Monday Morning Reverie: The Epic Greatness Edition

It's back, for this week at least.  My Monday Morning standby makes its return to the blog-waves, but I'll make no promises to it's consistency.  Not a bad weekend to make a return either.

1.  a. Brewtober has Arrived - Have we decided on a name for this yet?  Regardless, the Brewers made the home fans happy over the weekend, bringing the Arizona Diamondback to the brink of elimination with a combination of timely hitting, solid pitching, power and small ball.  They pushed the right buttons and they control their fates heading into a hostile environment in Arizona.

These are two of the best home teams in baseball so taking care of business in Milwaukee was an absolute must.  The Crew now goes on the road only having to win one game to advance to the National League Championship Series.  Something they are very capable of doing.

b. For a guy who can't hit Jonathan Lucroy has come up with some clutch hits for the Brewers this series.  He also has two hits, which is two more than Arizona Catcher Miguel Montero's zero.  Luc has two hits and two RBIs, both of which came at pivotal points in the game.  His squeeze on Sunday plated the first run in a game breaking five run sixth inning and his bloop single on Saturday doubled the lead for Yovani Gallardo and put Milwaukee up 2-0.  Not bad for a guy who can't hit.

c. Speaking of masterful performances, Gallardo embraced the spotlight in Game One on Saturday.  He scattered five base-runners and struck out nine through eight terrifically pitched innings.  Looking back at his return from injury in 2008 and his performance Saturday I don't think there is any doubt that he'll be an option for Game Four (if necessary) in Arizona.  That would line up Zack Greinke for a possible Game Five start at home and on regular rest.  But if Yo pitches as well as he did on Saturday it would be a moot point anyways.

d.  Kirk Gibson has completely mismanaged this series thus far.  Twice he's pitched to Prince Fielder with first base open, two outs and a runner on second and twice Prince has burned him.  He left Ian Kennedy in too long on Saturday and saw a two-run lead turn into a four-run lead. He gave Brad Ziegler five batters to cost the Diamondbacks game two when it was clear after a four pitch walk to Yuniesky Betancourt that he had nothing.

Hindsight is 20/20 but even in-game it seemed like Gibson was making mistakes.

2. Badger Day - To the national audience Saturday night's No. 8 vs No. 7 match-up at Camp Randall Stadium may not have lived up to the hype but to Badger fans it certainly did.  A raucous crowd saw the home team dominate the Nebraska Cornhuskers offensively and defensively.  Russell Wilson put on a show, moving in the pocket to avoid pressure and throwing pinpoint strikes to wide receivers Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis.

The game was a statement that the Badgers offense can score on anyone.  Montee Ball ran like a man possessed, putting up 151 yards and four touchdowns, most of it coming in the second half.  Wisconsin is good, but their defense does still have room for improvement.  Mike Taylor and Chris Borland are terrific players and Aaron Henry has become a playmaker at safety.

But the defensive line needs to get better.  Injuries have caused problems but it's a deep group.  Someone besides Louis Nzegwu needs to step up with David Gilbert out for 6-8 weeks with a broken foot.

3.  a. Travelin' Nebraskans - All jokes aside the Husker fan base made it's presence felt in Madison this weekend.  They certainly didn't out number Bucky anywhere they went but they were there and, generally, weren't dicks.

They were gracious in defeat and the seeds of a football rivalry have been planted.  Every Nebraska fan told me how we need to come down to Lincoln to see that gameday experience.  I'm not against it but... it's still Nebraska.

b.  One other point that came out pretty strong from the Husker fans I spoke to was that not one of them was surprised by Taylor Martinez's ineffective passing game.  In a conference that features Denard Robinson and recently Terelle Pryor teams have some experience with fast, mobile quarterbacks.  Martinez will have to beat teams with his arm this year and if he plays like he did Saturday that will be tough.

4. Green and Golden - Not to be outdone, the Packers put on a show against the Denver Broncos.  Aaron Rodgers threw the ball to eight different receivers on his way to over 400 yards passing.  His four touchdown passes went to four different players and he ran for two more.

The defense was suspect at times, giving up 273 yards through the air to Kyle Orton and over 100 yards on the ground to Willis McGahee.  Still they made big plays when they needed to and forced four turnovers, including yet another Charles Woodson pick six.

There isn't a player in the league better than Aaron Rodgers is right now.

5. Your Move, Nation - 4-0 with wins over teams from Colorado, Arizona and Nebraska.  Wisconsin as a state outscored their opponents 110-46.  It would have been nice to knock off some coasties too but we'll take what we can get.  This is truly a golden age in Wisconsin sports.  There has never been a time where the Badgers, Brewers and Packers were all at the top of their game.

This is special.  Do yourself a favor when one of these teams plays next, be it Milwaukee, Green Bay or Wisconsin: head to a bar, probably any bar.  Sit down, grab a burger, a beer if that be your drink of choice and watch the game.  Cheer when they score or make a big play because I promise you, you won't be the only one there doing it.


Remember the Little Guys

The regular season has come to an end and the Milwaukee Brewers have won a franchise record 96 games.  Doug Melvin's all in play has paid off and has set the stage for home field advantage in the National League Division Series.  We know the names that played the biggest role in Milwaukee getting here, the Ryan Brauns and Prince Fielders of the world, but what about the forgotten, um, stars.

Okay so maybe 'stars' is too strong of a word but, as we hear so often, the baseball season is a marathon - not a  sprint.  At some point this season a cadre of players who won't have fans buying their jersey, won't be making a playoff appearance or may not be on the team anymore helped the Crew win games. Here are the forgotten players in Milwaukee's first ever National League Central Division title.

Mike McClendon - RP - Sure McClendon made only nine appearances for the Brewers in 2011, sure those appearances added up to only 13.2 innings but he also managed to win three games.  Yes, the garbage time righty managed to win one-third of the games he pitched in this year.

McClendon gave the Brewers innings when they needed them.  Maybe he was on the receiving end of some big comebacks but he pitched scoreless innings and finished his big league season with an ERA of 2.63.  When the division is won by six games a reliever with three wins is not to be discarded.

Brandon Boggs - OF - Yea, that was this season that Boggs was a Milwaukee Brewer.  It may seem like a long time ago but that's because his last appearance at the big league level was on May 24, over four months ago.  Boggs' contributions this year were limited, he had only 19 at-bats and hit just .158.  So how, you ask, could a player with such little time on the big league roster have helped them make the postseason?

