his outlaw days, Maglie pitched in Canada before returning to the Giants in 1950. Now a well-traveled 33-year-old, he unleashed his talent and temper on National League batters to the tune of an 18-4 record, pacing the NL in ERA, shutouts and winning percentage.

In the Giants’ legendary 1951 campaign, Maglie reached his apex, tying with teammate Larry Jansen for the major league lead in victories, with 23.

His 2.93 ERA claimed second best, and he finished third in strikeouts. In the Shot Heard ‘Round the World game, Maglie surrendered four runs in eight innings but took a no-decision when Ralph Branca spared him the goat’s horns.

Maglie followed 1951 with several more strong seasons, helping New York to a World Series championship in 1954 and remaining one of the hated nemeses of the Brooklyn Dodgers—and their fans—during his tenure in the Polo Grounds. While donning a Giants jersey, Maglie tortured the powerful Bums by taking 23 of 34 decisions.

In 1955, despite ringing up nine victories through July, the defending champs put Maglie on waivers. Quickly claimed by the Cleveland Indians, he hurled a mere 25.2 innings the rest of the season and looked to be near the end of the line.

Five innings into the 1956 campaign, the borough of Brooklyn did a collective double take as their defending champions, slow out of the gate, purchased the reviled Maglie from the Tribe.

During his first two months in Dodger blue, Maglie, used as both a spot starter and a reliever, did little to help Brooklyn’s fortunes, going 2-3 and carrying an ERA above 4.00.

Then, on July 28, The Barber found his groove. (He won his start previous to July 28 but did not pitch well and claimed victory thanks to Brooklyn’s 10-run assault.) Through the end of August, Maglie won four of five decisions, pitched three no-decisions in which he surrendered a total of two earned runs and dropped his ERA from 4.20 to 3.34

As Brooklyn slowly cut into the Milwaukee Braves’ summer-long lead—simultaneously rumbling with the revived Cincinnati Redlegs—Maglie maintained his magic.

On September 11, he went the distance to beat Milwaukee, 4-2, bringing Brooklyn into a tie for first. And in his next start, Maglie gutted out a narrow victory at Crosley Field to raise the Dodgers into the lead for the first time since April.

As Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Cincinnati played tug-of-war for the pennant, Maglie no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies on September 25. Although Milwaukee’s easy victory in Cincinnati that day kept Brooklyn from gaining ground, Maglie’s headline-making feat so close to the end of the season surely carried a lot of weight come awards time.

Four days later, his complete-game victory in the opener of a double-header against the Pittsburgh Pirates put Brooklyn one game in the lead for good. (After winning the back end of the double-header, Brooklyn clinched the pennant with a series sweep of Pittsburgh the next afternoon, despite Milwaukee also winning its final game.)

At season’s end, Maglie stood at 13-5, with a 2.87 ERA for Brooklyn—a fantastic ERA while hurling two-thirds of his innings in a home park among the toughest in which to pitch.

There is no doubt that Brooklyn—which edged Milwaukee by a single game and Cincinnati by two—won the pennant largely on the arm of Sal Maglie. From late July onward, Maglie was money—especially during the three-team race of September, when he went 6-1, with a 1.77 ERA.

For his heroics, Maglie finished second to teammate Don Newcombe in both the MVP race and the brand-new Cy Young Award, as Newcombe authored one of the monster seasons of the post-war era: 27-7, 3.06 ERA and a 0.989 WHIP—by far, baseball’s best.

Not to minimize in any way Maglie’s huge contribution to a pennant winner, but of the 11 NL pitchers who received MVP votes, only reliever Clem Labine collected fewer wins. Maglie also pitched the fewest innings of any vote-getting starter.

Especially considering that Don Newcombe and his 27 victories were the true anchor of Brooklyn’s staff—and rightfully rewarded as such—a Dodger who played every day deserved more recognition than Maglie for keeping the Bums churning through a daily dogfight.

How Duke Snider finished a distant tenth in the MVP is a real head-scratcher. Garnering a single first-place vote, the Duke’s vote share lagged well behind not only Maglie, but teammates Jim Gilliam and Pee Wee Reese—a part-time keystone combo having an excellent fielding season, with Gilliam cracking an even .300 and drawing 95 walks.

But Duke carried the biggest stick on an aging team suddenly replaced by Cincinnati as the most potent offense in the league.

Snider paced the Senior Circuit in home runs, walks and OPS, tying with Junior Gilliam for the lead in on-base percentage, all while chasing down fly balls to center field at his usual reliable rate. He also crossed the plate 112 times, second most in the league.

And as Newcombe struggled to clinch the pennant on the schedule’s final day—surrendering six earned runs on 11 Pirates’ hits—it was the Duke who saved Brooklyn’s season, slamming a pair of home runs and driving in four RBI.

Sandy Amoros also clubbed two homers, but Duke’s three-run blast in the bottom of the first set the tone and put Pittsburgh in a hole from which it could not fully emerge before Don Bessent relieved the fatigued Newcome and sealed the pennant.

Of course, no one knew from WAR at the time, but the Duke tied Willie Mays for the NL lead at 7.6. Having topped 130 RBI in the previous two seasons yet driving home “only” 101 in 1956, perhaps voters turned their pens elsewhere based on Duke’s “drop-off” in that coveted stat.

Already a potent lineup, the long-lost Redlegs—who hadn’t seen .500 since 1944—slugged their way from 75 to 91 wins largely on the addition of Frank Robinson.

Enjoying one of the greatest freshman campaigns ever—and copping a unanimous Rookie of the Year honor for it—the gritty Robinson smashed 38 home runs, a record that would stand for 31 seasons.

In doing so, Robinson also helped Cincinnati clout a record-tying 221 home runs. Exhibiting impressive bat discipline for a 20-year-old slugger, Robinson drew 64 walks to go with his solid .290 batting average, which, combined with a league-high 20 hit-by-pitches for the rookie who defiantly dug in against veteran hurlers, led to an NL-best 122 runs scored.

Robinson also tied teammate Ed Bailey for second in OPS, with .936. Considering Cincinnati’s dearth of starting pitching—only Brooks Lawrence chalked up more than 13 victories, and only Joe Nuxhall logged an ERA better than league average—Robinson, in my opinion, had more to do with Cincinnati’s sudden resurgence than any other Redleg.

One can argue that a seventh-place finish on the MVP ballot was amply complemented by the Rookie of the Year honor, but Robinson, a natural-born leader and the highest-scoring player on the highest-scoring team, should have finished higher in the vote.

