Tagged: John Axford

Why I’m Rooting For the American League

Let’s get this out of the way at the top. Thank you, San Francisco Giants! Thank you, NLCS MVP Madison Bumgarner. Thank you, Hunter Pence. Thank you, Santiago Casilla. Thank you, Pablo Sandoval. Thank you, Yusmeiro Petit. Thank you (and congrats), Tim Hudson. Thank you even to Buster Posey.

Thank you, Michael Morse for tying that one game.

Thank you, Travis Ishikawa for walking the birds off the field.

I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today without the efforts and success of the San Francisco Giants. You can drop the #EvenYear hashtag on social media. You can thank a blossomed ace in Bumgarner. You can shower praise on Bruce Bochy and his coaching staff. It’s all deserved. It’s all warranted. “THE GIANTS (WON) THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS (WON) THE PENNANT!”

And as happy as I am today that the senior circuit representative in this year’s Fall Classic plays its home games outside the state of Missouri, my desire for Giant victories ended when that ball left Ishikawa’s bat.

So why am I rooting against them starting tonight? I like the Giants just fine. I like most of their players. Only Angel Pagan really gets my dander up, and he’ll miss this series with injury anyway. So this isn’t about the Giants.

As far as leagues go, I absolutely prefer the National League game to that of its younger brother. The Designated Hitter should be done away with (though I realize it never will be). The strategy and timing of the NL game makes for a beautiful, and sometimes sickening, dance where decisions feel like they loom larger. You can’t always just pitch a guy until he’s done. Maybe you have to lift a pitcher early because of a key offensive spot. Maybe you try to stretch a guy farther because his spot is due up next half inning. Et cetera. There is so much more that goes into it. It’s more interesting and more fun, in my ever so humble opinion.

I’m a stump for the NL way of life. My team plays in the National League, for what that’s worth.

So, again, I ask: Why am I rooting against the Giants?

Well, to be fair it’s about rooting for Kansas City more than it is about rooting against San Francisco.

Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Norichika Aoki. All former Brewers. All good guys who I enjoy watching succeed. But pulling for the Royals is deeper than just that connection. Doug Henry and Dale Sveum. Both former Brewers. Both members of KC’s coaching staff. I like that, and personally like Sveum as a coach, but certainly wouldn’t use that as a reason to cheer for one team over another. Ned? Not even a little bit.

So instead of continuing to tell you why I’m not rooting for them, even though they are fine reasons should you choose to use them, here’s why I am.

I look at the 2014 Kansas City Royals and I see the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers.

It’s not a perfect 1:1 on the field, of course, but the similarities even at that micro level are interesting. It’s more about how they go about their business on the field, the lights out bullpen, trading away young and controllable talent for a shot at the brass ring, the payoff of a long-term plan. You can take it one step farther and compare to 2008 in Milwaukee where the Brewers faltered down the stretch while trying to hold off other teams for the Wild Card. In 2008 there was only the one Wild Card spot available, but the Brewers held off the Mets to win it by just one game. In 2014, Kansas City got the home game by just one game over Oakland (who held off Seattle by just one game).

Kansas City rode years of awfulness to amass a bunch of young talent in their system. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon (drafted the same year as, and ahead of, Ryan Braun, by the way), Wil Myers, the list goes on. In fact, you could almost mark the 2005 draft which got the Brewers the final “homegrown” piece to their playoff runs in Braun as the start of the Royals turnaround. In that way, they’ve been a few years behind the Brewers’ blueprint. Get a bunch of young, talented guys in the system with a goal to hit the Majors at roughly the same time, supplement with free agents, and when the moment is right, make a big trade (or two) at the big league level by sending out minor leaguers to go for it.

Let’s break that down, in case you aren’t agreeing with me.

Milwaukee: Drafted Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Yovani Gallardo, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun. Traded away Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley (and more)) for CC Sabathia in 2008. Traded away Cain, Escobar, Jake Odorizzi (and more) for Zack Greinke in 2011. Traded Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum in 2011. Supplemented with veterans: 2011 -Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell, Jerry Hairston, Takashi Saito. 2008 – Gabe Kapler, Mike Cameron, Jason Kendall, Ray Durham, (ironically) Counsell.

Kansas City: Drafted Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas, Billy Butler, Greg Holland. They scouted international amateurs like Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera, Yordano Ventura. Traded away Zack Greinke to acquire several young pieces. Flipped Odorizzi with Wil Myers to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis. Supplemented with veterans like Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Josh Willingham, and Jason Frasor.