Well I'm glad you asked.  Boggs made two starts for Milwaukee this year.  In both starts he homered and in both starts the Crew won.  Two games, two wins, just ask Boston and Atlanta if one game matters.

Wil Nieves - C - This one could be preceded by a deep sigh.  Nieves was expected to be the backup catcher, not just for a couple months but for the whole season, a better defender than George Kottaras.  His defense was fine, but his offense was absolutely horrendous.  Only two of his seven hits went for extra bases, both of which were doubles and neither of which came after April 15.

But what Nieves did provide was a body.  A filler and spot holder to cover catching duties while starter Jonathan Lucroy recovered from injury.  Once Lucroy returned it marked the beginning of the end for Nieves, but he kept the seat warm and filled a need when Milwaukee needed it.

Felipe Lopez - 2B - I will admit that I was hoping for big things from Felipe Lopez, maybe a repeat of 2009 with a chance to win the starting shortstop role away from the dreadful Yuniesky Betancourt.  That Milwaukee didn't receive that was not all that surprising but what they did get was an acceptable temporary replacement for the injured Rickie Weeks.

One stat stands out from his time with the Brewers this season, in the 16 games Lopez appeared in Milwaukee went 13-3.  Coincidence? Well, yes, almost certainly.  But hey, who knows what would have happened had the Brewers not been able to add Lopez as an option.

Brandon Kinzler - RP - Here is an example of a player whose contributions were cut short not by lack of production but by injury.  Kinzler seemed poised to play a big role in the Crew's bullpen after striking out 15 against only three walks in 14.2 innings.  But 2011 was not to be for the surprisingly hard throwing right-hander.

An arm injury resulted in screws being placed in his right forearm and he was lost for the season.  Kinzler did earn a win for the NL Central champs and his stabilizing influence, albeit fleeting, was important when it happened.

Honorable Mentions (aren't they all really?) - Mitch Stetter - RP, Mike Rivera - C, Erick Almonte - UTIL, Sergio Mitre - RP.


Q&A - Actual Questions From Actual Followers


Brew City Spotlight

With success comes scrutiny and as baseball's pennant races wind down members of the national media have cast their sight on the Milwaukee Brewers.  In most cases I read the articles I come across with a degree of curiosity, always interested to see a different viewpoint from the ones we can consistently hear in the Wisconsin market.

But once in a long while I will read a statement that imparts on me such a strong measure of disagreement that I have to respond.  That happened today while reading a piece on the Sports Illustrated website.  The article was written by Tom Verducci (who seems to be becoming increasingly irrelevant since he doesn't break news or use twitter) about the year-to-year occurrence of turnaround teams, the main subject being the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

You can read the article here, it contains some interesting points about Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke as well as some equally interesting numbers on past wildcard teams. An alright read, nothing to write home about but with some creative stats. What draws my ire is a statement made at the end that, well, wreaks of laziness.

Verducci finishes the article with this statement:

9. So what does the future hold for the Brewers and Diamondbacks?
Not much. Both teams are likely to be underdogs in the National League Division Series -- Arizona against a Philadelphia team that hasn't lost three out of five games since July 29, and Milwaukee against an Atlanta team against which it is 3-5 while scoring only 17 runs in eight games.

So what is wrong with this thought? Where to begin. First, the 3-5 record that Milwaukee had against the Braves this season.  If you remember, the Brewers played their second series of 2011 as a four game set against the Atlanta (Milwaukee's likely first round opponent) on April 4-7 at home.  The second time these two teams played was a four game set starting on May 2 in Atlanta.

Let's say, for a moment, that reading into what happened in the first month and a half of the season is a good idea.  Ok then.  Call it a five game series since that is what the two teams would play in the divisional series.  In the first five games these teams played the Brewers were 3-2.  Except it wouldn't have gone to a fifth game because Milwaukee won three of the first four.

But why wouldn't we consider these two teams early season match-ups as a good post-season primer?  I mean it's not like they've changed at all since then, they're basically the same two teams right? That's a big negatory.  Both teams have added parts, Milwaukee bolstered their bench with the addition of Jerry Hairston Jr. and their bullpen with Francisco Rodriguez while the Braves have brought in Michael Bourn to patrol center field at Turner Field.  Yea, that 3-5 is really holding water now.

Zack Greinke had rounded into form by then right?  Try again, the former Cy Young winner didn't pitch in the series the teams played at Miller Park and was making his season debut in Atlanta.  Suffice it to say that he is pitching a little bit better than he did those first couple months.

Corey Hart?  He had only 14 at-bats coming into that series in Atlanta.  He had yet to tally an extra-base hit or draw a walk.  Hart has 23 home runs now, third on the team.

Milwaukee's first half record? 49-43.  Their second half record? 36-14 (Atlanta's are 54-38 and 28-20 respectively).

Milwaukee's first half ERA? 4.07.  Second half? 2.89 (Atlanta: 3.12 and 3.90).

When these two teams wrapped on their season series neither team was in a playoff position, the Braves were in third and the Brewers were in fifth.  St. Louis, Cleveland, Colorado and Los Angeles were all leading their divisions - not one of those teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

The moral of the story is that a 3-5 record earned in what amounts to the first month and a week of the baseball season is only slightly more reflective than a 3-5 record earned in the last week of spring training.  To make a statement about a team's chances to win in the postseason based on a week's worth of games in April and May is just lacking reason.

But let's wait and see, if Verducci is picking his winner's based on match-ups in the first two months of the season the New York Yankees did go 3-4 against the Detroit Tigers.  So by that logic we should see him picking against the Yanks, right?

Somehow I doubt that.


Prospecting: D'Vontrey Richardson

Time for an old and under-utilized standby.  Today we take a look at one of the Milwaukee Brewers most interesting prospects, Center Fielder D'Vontrey Richardson.  A true project pick, with a different sort of measurement and all the tools in the world.

Who is D'Vontrey Richardson?

A fifth round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, Richardson was immediately considered the best athlete in the organization's farm system.  Richardson was drafted after being a two-sport athlete at Florida State University.  With the Seminoles he spent two seasons as a backup quarterback, where in 2008 he set a record for longest touchdown run by an FSU QB (a 55-yard run against Chattanooga).