Interestingly, both Snider and Robinson batted their best against each other as Brooklyn and Cincinnati jockeyed all summer for the inside track. Duke lit up Redlegs hurlers for an even .400 and slugged a monstrous .787, while driving in 18 runs and scoring 23 times in 22 contests.

Nearly matching Duke’s mastery of Cincinnati pitching, the rookie Robinson still bruised Brooklyn for nine homers and .716 slugging, resulting in 13 RBI and 20 runs scored in the same 22 games.

Neither fared well against Milwaukee’s deep and stingy rotation.

Warren Spahn also probably should have ranked higher than Maglie. Arguably the best pitcher on what was, far and away, the best pitching staff in the NL (team ERA of 3.11nearly half a run better than runner-up Brooklyn), Spahn enjoyed a typical Warren Spahn season: 20-11, 2.78 ERA. He led the league in nothing but hurled 90 more innings than Maglie.

Over the course of an entire season, during which Spahn’s Braves spent 83 percent of its schedule within two games, either way, of first place, 90 high-quality innings is a huge difference to overlook.

Milwaukee’s strength on the mound may have actually worked against Spahn at voting time. Lew Burdette spun a season very similar to Spahn statistically (19-10, 2.70 ERA, in 256.1 innings), yet although voters barely took notice of Burdette or 18-game winner Bob Buhl at awards time, Spahn’s 20 wins might have lost some impact among his big-winning teammates.

Of course, had Milwaukee finished a game ahead of Brooklyn, Spahn likely would have received many of the votes that instead went to Maglie.

Unfortunately for Spahn, who went 7-1 and saved one game in September (including a 12-inning complete-game victory on September 13), he took a truly hard-luck loss in Milwaukee’s penultimate game of the season, which dropped the Braves a game behind Brooklyn and allowed the Dodgers to claim the pennant the following afternoon despite Burdette’s 4-2 win in St. Louis.

Tied with Brooklyn with two games to play, Spahn spun a masterful 11 innings, yielding only three hits and one earned run. But Cardinal Herm Wehmeier, an oft-wild thrower with a career mark of 80-100 going into the game, matched Spahn inning for inning.

With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 12th, Spahn yielded a double to Stan Musial. Intentionally walking Ken Boyer to get to Rip Repulski, Repulski ripped a double to left, scoring Musial and giving Brooklyn—busy winning the second game of a double-header against Pittsburgh after Maglie won the opener—a one-game edge going into the season’s final day.

As for the Cy Young Award—which, in 1956, was issued to a single pitcher selected from both leagues—Maglie again placed second to Newcombe. The same argument for Spahn (and Burdette) in the MVP race becomes stronger for this vote. With Newcombe deservedly running away with the inaugural award, Maglie earned four of the remaining six votes, outpacing both Spahn and Whitey Ford.

The ace of the eventual world-champion New York Yankees, Ford went 19-6, with a Major League–topping 2.47 ERA. But the Bronx Bombers peeled away from the rest of the AL in July and coasted to the pennant, so Ford enjoyed none of the hero-making drama of a close race, as did Maglie.

Yet a pitcher superior that season both to Spahn and Ford, let alone Maglie, was completely ignored. Herb Score, coming off a Rookie of the Year effort in 1955, took another step toward the superstardom he’d sadly never reach (see his entry, No. 2, in my series for a fuller explanation).

Flame throwing his way to a 20-9 season, garnished with an AL-high five shutouts and 263 strikeouts—best in the Majors and 71 more than anyone else—Score unfairly went missing at ballot time thanks to an 88-win Cleveland Indians squad made irrelevant by the machine-like Yankees.

As good as was Maglie down Brooklyn’s stretch drive, Score, with his adjusted ERA of 166, pitched at the highest caliber virtually all season.

Pitching in his third—and final—World Series, in 1956, Maglie went the distance in the opener, whiffing 10 Yankees in a 6-3 victory at Ebbets Field. In Game 5, he had the misfortune of pitching against history, as his gutsy eight innings were no match for Don Larsen’s perfection. (Along with the Shot Heard ‘Round the World game, this made Maglie a starting pitcher in perhaps the two most famous contests in baseball annals.)

New York, of course, went on to reclaim the crown Brooklyn had usurped the previous year.

Maglie pitched one more season in Brooklyn, but now 40 years old, the Barber’s days were numbered. He bounced to the Yankees—becoming one of only 14 players who made the stop at all three New York boroughs—before concluding his short but eventful career with the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1958.

Etching a most impressive 119-62 record, with a career ERA 27 percent better than league average, Sal Maglie enjoyed one helluva ride for a guy who didn’t stick in the Majors until age 33.

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What Ryan Braun Has to Do to Get Back in Fans’ Good Books

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is digging a deeper hole for himself following his recent apology acknowledging his use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Braun issued a statement Thursday—the full text of which can be found here—apologizing for his use of PEDs and further explaining his actions.  Yet his apology may be too little and too late. 

Braun, and his clouded reputation, shall forever be stained by this incident.  However, there are things the 2011 National League MVP can do to at least return his image to something respectable.

For starters, Braun should speak with the media.

The nature of that potential conversation shall be described shortly; yet how did Braun get to this point in the first place?

Braun is no stranger to allegations of PED use. 

In his 2011 MVP season, Braun had tested positive for PEDs, yet was able to successfully appeal a 50-game suspension; he became baseball’s first player to win such an appeal.

Despite the success of the appeal, one might think that Braun had learned his lesson.  His reputation, albeit tainted, was still intact and he had escaped suspension and the scrutiny that would have accompanied it.  It should have been a foregone conclusion that Braun would stay clean having come so close to ruining his character.

Braun did not take the wiser of the two courses.  In the wake of the second accusation of PED use, Braun may now seem more foolish than ever before. 

Despite not being directly linked to any specific PED from the hands of the Miami-based Biogenesis clinic, Braun’s involvement and subsequent actions certainly did not put him on the right path.

When Major League Baseball announced that they would seek Braun’s suspension, Braun’s statements and actions were anything but adequate. 

In a February 5 article written by Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Braun stated that he had nothing to hide and never had any relationship with the clinic’s operator, Anthony Bosch.

Braun further elaborated:

During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Bosch, used him as a consultant.  More specifically, he answered questions about [testosterone-to-epitestosterone] ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.

Braun’s first explanation seems about as hollow as his most recent one.  The only difference is that Braun has now acknowledged PED use instead of denying it. 

Yet as previously mentioned, why would Braun even bother dealing with Bosch and his reputation within the Biogenesis clinic?

To make matters worse, Braun was then alleged to have gone after Dino Laurenzi Jr., the Comprehensive Drug Testing employee who had handled his 2011 urine sample.