I think I’ve made my point.

Their offensive games differ, to be sure, as the Brewers hit home runs at a great pace in 2011 and the Royals are more about speed and getting hits that raise the ol’ BABIP. But the rotations were similarly solid from top to bottom, but the real crux of what sent me down this comparison exercise are the late inning relievers.

2011 Brewers:

  • Closer: John Axford (1.95 ERA / 2.41 FIP / 46 saves / 1.140 WHIP / 10.5 K/9)
  • Setup man: Francisco Rodriguez (1.86 ERA / 2.23 FIP / 1.138 WHIP / 10.2 K/9)
  • “7th inning guy”: LaTroy Hawkins / Takashi Saito (Combined: 2.28 ERA / 1.200 WHIP / 6.1 K/9)
    • (the Brewers used two veterans so as to keep them fresh)

2014 Royals:

  • Closer: Greg Holland (1.44 ERA / 1.83 FIP / 46 saves / 0.914 WHIP / 13.0 K/9)
  • Setup man: Wade Davis (1.00 ERA / 1.19 FIP / 0.847 WHIP / 13.6 K/9)
  • “7th inning guy”: Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA / 2.69 FIP / 1.143 WHIP / 7.6 K/9)

Six inning games are easier to win than nine inning games. Both of these teams had/have that game-shortening bullpen that general managers are yearning to cobble together each and every off-season.

I won’t lie to you though. The former Brewers being on the Royals certainly helps me root for them. In fact, it led to a series of tweets (@BrewerNation) with commentary how the team with the most former Brewers on it was winning every series (and even every game for a while) in the 2014 Postseason.

Market size, payroll relative to MLB’s elite, a fan base desperate for a winner after more than 25 years of missing the playoffs, that their last pennant was won in the 1980’s — these are all comparisons between the two franchises that help me see them in such a similar light.

But when it comes down to it, when all the dust has settled, at the end of the day, when all the clichés have been dropped…

I’m rooting for the 2014 Kansas City Royals because I see the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers and what might have been.

The comparisons can stop there, though, because this Kansas City team won the two games which that Milwaukee team didn’t. The Royals won their pennant and now have a chance to win another World Series, while the Brewers still seek their first championship.

But if these Royals can get the job done, it offers renewed hope that my team can one day get back and accomplish the same.

And that’s worth rooting for more than anything.

Brewers Wall of Honor Unveiled Today

The Milwaukee Brewers will formally unveil the “Brewers Wall of Honor” at Miller Park today.  The Wall of Honor will commemorate Milwaukee Brewers players that meet a set criteria based on service to the club. A total of 36 former Brewers players will attend today’s ceremony, marking the largest single gathering of Brewers alumni in team history, surpassing the 31 players who came in for the final game at County Stadium in 2000.

A private ceremony for inductees, their families and special guests will take place at 4 p.m. and the wall will be available for viewing to the general public beginning at 6:35 p.m. A pregame ceremony honoring the inductees will take place on the field prior to the game.

The Wall of Honor will be a permanent display outside of Miller Park on a wall on the North side of the ballpark.  Players on the Wall of Honor will each have a plaque with their photo and a brief synopsis of their playing career.  The plaques are designed by Matthews International, designers of the plaques for the National Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the plaques on the Milwaukee Braves Wall of Honor at Miller Park.

 Players who meet any of the following criteria while wearing a Brewers uniform will be inducted into the Wall of Honor:

  • 2,000 or more plate appearances
  • 1,000 or more innings pitched
  • 250 appearances as a pitcher
  • Winner of a major award (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, or Fireman of the Year)
  • Manager of a pennant-winning team
  • Individuals recognized with a statue on the Miller Park Plaza
  • Members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who have played for the Brewers

Currently, there are 58 persons who meet the above criteria and will be recognized on the Brewers Wall during the 2014 season.  In addition to the 58 members of the inaugural class, there are seven active players in Major League Baseball that meet the criteria.  Upon retirement, players who meet the criteria will be added to the Wall of Honor.