Now, Richardson is just a baseball player.  He's in his second professional season in the Brewers farm system, playing last year with the Low-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and this year with the Brevard County Manatees, Milwaukee's High-A affiliate.

With the Timber Rattlers last season Richardson struggled at the dish, to the tune of a .243 average, but also showed flashes of what he could be.  In his 132 games with Wisconsin he had 28 doubles, eight triples and seven home runs.  The tools and capabilities are there, but there is massive room for improvement.

The Good

Sweet Jersey
As a former running quarterback, the athleticism is tantalizing.  Richardson is listed at 6'1" and 200 lbs, he has good size and strength for a center fielder.  He showed flashes of his tools last year, with the 43 extra-base hits and also 17 stolen bases.  He had a decent OBP in comparison to his average last season as well, sporting a .331 mark.

Improvement is the word as well.  In his first season Richardson hit .243, this season he is batting .289 including a .359 clip here in July.  He has cut his strikeout rate as well, last year in 132 games he struck out 164 times, in the 67 games Richardson has played this year he has struck out only 40 times.  Improvement.

The Bad

Until Richardson has had back to back good years it will be very difficult to judge what his future as a prospect is.  Are his numbers and aberration?  We don't know yet.  If he comes back next year and strikes out 160 times again then everything we've seen this year tells us nothing.  Those strikeout numbers in his first season are absurdly high, to the point you would call a player over-matched.  Improvement is good, but it needs to be sustained.

Also it is easy to call a player a five tool prospect but it's incredibly rare for there to be a five-tool major leaguer.  While what he can do is exciting, it is also very unclear.  The type of player he will be has yet to be defined and that is something that will need to happen in the next couple seasons of minor league ball.

The Outlook

Yet to be determined is the answer to this question.  D'Vontrey Richardson could be an All-Star and a starter just as easily as he could never make the major leagues.  He could also end up anywhere in the middle of that spectrum as well.  Next year might be the most important year in his minor league development, success at Double-A will go a long way towards seeing just what Richardson can do.

In the meantime, it's good to see him get better from year on to year two.  And hopefully will see sustained success in year three.


Farm Report: Midseason Awards

The halfway point for the minor leagues has passed but we are close enough that we can hand out some mid-season hardware.  Here are the Best Pitcher and Hitter from each level of the Milwaukee Brewers farm system in the season's first half, career minor leaguers excluded.  We'll also take a look at players who have seen their stock rise the most in that same amount of time.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers - Low-A

Best Hitter - Mike Walker - 3B - Walker is a no-brainer here, through Wednesday he led the team with 12 home runs, 13 doubles and 52 RBIs.  He's hitting a nice .282 with OBP over .400.  The numbers stack up with most of the Midwest League's top hitters as well.  His OPS is 7th in the league and his walks are second to only one player, teammate Nick Shaw.

Walker was a 14th round pick a year ago out of the University of Pacific, being a college hitter there is a certain amount of expectation for success at the lower levels of the minors.  Still, good is good, and Walker has been just that.  A strong second half could move him quickly up the list of Brewer prospects.  Honoroble Mention: Chris Dennis - 1B/OF

Best Pitcher - Tyler Thornburg - SP - Another no-contest competition, Thornburg was that dominant in the first half of the season.  I say was, because Thornburg has been promoted to Brevard County, the Brewers High-A affiliate.  Thornburg had the lowest ERA in the entire Midwest League, a sparkling 1.57 with an equally dominant 1.08 WHIP.

Drafted high, the third round a year ago, Thornburg is not without expectation.  Still, so far he is delivering on that.  He struck out 76 in 68.2 innings and in his first appearance with Brevard County he struck out six against no walks and giving up only one run over five innings.  He'll be one to watch. Honorable Mention: Austin Ross - SP

Rising Star - T.J. Mittlestaedt - OF - A 44th round pick in the 2010 draft, Mittlestaedt has had a fine 2010 season.  Barely a blip on the prospect radar, he's definitely opened some eyes with a strong first half.  Going into Wednesday night's game he had a .310 with a .436 OBP and seven home runs.  He's feasted against right-handed pitching, to the tune of  .355 average and .471 OBP.  It just goes to show that there is talent to be found in every round of the draft.

Brevard County Manatees - High A

Best Hitter - Khristopher Davis - OF - Deja Vu?  Davis had a terrific 2010 campaign with Wisconsin a year ago, hitting .280 with 22 home runs and he's showing that to be no fluke in 2011.  Through the season's first half, Davis has 10 home runs to go with 18 doubles.  He's also hitting .322, tied for fourth in the Florida State League to go with a .416 OBP, third in the FSL.

If he can finish out this season strongly, it would not be a surprise to see him named the Brewers Minor League Hitter of the year.  In the meantime, a second consecutive strong season would likely see him rated as the team's top outfield prospect.  Honorable Mention: Brock Kjeldgaard - OF/1B

Best Pitcher - Nic Bucci - SP - This was a tough call, by the end of the season this award will likely belong to Kyle Heckathorn, especially with the way he's pitched since a missed start in early June, but until then, the spot is Bucci's.  A definite work in progress, Bucci was drafted in the 18th round in 2008.  He's been improving steadily from year to year and seems to be figuring it out in 2011.

For the Manatees this season he's pitched a team leading 84 innings with a 4.07 ERA.  His strikeout to walk ratio has improved from a year ago (1.47 in 2010, 2.44 this year) and he's only 20 years old so hopefully continued improvement will be seen.  June was a rough month though, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.  Honorable Mention: Kyle Heckathorn - SP

Rising Star - Santo Manzanillo - RP - Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Manzanillo missed the 2009 season with Tommy John sugery.  2010 was a wash, with a 5.77 ERA over 53 innings at Wisconsin, but the organization saw fit to promote him anyways.

That confidence has been rewarded.  Manzanillo sports a 1.59 ERA and has converted 10 save chances.  He's striking batters out at a pace of nearly one per inning and has a very nice WHIP of 1.13.  Time will tell for the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, but this is a step in the right direction.

Huntsville Stars - Double A

Best Hitter - Sean Halton - 1B - Halton gets a slight nod over last year's minor league hitter of the year Erik Komatsu on the strength of extra-base hits.  Halton leads Huntsville with five home runs and 21 doubles all the while batting a very nice .313.  His plate presence needs to be better (only 11 walks so far this year) but he's been an effective first baseman for the Stars thus far.