Regardless, Braun’s interactions and subsequent denials further drove a wedge between him and the fans, as well as the media.

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sums up the aftermath perfectly when he wrote:

Fans don’t take kindly to PED cheats and certainly not to someone who lied about it publicly for so long.  In other words, Braun’s reputation is trashed, his integrity non-existent and his achievements forever tarnished.  Think about that when you suggest he got off lightly because it “only” cost him $3 million or so in salary while suspended.

Before this scandal ever took place, Braun’s popularity was something to be commended.  Now, it seems as if Braun has little chance to rectify the situation and make things right with the fans and MLB.

In the wake of Braun’s most recent attempt to apologize and clear his name, his reputation may be worse off than before.

ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian elaborated via an article published by Bill Chappell of NPR by saying:

While Braun used a lot of the right words, we need more specifics than this.  And I really thought that after this, he would get in front of a microphone, maybe even take some questions.  But from all indications, this might be it until spring training, or whenever.

That would be the first step in correcting a series of poor decisions on Braun’s part. 

At this point, fans are becoming numb to Braun’s denial and subsequent apologetic comments.  At best, they seem hollow and still lack the credibility necessary for Braun to once again earn the respect within the game.

Major League players are also disgusted with Braun’s decision-making as well as how he has handled things up to this point.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer stated via an ESPN article:

I thought this whole thing has been despicable on his part.  When he did get caught, he never came clean.  He tried to question the ability of the collector when he was caught red-handed.  So that’s why the whole Braun situation, there is so much player outrage toward him.

Rather than make a statement reiterating only the words Braun wants to speak, he needs to step forward in front of a microphone, as Kurkjian said. 

Braun will need to face the facts, admit them and begin the healing process necessary in the aftermath of this scandal.

Former MLB pitcher, and current broadcaster, Mike Krukow also stated in an interview with the San Francisco-based radio station KNBR that Braun’s most recent attempt did not help his character at all.  Instead Krukow reiterated what others have already said: Braun needs to stand in front of a microphone and answer every question—tough questions—truthfully and honestly.

Instead, we are left with a hollow apology.

CBS Sports senior baseball columnist Scott Miller summed up how many are feeling about this recent apology.  He writes:

Far as I can tell, Braun’s apology doesn’t even come close to covering the ground he needs to cover.  Starting with his urine collector.  Are you kidding me?  Braun demonizes the poor guy who collected his polluted piss while the stained slugger desperately worked to wiggle out of a suspension two winters ago.  He is positively Nixonian in telling one brazen, unadulterated lie after another.

Instead, Braun should be doing much more than issuing hollow statements filled with discredit.  He also should be issuing a huge apology to Laurenzi Jr., as San Francisco Chronicle writer John Shea tweets above.

While his current apology to Laurenzi is a start, the fact that Braun referred to him as an anti-Semite deserves more than just a few words.

If Braun does nothing more to repair his image, his character will remain in shambles.  If this is a start of more action on his part, he could regain some credibility.

Fortunately for Braun, if there is any good fortune, there is still time to do this.

Braun can benefit from the fact that baseball and the media are growing tired of steroids in the game.  He can also benefit from the fact that society tends to be forgiving if it receives a heartfelt apology and time is allowed to heal the wounds.

Remember when Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte were linked to PED use? 

They both made apologies that were seen as adequate and both were able to move on and have successful careers without the scrutiny that Braun has brought upon himself.

The road ahead for Braun will not be as easy.  He has already tarnished his reputation as a player and his actions following this scandal have certainly not helped.

Even if Braun does right from here on out, he may never again be seen as the likable Milwaukee slugger who was once viewed as a perennial MVP candidate.  Yet he could better his situation and hopefully put himself back on track to earning the respect of both players and fans.

Braun could still turn this negative into a positive. 

It is an obvious conclusion that he needs to stay clean from this point forward.  He could be a spokesperson for continued testing in the hopes that his experience may actually provide some benefit to baseball years down the road.

This, in turn, would show that Braun is a human being who has dealt with struggles in the past and has concerns about how PEDs could affect baseball in the future.  Fans would like to see that.

If anything, Braun needs to step in front of the media and answer questions as both Krukow and Kurkjian suggested.  He needs to answer each and every question with integrity and honesty.  Braun also needs to make a deeper apology instead of the flat statement he issued on August 22.

Braun needs to apologize to his teammates.  He needs to apologize to each of the players that faced him up to this point.  He needs to apologize to his coaches.  Most importantly, he needs to apologize to the fans. 

After all, fans are the sole reason baseball exists.


Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

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MLB & PED’s: How to Prevent and Then Punish Positive Tests Like Ryan Braun

Over the past several years, baseball has proven with multiple reports and documents that it still has further to go in order to rid the sport of performance enhancing drugs. 

First time offenders in baseball currently receive a 50-game suspension, second-time offenders receive a 100-game suspension, and a third-time offender is banished from baseball. 

While this may deter a handful of players, it definitely does not deter all players.  With the different masking agents and assistance of personal physicians, athletes are slipping by the current testing methods.

The risk of being caught currently does not outweigh the benefits that are reaped from performing at the Major League level.  Contracts for everyday players are in the millions, and if you are an all-star you could be looking at anywhere from 10-20 million a season.   

Melky Cabrera gets caught on a one year deal with the Giants where he was arguably the mid-season NL MVP and was looking like he was in line for a mammoth contract extension where he would have seen more than $10 million per season over the next 5 years, and still came away after his drama with a 2-year, $16 million deal from the Blue Jays

Last off-season, Ryan Braun had a positive test, fought the system, and avoided his 50-game suspension.  With the recent Bio-genesis reports that are being released, it appears he is deeper in the PED underground than previously thought. 

I believe MLB could handle this ongoing issue with some of baseball’s best players by trying a few different things.


Blood Testing During Season

The most recent collective bargaining agreement from the Players Union and Major League Baseball will include blood testing for human growth hormone only for spring training and offseason. 

While this helps, HGH is not going to be used during this time frame.  HGH is being used to help players recover from injuries and stay fresh during the long season.  Players during spring training are already fresh from the off season. 

Baseball is not jumping two feet into this new testing to study the effects on the players, however if you aren’t willing to be all in, do not commit yourself to the pot. Baseball will be the first of the four major U.S. sports to incorporate any blood testing into their testing program. 

Why was the Players Union so headstrong as to not allowing it during the season? Because that’s when players will be using the HGH. You do not go to the store unless you know it is open. 

Major League Baseball is taking baby steps in getting their end result which is full testing, but the owners should be pushing this harder in order to protect their investments and know what they are actually investing in.  If you knew a stock was only worth 40 bucks and it is on the market for 50 bucks, you wouldn’t buy it—just like you wouldn’t pay a 40 HR player the same as a 10 HR player.