A total of 38 honorees are scheduled to attend the event six honorees will be represented by family members. The complete list of players who will grace the Brewers Wall of Honor at the unveiling ceremony today is as follows (attendees subject to change, those who will be present for the event are in BOLD, those who will be represented by a family member at the event are in ITALICS and those not able to attend the event are in PLAIN text):

Hank Aaron
Jerry Augustine
Sal Bando
Chris Bosio
Johnny Briggs
Jeromy Burnitz
Mike Caldwell
Bill Castro
Jeff Cirillo
Jim Colborn
Cecil Cooper
Craig Counsell
Chuck Crim
Rob Deer
Cal Eldred
Mike Fetters
Rollie Fingers
Jim Gantner
Moose Haas
Bill Hall
Darryl Hamilton
Teddy Higuera
John Jaha
Geoff Jenkins
Harvey Kuenn
Sixto Lezcano
Pat Listach
Mark Loretta
Davey May
Bob McClure
Paul Molitor
Don Money
Charlie Moore
Jaime Navarro
Dave Nilsson
Ben Oglivie
Dan Plesac
Darrell Porter
Ken Sanders
George Scott
Kevin Seitzer
Allan H. “Bud” Selig
Richie Sexson
Ben Sheets
Ted Simmons
Jim Slaton
B.J. Surhoff
Don Sutton
Gorman Thomas
Bill Travers
Bob Uecker
Jose Valentin
Greg Vaughn
Fernando Viña
Pete Vuckovich
Bill Wegman
Bob Wickman
Robin Yount

Note: John Axford, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks are the seven active players that, as of today, qualify for induction into the Wall of Honor following their retirement.  Active players closing in on the thresholds include Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez.

Report: Brewers Complete Axford Deal, Name Player

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Per a tweet from Tom Haudricourt, the Brewers have indeed identified the player they will be receiving from the St. Louis Cardinals to complete the trade for veteran reliever John Axford.

So let’s learn a little bit about the newest Brewers relief prospect.

Michael Robert Blazek is a 6’0″, 200 lbs right-handed power relief pitcher who was originally drafted by the Cardinals back in the 35th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He turned 24 years old earlier this season and made his big league debut on June 22nd of this year.

Blazek struggled early in his minor league career and sports a career 4.13 ERA as a result. Being able to throw in the mid-90s usually gets you some time to develop, especially since he was signed out of high school in Nevada. This year has been a revelation for the player who was ranked as the Cardinals’ 5th-best prospect prior to the trade by MLBPipeline.com.

Here is the write-up on Blazek from MLB.com:

Just two years ago, Blazek was a starter who had reached Triple-A. With a four-pitch mix, it seemed his ceiling was that of a No. 4 or 5 starter. After seven ineffective starts in 2012, however, the Cardinals moved the right-hander into the bullpen, and he posted a 2.59 ERA and .182 batting average against in 33 Double-A outings. Blazek pitched with an average fastball as a starter, but he was up to 95 mph out of the bullpen, and it might be plus more consistently if he stays with shorter stints. He still has three secondary pitches in his curve, slider and changeup that have the chance to be Major League average. It seems like the Cardinals will stick with Blazek as a reliever, giving his stuff a chance to play up and get him to the big leagues faster.

That was written prior the start of the 2013 season. Stay tuned for where he’ll be ranked on the Brewers’ list after the trade is officially completed.

***UPDATE: Blazek was initially slotted into the Brewers Top 20 at #11 but then changed to #10. See it here: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/prospects/watch/y2013/#list=mil ***

So far in 2013, Blazek pitched at both Double-A and Triple-A in the Cardinals organization before making his MLB debut. Combined in the minors he threw 45.2 IP over 36 appearances. He compiled nine Saves and a 1.97 ERA. His WHIP was 1.182 as he allowed just 28 hits and 26 walks. And his K/9 and K/BB were 10.2 and 2.0 respectively with his 52 total strikeouts. Those are certainly numbers that are encouraging.

However, once Blazek reached the major leagues his command struggles became more pronounced. He walked 10 in 10.1 IP to go along with 10 hits allowed, including two home runs. He did strikeout 10 as well, so the potential to “miss bats” at the big league level has certainly manifested itself early. But a WHIP near 2.00 as a relief pitcher won’t get it done. Nor will his ERA which sits at a robust 6.97 right now.

Some of that is small sample size fun, and Milwaukee’s pitching coaches will help him refine his mechanics and whatever else needs some help to get him to realize a bit more consistency.

He’s certainly a name that you’ll need to know about heading into next year’s Spring Training…that is, assuming he doesn’t come to Milwaukee for the balance of the 2013 season.

***UPDATE: The Brewers officially announced (about 20 minutes after this first posted) that Blazek will indeed be joining the big league bullpen tomorrow.***

Brewers Trade Axford

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Milwaukee Brewers have acquired a player to be named from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for right-handed reliever John Axford.