At 6'5" and 265 lbs there is no reason to think Halton's power production can't improve but that remains to be seen.  He's hit for average at every level he's played so far and in a hitters ballpark some of those 21 doubles would have a good chance to turn into home runs.  Honorable Mention: Erik Komatsu - OF

Best Pitcher - Cody Scarpetta - SP - Almost but not quite has been the story for the Brewers top two pitching prospects at Huntsville this year (Scarpetta and fellow righty Wily Peralta).  Still, Scarpetta has been a bit more consistent and earns the title here.  After a terrible month of April (7.07 ERA) he bounced back with a couple of solid months on the mound.

The clock is ticking already for Scarpetta, who had to be added to the 40-man roster early due to a voided rookie contract and will move to Triple-A next season.  A strong second half could mean very big things for the righty with the big hook.  Honorable Mention: Michael Fiers - SP/RP

Rising Star - Steffan Wilson - 3B - Wilson fell completely off the map after an injury plagued 2010 season that saw him hit .201 and play in only 60 games.  At the Double-A level that can be a very, very bad sign.  But he's recovered nicely this year to a .266 average with 14 doubles and 37 runs driven in.

If he can stay healthy his versatility could be the key to his major league future - he's seen time a number of different position in his time in the minors, including first base, third base, left field and right field.

Nashville Sounds - Triple A

Best Hitter - Mat Gamel - 1B - No question here, Gamel was white-hot prior to his call-up this week.  Where to begin, Gamel lead the Sounds in home runs (18), RBIs (58), Doubles (21), runs scored (54) and total bases (169).  Basically every offensive stat of any consequence.

Gamel story is closely followed and well documented.  Like it or not, he will be the first option at first base a season from now.  Mat Gamel has shown improvement from his damaging misuse by Ken Macha two seasons ago.  He is the top hitting prospect in the Brewers system and he deserves that mantle.  Honorable Mention: Taylor Green - 3B

Best Pitcher - Amaury Rivas - SP - Almost by default does Rivas get this nod.  The only other options would be fellow starter Frankie De La Cruz, who is in his fourth season at the Triple-A level, and Sam Narron, who is also in his fourth Triple-A season.  Rivas hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been as good as you would hope for from a top prospect either.

The Good?  A 4.18 ERA over 90.1 innings pitched and improved numbers after a terrible month of May.  The Bad?  His strikeout to walk ratio has declined in each of the last two seasons - 2.86 in 2009, 2.07 in 2010 and a poor 1.30 this season.  Rivas has a history of putting up a strong second half so if he can find his command again things could improve in a hurry.  Honorable Mention: None

Rising Star - Eric Farris - 2B/SS - So, this one is kind of a reach.  I'll admit that straight away.  Farris was the top second base prospect in an organization that wasn't going to have an opening at second base anytime soon.  In recent weeks, Farris has seen increased playing time at shortstop - a position at which Milwaukee has no semblance of a decent prospect.  Whether the experiment is temporary or long term, if Farris can make that transition his value to the organization becomes immensely higher.

His numbers this year are solid but not exceptional.  He has a .267 batting average along with 13 doubles, three triples and four home runs.  He's not an offensive juggernaut but he has the chance to be at least an acceptable major league hitter.  He's one to keep an eye at the least.

Organizational Awards

Best Hitter - Mat Gamel

Best Pitcher - Tyler Thornburg



The stage is set.  A close game, the 8th inning, the ninth is spoken for but the setup role is up for grabs.  The lead is close enough for a save situation, so strategy demands a strong relief option.  Who do you choose?

Kameron Loe

The Case - Fresh off his sixth loss of the season, a team high, Loe has pitched in three straight games.  He's been, arguably, overworked in the early part of this season but is coming off a very strong 2010 campaign in which he had a 2.78 ERA over 58.1 innings pitched.  At times he's seemed equal parts dominant and disastrous.

The Verdict - Having pitched three consecutive days with the third resulting in a loss in a 1-0 game, Loe is off limits.  Confidence in the lanky right-hander must be waning.

Sergio Mitre

The Case - Playing the role of a long relief pitcher, Mitre has performed well.  He's pitched 27 innings but hasn't seen game action since June 9 against the Mets.  Mitre's strikeout to walk numbers are far from dominant (10:7) but he's been effective, sporting a 2.00 ERA.  What's more, his 1.11 WHIP is third best on the staff.  Mitre also has a good track record in relief as well, to the tune of a 3.33 ERA in 2010 while pitching 54 innings for the New York Yankees.

The Verdict - Mitre's been good, but his numbers lend themselves more to a good middle-reliever than a setup man.  Mitre sits.

Marco Estrada

The Case - Another middle-to-long releiver, Estrada has been up and down thus far in 2011.  He's been mostly good pitching out of the bullpen, with a 3.86 ERA in 16.1 relief opportunities.  Estrada hasn't pitched in a game since June 9 either, and in two of his last three outings has given up runs.  Also disagreeable is Estrada's career numbers, prior to 2011 he pitched only 31.1 innings at the major league level with a low season ERA of 6.14.

The Verdict - Estrada's transition to relief pitcher has been good so far, but is still in the early stages.  In a pressure situation he should only be gone to as a last resort, his body of work should preclude him from meaningful innings.

Zach Braddock

The Case - One of the best young arms in the Brewer organization, Braddock has seen his use somewhat limited since a stint on the disabled list.  Even so, since returning to the active roster Braddock has yet to give up a run.  As a lefty, there could be some concern about matching him up with a right-handed hitter.  His numbers are across the board good, a 2.19 ERA in 17 appearances, he's walked six and struck out 13.

The Verdict - A good choice, though maybe not the best one.  Braddock is being carefully managed this year to avoid injury and overuse.  He has the stuff to be a dominant 8th inning pitcher but may not be quite there yet.  Still, Braddock may be the best option so far.

John Axford

The Case - Since blowing a pair of early saves, Axford has been dominant.  He's converted his last 18 and struck out 40 batters in 30.1 innings.  He has an ERA 2.97 and hasn't given up a run since May 21.  Axford also hasn't pitched a save of more than an inning yet in 2011, after doing in multiple times in 2010. He's also pitched in nearly half the Brewer's games this season.