2.)  Increase Testing

Going hand in hand with the blood testing, the athletes need to be tested more often. 

Athletes in their contract years and rising through the minor leagues especially need additional testing.  The main reason the players are cheating is for a huge pay day, and the athletes that are the closest to that money will break the rules in order to break the bank. 

Players at the AAA level in 2012 earned slightly over $2,000 a month assuming that it was not their first year in AAA and did not receive large signing bonuses. A major league minimum salary in 2012 was $480,000 per year. 

The fact is, the borderline “4A” type players and utility players look to make huge gains just by getting onto the major league roster and sticking there.  If you show promise in the upper levels of the minors they will generally give you a shot, and the longer you stick around the longer you make nearly a half million dollars per year. 

The players in the top levels of the minor league system and especially guys in the final year of their contract should receive additional testing.  Testing is not cheap, but Major League Baseball is a billion business and the way to keep fans in the stands is to protect their brand and catch players. 

The worst thing for the MLB brand is to let superstars like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens get through their careers without a positive test, and then be caught from lab documents and testimonies.


 Terminating Contacts

Through the recent years, baseball has shown that the suspensions are not a big enough deterrent to eliminate PED use.  However, what if these teams were able to completely null and void these massive contracts upon one of their players failing a drug test?   Braun in 2011 signed a $105 million, five-year contract extension that added onto a seven-year deal he signed in May 2008, which resulted in $145.5 million dollars through 2020. 

What if once his positive test was revealed, the Brewers could void his remaining contract, say “see ya,” and waive him without having to eat his “guaranteed contract?”  The owners and general Managers are signing for the “enhanced” player hitting 40 home runs player and not the actual real life player that may only hit 25 home runs.

Teams are taking the risk by signing these players, and the fact of the matter is they are getting burned.  Att the time of his extension, Braun was the face of the Brewers franchise and a media darling. 

Fast forward to today. 

Braun is regarded as one of the least-liked players in all of sports.  He went from being a marketing asset for the Brewers to an alleged cheater using PEDs and then lying about it. 

The point is, these teams will sign these great players to long term deals dump all this money on them, the player will get suspended, and while they are without pay during the suspension, they come back and make their guaranteed salary for the rest of the contract. 

Even if the blood testing and additional testing does not catch all the players in their “contract year” it would still hopefully eliminate their use from then on knowing the players could lose their huge multi-year deals.


4.) Increase Suspensions

Currently the first offense for a 50-game suspension does not seem to do justice when that is less than 1/3 of a season. The first test should result in a minimum of being suspended for the year in which you tested positive, but also be a minimum of 100 games.

If you get popped in Spring Training, well, you just missed the entire season to your positive test.  If you get popped in September, you will miss the rest of the season and into the next season totaling 100 games.

A second positive test should just result in being banned. 

These players testing positive have to realize by now the severity of the testing.  As Jose Bautista mentioned in an interview this spring, there are many different resources and outlets to these players to verify if what they are putting in their bodies is allowed or not.

The fact you can get popped at the after the all-star break like Melky Cabrera did last year, and potentially could have come back for the playoffs, is not right.  Any stats or awards that were won in a season which a player tested positive should be forfeited.


While I do believe Major League Baseball is trying to push stricter testing and clean up the sport, I believe it could be accelerated greatly.  If the Players Union is serious about protecting its players—and by players, I mean “clean” players —they should have no issues with anything in this article.  Playing baseball for a living should be an honor and a privilege, not a right.

The fact that greedy players are able to cheat to get ahead of “clean” players should be dealt with an iron fist.

I will leave you with this scenario.

Suppose two men walk into a gas station and each purchase a lottery ticket.  The first man scratches off his lottery ticket and almost won, but missed on his last two numbers.  The second man scratched his off and WON the half million dollar jackpot!  When the first man found out the second man won the jackpot, he stole his ticket, he cashed the ticket in, and he received the grand prize.  Once the first man found out what happened he finally caught up with the second man getting out of his new Ferrari, and asked, “What the hell are you doing with the winnings from my ticket? That was my dream to win the lottery,” the second man replied, “Sorry, man. It happens all the time. It is called baseball.”

The above scenario would actually be illegal and make headlines.

It’s commonplace in baseball. 

Major League Baseball and the Players Union need to do all they can do to protect their clean athletes, and stop caring about the cheaters. Baseball had the blinders on when it came to drug testing over the past 25 years, but hopefully in the next 25 years it will set new standards in protecting the blue collar athlete and lead other sports into the next era.

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Zack Greinke Spiking Points to Thin-Skinned MLB Umpires

Friday, John Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves were the biggest players in the running to acquire Milwaukee Brewers ace Zack Greinke this trade deadline.

Twenty-four hours later, D.J. Short of Hard Ball Talk reports that Greinke was quickly tossed in the first inning of his outing against the Houston Astros for spiking a baseball in frustration.

From Short:

Greinke gave up a leadoff triple to Jordan Schafer before Jose Altuve hit a chipper to Corey Hart at first base. Greinke ran over to the first base bag to catch the throw from Hart, but Altuve was ruled safe on a very close play. Greinke didn’t argue the call, but took out his frustrations by slamming the ball into the ground. He was then given the boot by first base umpire Sam Holbrook.

You can see the play and the ejection here, via MLB.com.

As if umpires have not been the source of enough fan angst already, here is yet another black eye for an umpiring era marked by thin-skin and short fuses.

Somewhere along the way, umpires forgot they were supposed to work behind the scenes as opposed to being lead actors in the show.

Now, here is what I do not understand: Greinke was angry—perhaps, merely with himself—and he expressed these frustrations by slamming the ball into the ground.

So Holbrook tossed Greinke. Then, to add insult to injury, Holbrook tossed Brewers manager Ron Roenicke after he stormed from the dugout to defend his pitcher.

Could Greinke have handled himself better? Absolutely. Will Greinke look back and feel a little embarrassed. Perhaps. But I am going to go to bat for Greinke on this one.

It is obvious that Greinke was frustrated, perhaps with more than just the close play at first. I think there is more going on here.

Greinke is in the midst of a flurry of trade discussions. Nobody knows what is going on in the guy’s head (especially in light of his social anxiety disorder). He may not want to leave Milwaukee. Who knows?

But sometimes a guy needs to vent. And umpires need to show some discretion in such situations. With that said, here is a question: Is Holbrook so thin-skinned that he cannot handle a simple act of vented frustration from one of the players?