The announcement was made by President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin. Axford, 30, is 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA in 62 relief appearances this season.  Though he did not produce a save for the Brewers in 2013, he ranks second on the all-time franchise list in that category (106), trailing only Dan Plesac (133).  Axford went 21-19 with a 3.35 ERA and 106 saves in 268 relief appearances with the Brewers from 2009-13.  His 46 saves in 2011 set a franchise record.  He is eligible for arbitration. “John has been a big contributor to the Brewers, and we do not go to the playoffs in 2011 without his outstanding performance,” said Melvin. “He and his wife, Nicole, will also be missed as contributors to the Milwaukee community.”

In a corresponding roster move, the Brewers have recalled right-handed pitcher Alfredo Figaro from Triple-A Nashville. Figaro is 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 26 games (5 starts) with Milwaukee this season.

Has the Real John Axford Stood Back Up?

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John Axford began the 2013 season as the Milwaukee Brewers closer and, more telling, as the longest tenured member of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. Gone were holdovers and friends, colleagues and mentors, teammates and Brew-Tang Clan members.

After struggling through much of 2012, the playoff push that the Brewers put together in August and September last season was fueled in no small part by the resurgence of Axford as closer. He was good again.

He entered 2013 coming off of an okay run with Team Canada and a handful of lukewarm outings in Cactus League play, but he was the closer. There was no doubt that he would start the season firing on all cylinders.

Except that then he didn’t.

I take some guff on Twitter for when I support Axford in Save opportunities. I tweet a simple hashtag when he’s entering the game in a Save opp. “#JohnAxfordSaves” is all it reads. It was a play off of his follicle situation in 2011 when he got on his incredible consecutive Saves streak. He had long hair, great facial hair, and was saving games. It worked. No one complained in 2011. People would wait for the tweet, expect the tweet, and retweet the hell out of it. We had fun. Then 2012 happened and Axford blew a whopping. astronomical, unbelievable, unfathomable, ridiculous, asinine… nine Saves. He saved 35. But those nine failures in a game of failure led a handful of people to whine about the use of the hashtag. I kept it going this year in the lone opportunity that he had. I’ll use it again in his next opportunity.

I make mention of the hashtag situation because the next opportunity Axford gets certainly seems like it’ll be coming sooner rather than later.

In comments to the media this past week, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that it might not take much to give Axford the closer’s job back in Milwaukee. I won’t break down bullpen roles and personnel utilization here, but let’s focus on why Roenicke felt it was okay to make that statement.

John Axford appears to be back.

In his first four appearances of 2013, Axford’s results were pretty bad. Ironically, his best outing of the group was the one in which he blew his only Save chance this year when Dexter Fowler (who has since shown a much more powerful approach this season) jumped a first-pitch fastball in a bad location for a solo home run. Ax struck out the side around that pitch, including walking no one. Then, over the next three games Axford allowed a combined eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks over just 2.1 innings pitched. His ERA sat at 24.30 and some fans who only remembered the number nine instead of 35 and 46 were calling for his role, job, spot on the roster, and anything else within (and a couple completely outside of) reason.

I said it during last season, but Axford was so good in 2011 that he was set up to disappoint casual fans in 2012. He simply couldn’t be expected to maintain that level of success. There’s something called “sustainability” when looking at trends and averages and the like in statistical analysis of this great game. Guys hit well over .400 for stretches during the season, as an example, but there’s a reason nobody has hit .400 over an entire season in such a long time. In short, Axford shouldn’t have been expected to go 46-for-48 again, but some people did expect it and wildly jeered him when he didn’t deliver.

When Axford is “right”, he’s got upper-90s velocity, he keeps his fastball down in the zone as the norm, and can throw both of his off-speed pitches for strikes. His fastball has always been a bit straight, but location helps and being able to keep hitters off of it with the curveball and slider is important as well. When Axford was struggling to start the season, his velo was down and despite having relatively good command, he was getting hit pretty hard.

Axford has put together a run of six scoreless outings since that early-season blowup. He’s thrown 5.1 innings and allowed exactly two hits and zero walks. Over that same span he’s also struck out six batters. The first couple of games in this mini-run were certainly encouraging, but Axford would still give up some hard hit balls and his fastball would sit 93 and touch 95. Then the appearance in San Diego really started to puts some doubters — though somehow not most — at ease.

Coming out of the visitor’s bullpen to work an ultimately clean inning, Axford had the velo back. He was hitting 97 MPH on the radar gun and kept the ball down in the zone. It was a truly vintage Axford performance.