The Verdict - Concern over wearing Axford out seems mixed.  He hasn't pitched a multi-inning save but he's pitched in a high number of games.  The plan seems clear though - the ninth inning is Axford's and the eigth belongs to someone else.

LaTroy Hawkins

The Case - After a forgettable 2010 that resulted in a mostly lost season and shoulder injury, Hawkins started the year on the disabled list.  He joined the team in late April and has been very good since his return.  In his 17 appearance he's given up only one earned run, in his first outing of the year.  Hawkins strikeout numbers haven't been great (8 in 16.1 innings) but he seems to be returning to the form Milwaukee was hoping for when they signed him.

The Verdict - With a career's worth of experience, Hawkins should be the choice.  He's pitched well this year and is well rested, he hasn't seen a game in nearly a week.  But more to point, Hawkins has been a successful reliever for the last decade of his career.

The Truth - Manager Ron Roenicke's decision to put Marco Estrada in for the eighth inning of Tuesday night's game against is befuddling at best and asinine at worst.  His unflinching confidence in Kameron Loe is difficult enough to comprehend at time but there is a difference: Loe has done something to earn his role.  Estrada's big league accomplishments are so minimal that using him in positions like Tuesday night's are a flat out mistake.


Where's Bernie: My Story, My Sorrow, My Solutions

I woke up early today in hopes to obtain a Bernie Brewer 'Stach'ue. How early, 4:20! The time the parks were to open for the hunt was 5, and I was going the "Gateway to Milwaukee" aka Holler Park near the airport. It was clue #1, and was and easy clue to decipher, so I was nervous it'd be packed with a lot of people, but, then again, it wasn't too hard to figure out the remaining other clues either, so, if I get there a little ahead of 5, I felt like I'd be in good shape to obtain one of these Bernies.

Well, I arrive to a cop car blocking the entrance, and about 10 people waiting patiently. Finally, the cop waves his light at us around 4:45 or so, and we all go running around the park. I see the children's playset, and think, what better spot for Bernie to be than on top of the slide, nothing....I walk through the woods, nothing... I look around and see that no one else has anything either. I continue to scour the woods, going off the paths even, until it strikes me, they wouldn't have hidden them where they could potentially get lost. I give up after about 40 minutes. I saw only one guy with a statue, and talking with others, that's the only one they saw as well.

I call my friend Eric, and he said that the parks he checked out had been scavenged earlier, at 3 in the morning even, and were now bare. And as we now know, this had happened all over the area. Even reports of people picking up the Bernies directly behind the crews laying them down, and of course the people who took multiples. Not one extra, not two, but dozens extra, screwing us all over.

I woke up at an ungodly hour (for me), and I played by the rules, just to get nothing. It pissed me off. I even went down to the Bradford Beach area, as Eric said he had found some there around 5:30. He called a little later saying that he grabbed one for me. He felt bad about taking an extra Bernie, but he saw people with a shopping cart full....A SHOPPING CART!!! He knew since I had devoted my time to finding one and came up empty, that it would be in worthy hands. And I thank him for his kindness. It wasn't really the statue that I wanted, rather the chance for a prize, but I quickly got over my anger. I would have loved to have an autograph or a chance to sit in a suite, but the fun of the Brewers isn't fancy seats or having signatures of people who are my age or younger for my personal collection. No, the fun of the Brewers is going to the game itself, and sharing it with friends and fellow fans.

Most of you reading this know the rest of the stories, and it wasn't the first, nor will it be the last, time a few rotten eggs ruin something for the majority. The fact is, the Brewers' marketing team did a fantastic job, perhaps too good! It was a fun idea, it gained a lot of attention from the fans who then bring that attention towards the team. And, making autographs, game used equipment, and luxury suites available to those who wanted to work for it (without shelling out wads of cash), is a plan that is alright with me.

Not only was the plan a great one for the Brewers, it was a slam dunk for the Park System. Having to figure out the clues that were given for the previous week, meant that you had to research about your area parks. I personally learned that there are some cool water parks in the area, learned some history of the area, and got to explore pretty much all of Holler Park.

So, I'm not going to blame the Brewers or the Park's staff for what happened. I think this turned out bigger than they could have imagined, and they've learned now that the "honor system" only works when everyone has honor. So, I don't think this sort of event should be scrapped, but instead, revamped.

My Plans to Help Fix "Where's Bernie" (or similar promotion)

More indoor/fenced facilities: One of the locations was the Mitchell Domes, I'm assuming they hid the statues inside. By going indoors with it, you can now regulate who comes through the doors and how many items they come out with. Heck, why not get Miller Park in on the action, having people run through 4 levels of the concourse would be pretty cool.

Show Statue to Attendant for prize: The outdoors thing was neat, and it would be unfeasible to have people watching the entire perimeter of places. So, you keep 1 (or more) workers that you have to hand a numbered statue to in order to determine if that statue has a prize associated with it. This won't necessarily deter the people from grabbing a prize early, as they could just show up later, but it does deter them from grabbing multiples.

Let it Be Known Similar Statues Will Be For Sale: This one the Brewers did already. Shortly after people were trying to make hundreds of dollars on these statues, Miller Park announced they would have them for sale immediately. This foiled the plans of those who thought they'd strike it rich. Next time, let it be known that this sale will take place ahead of time.

Make different parks open at different times: This is more for the convenience of some who might not have been able to search at 5.

Multiple Days: Same as above, helps make it easier for people with different schedule. Or, if you don't get one on day 1, head back on day 2 to try again with a new strategy.


Farm Report: Nashville Sounds

With the season in full swing it's time to take a look at the early returns for the Brewers Triple-A affiliate the Nashville Sounds. For a change, the Sounds aren't loaded down with washed up Four-A players, so there are more than a few players worth watching on this squad.

Eric Farris - Second Base - Back and healthy, Farris hasn't shown off the wheels that stole him 70 bases two seasons ago, but he hasn't been a slouch either. Through the first 15 games of 2011 he's batting .321 with a pair of homers and a .356 OBP. Quiet numbers overall but he also has four errors on the year which is not a good start defensively by any means.

Mat Gamel - First Base - No errors so far, which is good for the player who looks like he will be the club's starting first baseman in 2012. Also promising is the .328 batting average, .423 OBP and seven doubles through 18 games. Throw in a stolen base and Gamel is off to a very nice start.