Now if Greinke took the baseball and fired it into the crowd and scouts in attendance for his performance, different story. But Greinke did not do this. The only casualty in this mess was a plot of dirt in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.

Funny how NBA players get away with spiking basketballs to the moon in frustration.

Of course, there are those who will argue that Greinke is a professional who needs to act the part.

To that I say, “Hogwash!”

Frankly, I am tired of people who tear down athletes who wear their emotions on their sleeves and show some passion in the heat of battle.

While I do not condone perpetual hotheads, I like guys who show some passion from time to time. Baseball players are not robots, after all.

The bottom line is that, all things considered, Holbrook should have given Greinke a warning. But Holbrook decided to steal the show. And Roenicke was right to let Holbrook know it.


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Mid-Season Report Cards for all 30 MLB Teams

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Ryan Braun: Mob Mentality and Why He Is Not Guilty in My Mind

We all do it. That little judge in our minds bangs the gavel and declares, “Guilty!” when the words “tested positive” flash across the computer screen. Case closed. We decry. We smirk. 

Mob rules.

Ryan Braun‘s suspension over a positive PED test was overturned by an arbitrator, and a ruckus has been raised by the mob as a result. The results did not sway the mob, as the Brewers slugger appears to have been exonerated on a mere technicality. 

It helps to begin by saying the arbitrator’s decision was not based on a simple technicality. Chain of custody is vital to preserve the integrity of collected samples, and the sample collector certainly did not follow protocol. Whether he put the sample in his refrigerator or left it sitting in a tupperware bin on his desk, the chain of custody was compromised and the tested sample could no longer be trusted.

Was the sample tampered with? Did the sample somehow degrade because of poor storage conditions? These are important questions that arise when the chain of custody is broken, hence the arbitrator’s ruling.

Skeptics mock Braun, saying he tested positive and that is the only truth in the matter. That is far from the truth, however, at least based on our knowledge of the situation. That we do not know what happened to his sample between collection and testing means we know squat about whether Braun tested positive or not. 

And what of Braun’s measurables and metrics? He claims he has not gained a single pound or decreased his base-running splits by one-tenth of a second. I will trust him on that count—with a grain of salt, of course—since I do not have access to that week-to-week data. I do have access to his career numbers, though, and here is how they pan out:

2007 113 492 451 91 146 34 97 15 29 112 .324 .370 .634 1.004 154
2008 151 663 611 92 174 37 106 14 42 129 .285 .335 .553 .888 130
2009 158 708 635 113 203 32 114 20 57 121 .320 .386 .551 .937 146
2010 157 685 619 101 188 25 103 14 56 105 .304 .365 .501 .866 131
2011 150 629 563 109 187 33 111 33 58 93 .332 .397 .597 .994 166

Setting aside that he has great career numbers, has Braun been taking PEDs throughout his five-year career and managing to get away with it this whole time? He has been consistent thus far in his career, and he is just now hitting his prime. I expect that to continue, even if he has an abnormally good or bad season because of this whole mess.

Is this proof he is not doping? No, it is purely circumstantial. Neither is an aberrant, morbidly positive test on a mishandled test sample proof that he is juicing, however. We are in the court of public opinion, not a federal court room, but there exists here more than a reasonable doubt.

Healthy skepticism is a good thing; without it, science would stagnate. This is not a question of science, however, not when it comes to judging a man guilty for a transgression nobody can ultimately prove. 

True, he may have simply beat the system and fooled the likes of me in the process. While it may be naive to take Braun on his word, though, I suppose I tend to see the sample cup as half full. At the very least, judgment has been reserved for another day.

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2012 National League Central Division Preview from Dugout Central

Continuing in Dugout Central’s annual pre-season ritual, I am going to present my predictions for the National League Heartland – er – Central Division in 2012. Last year saw an early-season surge by the generally hapless Pittsburgh Pirates, only to see them fall right back in the race where they’ve been for the better part of 20 seasons. July 17 saw Milwaukee Brewers pick-up Zack Greinke out-duel then-Cub Carlos Zambrano 2-0 to put the Brewers up half a game on the St. Louis Cardinals and 1.5 on Pittsburgh. The Brewers didn’t look back, going 41-17 from that game to win their first division title in 29 years. However, the last laugh was had by the Cardinals, who snuck into the wild card spot and defeated the Brewers in the NLCS en route to their NL-best 11th World Championship.


There were some major shake-ups both in the front office and on the field, ensuring that 2012 would be an exciting new year for the division.


Chicago Cubs

2011: 71-91, 5th Place, 25 GB, Scored 4.04 R/G (8th in NL), Allowed 4.67 R/G (14th in NL)

Key Losses: Aramis Ramirez (3B), Carlos Pena (1B), Carlos Zambrano (SP)

Key Additions: David Dejesus (OF), Ian Stewart (3B), Paul Maholm (SP)

Why they could win it all: The bright spot on the Chicago Cubs last year was the left side of the infield. While Aramis Ramirez packed his bags and moved up north, the Cubs feature one of the bright young stars in the game in Starlin Castro. Just 21 years old, Castro led the National League in hits last year with 207. A little more patience on both sides of the ball (he had almost as many errors as walks) will result in him being one of the players that the Cubs can build around moving forward.

Why they could fail: The Cubs completely revamped their front office by bringing in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, both of whom have been successful executives at the big league level. However, the damage from the Hendry regime has been done. Alfonso Soriano is eating a tremendous amount of payroll to play poorly (just 2.0 WAR total since 2009), as is Carlos Zambrano (to play for Miami). A 1-year turn-around just won’t be possible with the mess left-over. However, a big payroll and smart people to manage it may mean good things for the Cubs in the future as it did for the Red Sox.

What to watch: Alfonso Soriano needs to go, as he is deadweight in most aspects of his game. His .289 OBP and lackluster outfield defense have made his 136 million dollar contract one of the worst in history. Look for the Cubs to exploit a possible fast start by Soriano and turn it into a trade to an AL team, where he could potentially serve as a platoon DH. The key won’t be the player acquired, but rather the amount of salary his new team will be willing to eat.

2012 Prediction: 66-96, 5th place

Cincinnati Reds

2011: 79-83, 3rd Place, Scored 4.54 R/G (2nd in NL), Allowed 4.44 R/G (12th in NL)

Key Losses: Francisco Cordero (RP)Edgar Renteria (SS), Edinson Volquez (SP), Travis Wood (SP), Yonder Alonso (1B/OF)

Key Additions: Mat Latos (SP), Sean Marshall (RP), Ryan Madson (RP)

Why they could win it all: Remember that the Reds did win the division in 2010, posting over 90 wins before falling to Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the NLDS. The Reds did out-score their opponents on the year, and made a couple of nice pick-ups in Ryan Madson and Mat Latos. The offense is as potent as ever, with Joey Votto leading the charge as the best 1B in the division with Fielder and Pujols gone (though some may argue he had already reached that plateau).