Following Roenicke’s comments about the closer’s job though, Axford was talked to by the media to get his thoughts about the job. He told reporters that, “(Current closer) Jim (Henderson) has my vote of support. If that’s what’s working now, it’s definitely the best thing. You don’t want to fix anything that’s not broken, that’s for sure.”

Those are words that fans would definitely prefer to hear right now as Henderson has been perfect in Save opportunities so far in 2013, but given Axford’s disposition and attitude, you have to think he isn’t just blowing the proverbial smoke.

Reporters then asked Axford about the rediscovery of his lost velocity. Axford admitted that there was “a very subtle change” in his mechanics that both pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell helped identify and fix.

“It was a small adjustment of literally being more athletic, the way Lee told me to do it in the first place in 2009,” said Axford. “I was getting too upright on the mound, and now I’m making sure I’m more athletic and over my body. It was just a matter of being more comfortable with it.”

With the big fastball back and still commanding all of his pitches, Axford certainly has the look of someone who has returned to the form that netted him both Cy Young and MVP votes after the 2011 season.

Will there be hiccups along the way? Yes. Expect some, don’t freak out every time something goes wrong, and you’ll enjoy these games a lot more.

As for the hashtag, it’ll be there in all its superstitious glory just as soon as it’s accurate to do so.

Happy 43rd Birthday To…All Of Us!

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On all of the social media accounts for the Brewer Nation…

…the birthday is listed as April 1st. Some people think that I set it up that way because Opening Day happens to be on April 1st this season or because my personal birthday is April 1st.

I didn’t realize how many people actually didn’t get why I have it listed at April 1 though. If you look more closely, the year on the birthday is always listed as 1970. Why?

Glad you asked…

ON THIS DATE IN MLB HISTORY: April 1 – The Milwaukee Brewers organization, headed by Bud Selig, purchases the Seattle Pilots franchise for $10,800,000. Although negotiations were conducted over a period of months, it was not until March 13 when a federal bankruptcy referee declared the Pilots bankrupt. Brewers tickets go on sale the next day. Team equipment is shipped to Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Pilots insignia is ripped off of the uniforms, since there is no time for new uniforms to be made.

The year of that even was 1970. The Seattle Pilots were an expansion franchise who played in Seattle in 1969 but then were sold with less than a week to go before the start of the 1970 season. Opening Day for the new Brewers was April 7, 1970 but the team officially became Milwaukee’s on April 1st.

As this community is a centralized representation of all of the fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, the birthday of being a fan of the Brewers is the appropriate birthday for The Brewer Nation. I may write everything that gets posted on the blog these days, but this is still about all of us. It’s about getting information and opinions out to us fans so that we can collectively apply our fanaticism.

So today, if you’re so inclined to think about firing off a Facebook wall post or a tweet or what have you…thanks! But please realize that you’re also wishing happy birthday to yourself because as a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers and therefore a member of the Brewer Nation, it’s your birthday too!

So like the title says, Happy 43rd Birthday to us! (Also, since it really is, Happy 30th Birthday to John Axford too!)

Oh, and since there is the coincidence of Opening Day being on our birthday, let’s hope the team picks something nice up for us at Miller Park today and gift wraps our first Opening Day victory in five seasons!

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Brewers Announce Opening Day Roster

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Following today’s final exhibition game (a victory over the Chicago White Sox), the Milwaukee Brewers announced their 25-man roster for Opening Day.

Here is the breakdown by position.

Pitchers (13)

  • John Axford
  • Burke Badenhop
  • Marco Estrada
  • Mike Fiers
  • Alfredo Figaro
  • Yovani Gallardo
  • Michael Gonzalez
  • Tom Gorzelanny
  • Jim Henderson
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Kyle Lohse
  • Chris Narveson
  • Wily Peralta

Catchers (2)

  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Martin Maldonado

Infielders (5)

  • Alex Gonzalez
  • Yuniesky Betancourt
  • Aramis Ramirez
  • Jean Segura
  • Rickie Weeks

Outfielders (5)

  • Norichika Aoki
  • Ryan Braun
  • Khris Davis
  • Carlos Gomez
  • Logan Schafer

The Brewers will also be carrying four (4) players on the big league 15-day disabled list to begin the season (Jeff Bianchi, Taylor Green, Corey Hart, Mark Rogers) and one (1) on the 60-day DL (Mat Gamel).

Special congratulations go out to Alfredo Figaro, Mike Fiers, Jim Henderson, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Wily Peralta, Martin Maldonado, and Logan Schafer who are all making their first Opening Day MLB roster!