Taylor Green - Third Base - Finally playing at Triple-A, Green has managed to flash a bit of power in the season's opening month. Through his first 43 at-bats with Nashville he has three home runs, but he is only batting .256. The average isn't great, but the .365 OBP is worth noting. Green has a chance to establish himself as a legitimate major league prospect this year, whether he is trade bait or a real option for Milwaukee in the near future.

Caleb Gindl - Outfield - Two hits in 13 at-bats, but he is healthy and playing again which is most important.

Zelous Wheeler - Shortstop - Not sure he's really a shortstop, but he'll get that chance. That said, Wheeler is hurt and hasn't played since April 8. He currently resides on the 7-Day DL.

Brendan Katin - Right Field - Katin leads the team in home runs with five and RBIs with 12, but he's only batting .209 through 43 at-bats. The strikeouts still plague him though, he has 19 already, which is nearly half of his at-bats.

Mark Rogers - Starting Pitcher - His command seems to have gotten worse each year. Through his first 13.1 innings pitched he has walked a whopping 17 batters. Rogers has also been hit around, giving up 17 hits. That all adds up to a 9.45 ERA and 2.55 WHIP. His future as a starter requires drastic improvement in all facets of the game, otherwise the bullpen is calling.

Amaury Rivas - Starting Pitcher - And on the other side of the coin Rivas continues to be ever steady. Through his first four starts he is 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 14 strikeouts against six walks. Rivas has gone at least five innings in every start and given up more than one run only once. It would not be a surprise to see him contribute to the Brewers this year if someone goes down with an extended injury.

Mike McClendon - Relief Pitcher - So far, McClendon is parlaying his limited major league experience into minor league success. In 2011 he's pitched 7.2 innings and struck out five against only one walk. Oh and he has yet to give up a run. He'll be seen again in 2011, you can just about guarantee it.

Josh Butler - Starting Pitcher - I'm not quite ready to write Butler off as a prospect, though his inconsistency is somewhat maddening. Butler has made three starts for the 2011 sounds and it's been a mixed bag. His first start was good, pitching six scoreless and striking out eight batters while walking just two. His next two starts were not so good, giving up seven earned in seven innings. This will be an important year if he is going to put himself back on the map.

Mark DiFelilce - Relief Pitcher - I'm sure every player on the sounds roster is very well groomed at the very least. DiFelice has pitched in five games and his line is as good as you could hope for. Five innings pitched, six strikeouts against zero walks and no runs allowed. Hard to tell what future he has with the big club but it's good to see him back and healthy.


2011 MLB Predictions

Let's make some predictions shall we?


AL West Champs - Athletics. Even at the start of the year, it's already come down to a 4 team race! Wait, what there are only 4 teams in the AL West?

AL Central Champs - White Sox. Also already a 4 team race, as the Indians are already out of it, not to mention Rick Vaughn is having some mental issues and Willie Mays Hayes is in prison.

AL East Champs - Red Sox. I mean, have you looked at their roster?

AL Wild Card - Yankees. They always seem to find a way in.

NL West Champs - Giants. Have you seen Pablo Sandoval lately? Kung Fu Panda? More like, Kung Fu Grizzly Bear these days.

NL Central - Brewers. Oh sure, I pick the Brewers and I'm labeled a homer. Well, the Reds are probably the sexy pick, but I still refuse to believe they're good.

NL East - Phillies. I heard they have a shitty starting rotation.

NL Wild Card - Reds. Okay, so they might be pretty good.

World Series - Phillies vs Red Sox. Well, the networks will be happy, but everyone outside of the northeast will be all like "oh hey, it's football season....wait, no football, crap!" Oh yeah, who will win it all?! I say the Phillies win sans Geoff Jenkins, proving doubters wrong that they can't win without him.


AL West Champs - Angels - The Rangers will miss Cliff Lee more than many realize. While C.J. Wilson and his fellow starters had major successes a year ago it remains to be seen whether they can repeat that in 2011. The Angels should be solid, with Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir and Jered Weaver. This division is much more wide open than it would appear to be at first glance, but the Angels take it in a tight race.

AL Central Champs - Twins - Let's face it, the Indians and Royals stink, so you can eliminate them straight away. Between the Tigers, White Sox and Twins you have a lot of questions and few sure answers. In the end the deciding factor is Detroit perilously thin pitching staff and the fact that I won't pick a team that could have Juan Pierre starting for them. A healthy Justin Morneau doesn't hurt either.

AL East Champs - Red Sox - It almost seems unfair doesn't it, with the Red Sox lineup and pitching staff. This will be a difficult team to stand against and the only thing that can derail them is injuries.

AL Wild Card - Yankees - If you dropped the Yankees into any other division they would likely win it going away. The AL East will beat up on each other heartily and that could open up the wild card for other teams, but at the end of the season the Yankees have yet another postseason run in them.

NL West Champs - Rockies - The Giants are good, but the Rockies will be better in 2011. Why? I have major doubts about the offense in San Francisco. Colorado will bring just a bit more to the table though this could be a race decided by mid-season acquisition.

NL Central Champs - Brewers - Somewhat of a homer pick, to be sure. But the losses suffered by the Cardinals will daunting. The Reds were good last year, but there are concerns about the Starting Pitching depth. So at the end of the day, Milwaukee appears to be the most complete team in the division... if they can stay healthy.

NL East Champs - Phillies - An easy pick, but one that is aging quickly. The Phillies have one more run left in them, but that is it. The core of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins is just getting older. The pitching staff is the same story, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt all in their 30's. Still, Philadelphia has one more run in them.

NL Wild Card - Giants - They won't be good enough to win the division, but they'll be good enough to win the Wild Card.

World Series - Brewers over Red Sox - Why? Because I say so that's why.


What Spring Means to Me

Today, March 30th is the last day of winter! Oh, I understand the whole spring equinox thing happened on the 21st, but, that meant nothing to me. No, the weather was still cold, nothing happened of significance for me to say it was spring, and that we could come out of our holes and once again take back nature.

I think anyone reading this (sports) site, know what I'm driving at, spring, doesn't start until baseball starts! Yes, the boys of summer return tomorrow and I'm officially flipping Winter '10/'11 as it fades away in the rear view.