Why they could fail: The Reds continue to employ Dusty Baker as their manager, so it’s hard to be shocked when they underperform their expected win-loss (not that a manager is necessarily responsible for that, but he can be). The rotation is a mess; Bronson Arroyo’s over the hill, and yet, he was the only Reds starter to make 30 starts last season, besides Mat Latos, recently acquired from the Padres. Latos has had good numbers in his first couple seasons, but he’s going from pitching half his games at the most pitcher-friendly park in the game to starting those games at one of the most hitter-friendly.

What to watch: Drew Stubbs was the leadoff hitter for most of the year. His league-worst 205 strikeouts wouldn’t be so alarming if he followed them up with actual on-base ability…which he does not (just a .321 OBP last year). Here’s a guy with some good tools, but he’s depriving Votto and Bruce of RBI opportunities by reaching so sparingly. Not saying he should be replaced on the team – his center field defense alone makes him worthwhile – but he shouldn’t lead-off.

2012 Prediction: 86-76, 3rd place

Houston Astros

2011: 56-106, 6th place, 40 GB, Scored 3.80 R/G (13th in NL), Allowed 4.91 R/G (16th in NL)

Key Losses: Jeff Keppinger (IF) Michael Bourn (OF), Hunter Pence (OF) [all mid-season last year]

Key Additions: Like, 100 prospects (including Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart).

 Why they could win it all: Wandy Rodriguez was solid yet again last year; over the past three years, he has a very nice 118 ERA+ and 1.279 WHIP. Unfortunately, he’s no Old Hoss Radbourn, and as such, can’t start every game for the Astros next year. Also, he has about as much chance of being an Astro come the trading deadline as I do.

Why they could fail: They were 56-106, added nothing at the big league level, and will now be without Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn for the entire 2012 season, as opposed to just half of it. The team that once owned this division like nobody’s business in the Killer-B years is now poised to leave it for the American League West, where, on a brighter note, they will have the luxury of facing the Mariners 18 or so times a year. I’ll be nice and give them 55 wins…and I’m thinking that’s probably optimistic.  

What to watch: Carlos Lee is in the final year of a 6-year, 100 million dollar deal that I still don’t understand. Let’s see if he plays well enough to eek out another deal before hanging up his spikes or if El Caballo is happy being a rich guy with 350 career home runs.

2012 Prediction: 55-107, Last Place.

Milwaukee Brewers

2011: 96-66, 1st Place,  Scored 4.45 R/G (5th in NL), Allowed 3.94 R/G (6th in NL)

Key Losses: Prince Fielder (1B), Casey McGehee (3B), Yuniesky Betancourt (SS), Takashi Saito (RP), LaTroy Hawkins (RP)

Key Additions: Aramis Ramirez (3B), Alex Gonzalez (SS), Jose Veras (RP), Norichika Aoki (OF)

Why they could win: The Brewers won the NL Central last season, and while they lost their superstar first baseman Prince Fielder, they patched up their two biggest holes – the left side of the infield. Despite winning 96 games last year, the Brewers featured the absolute worst third baseman and shortstop in the game. Aramis Ramirez has been a fixture in the division for the last decade with both the Pirates and Cubs, making two all-star teams. He won his first silver slugger last season, after hitting .306/.361/.510 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI for the hapless Cubs in 2011. Meanwhile Alex Gonzalez will take over at shortstop; he has roughly the same plate presence as Yuni Betancourt (horrific), but is a well-regarded fielder at the position and will certainly represent an upgrade. Finally, the Brewers have just received a major shot in the arm as their team leader and reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun has been cleared of all charges regarding a failed drug test last October.

Why they could fail: Losing Prince changes the landscape of this offense – Aramis Ramirez just isn’t going to be able to spell the same level of protection for Braun. Furthermore, there are just too many question marks. Will Mat Gamel be the hitter he was always projected to be, or will he be the hitter he has been in parts of 4 big league seasons? Will Randy Wolf continue to defy his peripherals? Will Greinke ever perform even close to the level he did in 2009? And what’s with this Aoki guy? He’s won 3 batting titles in Japan, but can we expect that to even remotely resemble what he does in the Majors? Lastly – does anyone think the Brewers will go 30-18 in 1-run games next season?

What to watch: Corey Hart is obviously going to be playing every day. That leaves two positions – either CF and RF or 1B and CF up for grabs. I say that because Hart can play 1st and it isn’t clear that Mat Gamel can perform at the big league level. The Brewers have a solid center field platoon lined up with Nyjer Morgan (who hit over .300 last year) and Carlos Gomez (one of the best defenders in the game). But what about the Japanese batting champion, Aoki? Will Morgan show he can replicate his 2011 performance? All we know for sure is that Hart is playing every day and Gomez is only starting against southpaws and finding his ways into other games as a pinch runner and late-inning defensive replacement. All told, this makes for an incredible log-jam – and that’s before you start including all of Morgan’s alter-ego’s.

2012 Prediction: 87-75, 2nd place

Pittsburgh Pirates

2011: 72-90, 4th place, 24 GB, Scored 3.77 R/G (14th in NL), Allowed 4.40 R/G (11th in NL)

Key Losses: Paul Maholm (SP), Ryan Ludwick (OF), Derrek Lee (1B), Jose Veras (RP)

Key Gains: AJ Burnett (SP), Erik Bedard (SP), Casey McGehee (3B), Rod Barajas (C), Clint Barmes (SS)

Why they could win: Gotta hand it to the Pirates – they made quite the turn-around last year. After winning just 57 games in 2010 (while placing last in both runs scored and runs allowed), the Pirates jumped out as contenders early-on and were in first place as late as July 25th. They went just 19-43 from that point on, however, all while tacking on a pair of has-been veterans in an effort to put them over the top. There exists a fine young group of talented players on this team, however, led by Andrew McCutchen – who had a break-out first half and is one of the best players in the National League.

Why they might fail: Their first half made for a great story but it can be chalked up to flukiness. A lot of players came back down to Earth in a hurry, most of which were to be expected. All-star Kevin Correia struggled mightily in the 2nd half, failing to qualify for the ERA title, not that his 4.79 mark would have gotten the job done. No Pittsburgh starter made it to 175 innings, and it’s highly unlikely that AJ Burnett will turn that around. No regular hit over .275 or OPS’d over .830 and only McCutchen was a measurable force of any kind. They’ve got a major talent on their hands in center field, but given the Pirates’ history, he’ll be fulfilling that potential in some place besides Pittsburgh.  