Now, I get your senses prepared:

-The crack of a bat
-The smell of the grass
-The scents of charcoal, bratwurst, and suds in the parking lot
-The roar of the crowd
-The sound of the organ playing classic baseball sounds
-The sight of kids playing catch and chasing after poorly thrown balls
-The fun of playing bags, washers, or ladder golf
-The taste of sunflower seeds
-The excitement of walking up to Miller Park!

Good Luck to our Milwaukee Brewers!


Goodbye Winter

It's nice to be friends with my Marquette fans again....it must mean one thing. It's baseball season! Today, March 30 2011, marks the last day of no baseball. I miss baseball. I love baseball. GO BREWERS!

This marks the end of Wisconsin Sports Tap's shortest blog ever.


Prospecting: Wily Peralta

With the plethora of injuries to the Brew Crew in this spring training it seems prudent to take a look at the man some consider to have a chance at winning the No. 5 starter spot to start the season: Wily Peralta.

Who is Wily Peralta?

Peralta, who turned 22 on the 8th of this month, was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2005.  At 6'2" and 225 he doesn't carry the frame of a typical power pitcher but he does have a live arm nonetheless.  Peralta's fastball has been consistently in the 93-95 MPH range and he has a plus breaking pitch.  His change-up needs some work and will ultimately determine whether he is a starter or a reliever.

Starting his career with the Arizona Rookie Brewers in 2006, Peralta struggled to a 6.63 ERA that year.  In the following season he did not pitch due to injury.  2008 was a much better season, when Peralta started with rookie league Helena and pitched his way up to Low-A.

2009 was the season that really put him on the radar screen of scouts and prospectors.  Pitching for Wisconsin in the Midwest league, he struck out 118 batters in 103.2 innings pitched and put up a 3.47 ERA.  Combined with good velocity and strikeout stuff he found himself a consensus top 15 prospect.

Last season Peralta split his season between High-A Brevard County and Double-A almost exclusively as a starter.  He put up a 3.79 ERA and pitched 147.1 innings, solid numbers and he actually pitched better after his promotion.  Not a perfect season by any stretch though, more on that later.

The Good

One area that stands out is Peralta's ability to strike batters out.  As mentioned earlier he struck out 118 batters in just over 103 innings in 2009.  His strikeout numbers took a dip last year but he still struck out 104, the stuff is definitely there.

Also, Peralta has seen his innings counts steadily rise after missing a season due to injury.  His inning counts have gone up and he has stayed healthy.  Any starter who can strike guys out and pitch over 150 innings has value and Peralta looks like he could be one of those players.

Another area that holds some promise is his ability to keep the ball down and keep the ball in the ballpark.  In 2009 he gave up just five homers in over a hundred innings and last year he gave up only 10 homers in nearly 150 innings.  At every level he has consistently recorded more outs by ground balls then fly balls.

The Bad

Walks have been a consistent problem the last two seasons for Peralta.  In 2009 he walked 46 batters and followed that up with 64 in 2010.  Those are just bad numbers, there really is no way around that.  The walks played a major part in his 1.58 WHIP with Huntsville last year.

Peralta's got good stuff, but if his is nibbling in the minors he'll get eaten up in the big leagues.  Area number one to watch for Peralta in 2011 is his walk rate.  Less walks would likely lead to more innings this season and would also make him a legitimate major league starter.

The Outlook

There seems to be little doubt that Wily Peralta will be a Major League pitcher but there is a fair amount of question as to what role he will play when he gets there.  He has the arm to be a closer or set-up pitcher but if he can continue to develop his third pitch he could also be a very good starter.

Milwaukee will give him all the chances in the world to be a starting pitcher, but they also have a good number of legitimate pitching prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.  Look for Peralta to pitch at Triple-A next year and with marked improvement he could find his way into the rotation by the end of the season or the start of next (sorry Chris Narveson).


Monday Morning Reverie: The Badgered Edition

1. How good weren't the Badgers during their 70-65 victory over Kansas State on Saturday?  K-State out-rebounded Bucky, offensively and defensively.  The Wildcats shot better from three point land (Well... Jacob Pullen did) and better overall.  Wisconsin star Jordan Taylor shot an anemic 2-for-16 from the field and seemed lost at times with his shot selection.

But there are two very important areas that Wisconsin won in the box score: Turnovers and Free Throws.  Kansas State turned the ball over three more times and the Badgers hit four more free throws.  It wasn't pretty, it was gritty.  It had everything a tournament game needed; a star player taking over for Kansas State, bloody post play, big shots and big blocks.

At the end of the day, it was a Bo Ryan team winning in true Bo Ryan fashion.

2. The legend has begun and his name Bruesewitz.  Yes, the player affectionately nicknamed "Bruiser" has been the under-noticed star of the 2011 Wisconsin Badgers.  Big shots and big rebounds, that's what Mike Bruesewitz has done in the tournament so far.

You can't help but love watching a player like Bruesewitz play.  He has such toughness and energy, no flash but he'll be the first player on the floor for a loose ball.  After he committed the immediate comparison was made to Joe Krabbenhoft, another gritty glue player with a knack for hustle plays.

That comparison isn't wrong, but it doesn't do Bruiser justice though.  Krabbenhoft never brought the same sort of energy to the table and never developed as an offensive player.  Bruesewitz has improved drastically from year one to year two, and if a similar improvement is there in year three he could be a star in the college game.

3. Boy howdy, Jordan Taylor was absolutely terrible in Saturday's game.  Sometimes players are just cold but even Taylor's shot selection became questionable after a few ill-conceived drives in the second half.  The best way to judge a point guard like Taylor on a poor shooting day is does he let it effect the rest of his game?  He didn't.

Taylor was a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe, hitting big free throws in the last minute of the game to help seal the win.  He hit a huge three point basket late to keep Wisconsin in the game.  He had six assists, four rebounds and one pivotal blocked shot of Jacob Pullen's three point try to tie the game.

Jordan Taylor was off on Saturday.  He'll be fine, because even when he's off, he's still on.

4. It's hard to say a match-up with the defending runner-up is a good one for the Badgers next week, but if I'm Wisconsin I would rather see Butler than Pittsburgh every time.  Butler pulled out a very tight game on Saturday, in large part because of some very questionable decision making by the Pitt.

If not for a foul, that game goes to overtime and if that game goes to overtime than I'd be more willing to put my money on the Panthers to win the game than the Bulldogs.  But Butler won and the Badgers will now face an No. 8 seed instead of a No. 1.  It will be no easy task but the Badgers are in prime position to make a very deep run in this year's tournament.