Things to watch: Joel Hanrahan emerged out of nowhere last season to be one of the National League’s premier relievers. However, like most closers, he was criminally mis-managed, as Clint Hurdle saved him only for save situations – including an 18-inning affair against the Braves that ended on a blown call. Has Hurdle learned his lesson? The fans at PNC better hope so.

2012 Prediction: 73-89, 4th Place


St. Louis Cardinals

2011: World Series Champs, 90-72, 2nd place, 6 GB, Scored 4.70 R/G (1st in NL), Allowed 4.27  R/G (9th in NL)

Key Losses: Albert Pujols (1B), Edwin Jackson (SP), Octavio Dotel (RP)

Key Gains: Carlos Beltran (OF), Adam Wainwright (SP)

Why they could win: The departure of one of the greatest players to ever play the game certainly could spell doom, but GM John Mozeliak did a fantastic job of overcoming that loss by signing future hall-of-famer Carlos Beltran to an affordable 2-year deal, locking up Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter for 2 years before the season even ended, and bringing back spark-plug Rafael Furcal. They would be better off for 2012 with Albert Pujols, but 10 years at 24 million per season was just too much – and I think Mozeliak made the right call by thinking beyond 2012 (apparently, he doesn’t take Mayans too seriously). Holliday-Berkman-Beltran spell the best heart of the order in this division and the return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation means that the Cardinals have the pitching necessary to take them back to the post-season. They are my pick to win the division.

Why they could fail: They did undergo some changes, that’s for sure. Mike Matheny will take over for Tony LaRussa and the great pitching coach Dave Duncan will not be around for 2012, as he is helping his wife, Jeanine during her bout with cancer. And of course, Albert Pujols is no longer a Cardinal. This could have far-reaching effects beyond the .328/.420/.617, 42 HR, 126 RBI line he averaged in eleven years as a Cardinal. Losing Pujols means everyone gets pitched to differently, it means teams can approach situations differently, and it means that lesser players have to take up the slack. That’s not to hate on Berkman, Holliday, Beltran, or NLCS & World Series MVP David Freese – but there’s excellent ballplayers, and then there are transcendent ballplayers. Pujols was the latter.

What to watch: All eyes will be on Adam Wainwright, who returns this season after losing 2011 to Tommy John surgery. Wainwright placed top-3 in the last two Cy Young ballots, posting 11.9 WAR in that time span. He pitched over 230 innings in both years but is unlikely to reach 200 this season in his recovery. We’ll see how his new arm ligaments hold up.

2011 Prediction: 92-70, 1st Place



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Milwaukee Brewers Can Make History in NLCS Thanks to GM Doug Melvin

After five games played, the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves in a dangerous predicament.

Lose their next game, and it’s all over. Win their next game, and it’s down to Game 7.

Lose Game 7 and it’s all over. Win Game 7, and the Brewers will win the National League pennant for the first time ever.

Exactly 13 months ago, the Brewers were in the midst of a struggle. It wasn’t the first time the Brewers had failed to secure a winning record, and it wasn’t the first time they had missed the playoffs.

The picture of consistency, left fielder Ryan Braun, once again reached the .300 mark, hitting .304 with 25 home runs and 103 runs batted in.

Prince Fielder also hit an impressive 32 dingers but recorded his lowest RBI count since 2006, driving in 83 runs. His consistency accordingly suffered, as Fielder recorded his worst seasonal average since making it to the big leagues, hitting a measly .261.

The 2010 Brewers also experienced significant pitching woes, finishing next-to-last in team ERA.

Sensing some significant shortcomings, general manager Doug Melvin launched into a hectic offseason.

After publicly announcing to Brewers fans his intention on getting more starting pitching, Melvin traded, released and acquired like there was no tomorrow.

Out were Suppan, Bush and Davis. Legendary closer Trevor Hoffman retired. Prospect Brett Lawrie was on the trading block, as were Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar, prospects Lorenzo Cain, Jack Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Cutter Dykstra left the Brewers organization and took his awesome name to Washington.

In were pitchers Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke and Takashi Saito. John Axford was selected to replace the retiring Hoffman, while shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt found his way over to Milwaukee from the Royals. Mark Kotsay and the volatile Nyjer Morgan completed the long-winded maze of transactions.

At the end of it all, the Brewers looked promising but not overwhelming. Many baseball experts chose Milwaukee to win the NL Central. Some ambitious writers put the Brew Crew in the NLCS, while their odds of winning it all were set at 100-to-one.

The Brewers were not involved in one of the four monumentally exciting final series of the 2011 season. The Brewers didn’t suffer the Boston Red Sox‘s most epic collapse of all time, nor did they experience the exuberance of sneaking into the postseason.

But the St. Louis Cardinals overtook the Atlanta Braves and did experience that most jubilant of joys.

Now the Brewers face elimination from the 2011 postseason. The Brewers have never won a National League pennant—they only came over from the American League in 1998. The Brewers have never won a World Series since their 1970 debut.

When it comes to rating a general manager’s performance, GM Doug Melvin deserves an A+.

In his frantic 2010-2011 offseason, Melvin did something every other GM should aspire to do.

He put his team in a position to win it all.

He took a floundering team with a losing record, turned it around and set it up for postseason ball. He added tremendous talent to a stale and staggering roster. He injected life into the Beersmen.

If the Brewers can find a way to win their next two games, they will make history.

And if they do, they can thank GM Doug Melvin, who put his team into a position to do exactly that.

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MLB Playoffs 2011: 7 Bold Predictions for the LCS Round

This level of excitement, anticipation and heartache is generally reserved for March, but baseball has staked its claim as the most exciting sport of 2011.  

The last day of the regular season sparked the beginning of a breathtaking nine days of baseball.

Heavyweights like the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies fell in dramatic Game 5 finishes, and slugging up-and-comers like the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers seized the moment and captured the nation’s attention.

We’ve encountered Beast Mode, T Plush, expletive-filled post game celebration and squirrels; and that’s just the National League.

What can the LCS possibly bring us?

Here are 7 things I expect to see when the LCS rounds start tonight with Game 1 between the Rangers and Tigers. 

Begin Slideshow

Tony La Russa vs. Ron Roenicke: Which Manager Is NL Central Sheriff?

Have the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers managers Tony La Russa and Ron Roenicke traded places in the NL Central’s hierarchy? Is there a new NL Central sheriff in town?  

Roenicke appears to be gaining respect in MLB circles, while La Russa seems to be losing it—even among his hometown fans. How quickly roles reverse.

Trading Places was a cult classic starring comedian Eddie Murphy of Beverly Hills Cop and Saturday Night Live fame. In the movie, Murphy portrays a street bum who gets turned into a multimillionaire by two experimenting billionaire brothers. Tell me about opposite styles.

In real life, brother La Russa was busy experimenting with his iron-fisted arguing almost every call and complaining about almost everything technique, it seems, while Roenicke was allowing his players to have fun—witness Nyjer Morgan—as long as they are producing.

Did someone say producing? The Brewers last night completed a runaway victory over their NL Central foes in this year’s division race. They had a 10.5 game lead with about 20 games left in the season.

The seasoned Redbirds’ psyche took a hit after losing two best-of-threes to Milwaukee in the first two weeks of August. Then the rest of the NL poured cooking oil on the Birds.

But, the Cardinals bounced back to pull within six games of the Brewers and about two of the Braves with about one week left in the season. The Cardinals started to look much different from the team they were four weeks ago.

At that time on the banks of three different rivers, lefty Garrett Jones’ extra-inning, walk-off home run at PNC Park on Aug. 16 all but put the Redbirds’ fire out. The Cardinals were already playing uninspired baseball, but Jones’ blast dropped them to a low psyche.

It came off the newly acquired left-hander Arthur Rhodes who has been a good pitcher in this league. It was another blown opportunity, however, by the bullpen and pointed some of the blame and most of the focus on John Mozeliak and Tony La Russa.

Their hastily revamped Cardinals fell to seven games behind Milwaukee after the Redbirds’ further fire-sapping extra-inning loss in Pittsburgh. The team’s mental focus hadn’t been the same until 9/11 weekend, when the Cardinals swept the Braves.

The Cards had won the Brewers series that week, but still couldn’t dent the standings.

Roenicke’s Brewers were in the throes of winning 21 of 25 games during their decisive run that basically clinched and dented the division around the second week in August. The Brew Crew could sip their own Kool-Aid. Only the Philadelphia Phillies had a larger division lead.

The division lead would soon balloon to double digits for Milwaukee. St. Louis was on the cusp of experiencing more major problems. After losing the must-have series with the Pirates, the Redbirds lost a best-of-three series to the lowly Cubs and got swept in three by the last-place Dodgers in St. Louis.

The boo birds started to chirp over La Russa’s head while he was in the dugout and especially when he stepped foot on the field. His alleged trying to get into the Brewers’ heads idea failed.

In a Monday night broadcast from Pittsburgh during the Jones home run series, the local announcers first claimed La Russa was complaining about the lighted ribbon around Miller Park in Milwaukee. TLR did, in fact, make the headlines for claiming the lights were brighter when the Cardinals batted. 

The broadcasters went on to say La Russa usually has evidence to back up his claims. Well, Tony, show me. I’m from Missouri, and I’ll wait.

I understand managing and waiting on 25 players is not an easy task. La Russa sees his team on a daily basis during the season. He knows what the media, fans and opponents don’t know. But, Tony Sigmund Freud La Russa should have stuck to baseball and left pop psychiatry and psychology out of the situation.

The scenario got stickier after September rolled around sooner than wanted and the Redbirds weren’t rolling hard enough. They tried to flap their wings, but they were stuck in what appeared to be bullpen mud and crud from the Gulf oil spill.

The unnatural disaster hurt Busch Stadium’s environment—empty seats and tepid turnstiles became very noticeable. The Cards drew three million fans again this year, but the local media began to question whether or not LaRussa should return in 2012.

Ron Roenicke the rookie manager could run for mayor of Milwaukee and win. Despite having more pennant-chasing and playoff experience than his Brewers, LaRussa’s Redbirds got rolled.

It was Milwaukee playing like the grizzled NL veterans while the Cardinals flailed. 

St. Louis played like they felt the pressure after Mozeliak and TLR traded Colby Rasmus—the young, left-handed, fleet-footed, smooth-swinging and power-hitting center fielder. The center of Cardinal Nation started to collapse not long after that late-July trade.

Roenicke unleashed his team’s best baseball soon after. Even after Rickie Weeks was injured, the manager’s decision to move Corey Hart to the leadoff spot kick-started their right fielder, who then began to lay down the offensive law.

Yes, there is a new NL sheriff; Roenicke and La Russa have traded places.

Contact Lake Cruise: lakecruise@att.net.

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Milwaukee Brewers Continue Historic Run Towards Top of MLB Standings

The Milwaukee Brewers, winners of 21 of their last 24, defeated the New York Mets on Saturday to run their record to 75-52. The victory also boosted Milwaukee’s NL Central lead to eight and a half games over the St. Louis Cardinals.

To the casual baseball fan, this may seem like any other day at the office. That, however, couldn’t be further from the honest truth.

In the club’s 42 years of existence, the Brewers have never held such a lead in any season—including their hallowed 1982 World Series appearance where they came within one victory of winning it all.

Under the direction of first-year manager Ron Roenicke, these Brewers have essentially taken control of their destiny in the NL Central race, which had originally looked to be thrilling three-team chase just three weeks ago.

Is this Milwaukee’s year to finally get over the hump and into the World Series picture? The statistics reveal everything there is to know:

  • Since the All-Star break, the Brewers’ starting rotation ranks first in MLB in ERA (2.93) and WHIP (1.11) after ranking 26th in ERA in 2010 (4.58)
  • Milwaukee’s bullpen ranks third in MLB in HLD (22) since the break, and ranks first in OPS (.614)

Last season, untimely pitching cost the Brewers a shot at the postseason, finishing third overall in the NL Central with a 77-85 mark. In 2011, you could argue pitching has been Milwaukee’s best attribute.

GM Doug Melvin once more worked his magic with trading for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to improve a starting rotation. It took letting go three of Milwaukee’s top minor league prospects to complete, but with the way things have been going of late, the moves seem ingenious.

Greinke (12-4, 3.92 ERA, 151 SO) has yet to lose a home decision in 2011, going 9-0 with a 3.15 ERA at Miller Park. Marcum, adversely, has been a gem away from Milwaukee—going 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA on the road.

Offensively, the Brewers are the juggernaut they’ve always been. Between Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder—two serious candidates to win the NL MVP award, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark—the two have managed a combined 176 RBI, 52 HR and maintain the two highest OPS marks of any two teammates in MLB.

The Brewers have seemingly been firing on all cylinders for the past two weeks. With a favorable schedule ahead, an NL Central pennant seems more and more likely with each victory.

Alec Dopp is a Milwaukee Brewers featured columnist on Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter: @alecdopp.  Click here to read more from Alec.

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