5.  Congratulations should also go out to the ladies in the red sweaters.  The Badger women's hockey team took on Boston University in the National Title game on Sunday and came away with a convincing 4-1 victory.  It's Bucky's fourth since 2005, a very impressive feat.

Leading the way for Wisconsin was Carolyne Prevost, who netted two goals in the contest. The Badgers finished the season on a 27-game unbeaten streak.


T'was The Night Before March

T'was the night before March, when throughout the household,
The ice was a creaking, from the bitter February cold;
The wet socks were thrown near the fireplace with haste,
With hopes that warm weather, we'd soon get to taste;
The Children were nestled, shivering in their beds,
For the heating bills have added to the family's large debts;
The wife in her Snuggie, and I also in mine,
turned the channel to the news, to see we soon might be fine;
Because on the TV, we heard a familiar noise,
It was a crack of the bat, from the summer time boys;
The remote I then grabbed, & turned the volume up high,
Spring Training had started, and that meant spring time was nigh;
I walked to the window, just to peer out,
but was angered by the snow, and wanted to shout;
But then I remembered through all of that sadness,
With March comes a tournament, coined as March Madness;
The Wisconsin Badgers I did pay attention to and cheer,
Will once again, be playing in the tournament this year;
Most are unknown, and will achieve very little fame,
but I'll still cheer them on, and holler each one by name;
GO! Keaton GO! Evans GO! Jarmusz and Taylor,
Go! Bruesewitz GO! Gasser GO! Wilson and Leuer

To the Sweet 16, to the Final Four,
Shoot all you can, and run up the score;
But as basketball wanes, and baseball now waxes,
March offers more fun, before we pay our taxes;
The airports are all busy, from vacations families take,
Most heading south, while the kids are on break;
There is also a holiday, which we adults all hold dear,
Where the bars fill with patrons all wanting green beer;
A day in which we are all Irish, even if we're not,
And we'll shout "Erin Go Bragh", over a Jameson shot;
So I step back from the window, a smile now stretches wide,
"Another winter defeated" To my wife I said with pride;
She set down her book, she smiled at me and did chime,
"Tomorrow is March? It's about fucking time"


A Brewing Twitter Poll

Wisconsin Sports Tap has launched it's twitter poll!  This is a poll to find the best, or most popular tweeter in the following categories:

Media Member:  Two years ago, I would have qualified in this category.  Now, not so much.  The media member category should contain beat writers, local writers or if you can find a national writer that talks Brewers then feel free to take that route.  Radio personalities and tv folks also fall into this category.  Pretty simple really.

Blogger:  What qualifies a tweeter as a blogger? Well, a blog for starters.  This is the category I (@MillerParkNorth) would qualify under.  There is a pretty strong contingent of bloggers for the Brew Crew and most of them are avid tweeters.  Here's your chance to find which is the best.

Fan:  This one is as simple as can be.  Who is your favorite Brewer fan to follow on twitter?  Send a vote for them and a winner will be found.

The Rules:  A.  All votes should be @ replies towards my twitter account or tagged with the hashtag #brewpoll.  Prefferably both, but I will try to keep an eye on both.

B.  Only vote once.  Come on, don't be a dick.

C.  You can't vote for yourself.  See section two of rule B.

D.  There are some ineligibles in the fan category, if you vote for one of them I will let you know so you can vote again.

This poll is going to be running for a while and we could use all the help we can to keep it running.  So retweet, link to, whatever it takes let's get it done.  Send in your votes!


Monday Morning Reverie: The I'm Sure Something Happened Edition

1.  Due to a disappointing and frustrating occurrence in my seemingly unending career search (which you can see in this series of tweets: 1, 2, 3, 4) there was no Monday Morning Reverie.  And due to similar events it's become increasingly difficult to cast my eye toward the sports world.  Fact is there are more important things happening in my hometown than the player workouts at Maryvale.  I won't use this blog as expression for my political voice (that's what my twitter account is for) but the bigger issues might put my writing on the back burner for the next few weeks.

Some things are more important than baseball.

2.  So what better than to launch some forced involvement?  Starting today, Wisconsin Sports Tap will be launching a good old fashioned twitter poll.  This is a poll to find the best, or most popular tweeter in the following categories:

Media Member:  Two years ago, I would have qualified in this category.  Now, not so much.  The media member category should contain beat writers, local writers or if you can find a national writer that talks Brewers then feel free to take that route.  Radio personalities and tv folks also fall into this category.  Pretty simple really.

Blogger:  What qualifies a tweeter as a blogger? Well, a blog for starters.  This is the category I (@MillerParkNorth) would qualify under.  There is a pretty strong contingent of bloggers for the Brew Crew and most of them are avid tweeters.  Here's your chance to find which is the best.

Fan:  This one is as simple as can be.  Who is your favorite Brewer fan to follow on twitter?  Send a vote for them and a winner will be found.

The Rules:  A.  All votes should be @ replies towards my twitter account or tagged with the hashtag #brewpoll.  Prefferably both, but I will try to keep an eye on both.

B.  Only vote once.  Come on, don't be a dick.

C.  You can't vote for yourself.  See section two of rule B.

D.  Keep in mind I will be counting the votes, so when it comes to the fan category there might be one or two ineligible candidates.

This poll is going to be running for a while and we could use all the help we can to keep it running.  So retweet, link to, whatever it takes let's get it done.  Send in your votes!

3.  Nice bounce-back win for the Badger Men's basketball team on Sunday.  After losing to Purdue earlier in the week Bucky took on Penn State at the Kohl.  Penn State had knocked off the Badgers earlier this year in Happy Valley but the story would be different the second time around.

Keaton Nankivil and John Leuer each went for 22 as the Badgers knocked off the Nittany Lions 76-66.  Taylor Battle got hot late in the game but it was too little too late.  Wisconsin led by 13 points at halftime and shot over %50 from downtown (Nankivil was five for five from deep).

With just four games left before the Big Ten Tournament Wisconsin sits in third place in the standings, behind Purdue and Ohio State.  Bucky plays at Michigan next on Wednesday before finishing out the year at home against Northwestern and on the road at Indiana and Ohio State.

That's all for this week, let's get this poll rolling!


Tough decisions await Ted Thompson

Wasn't that fun?

Of course, as with all good things, the celebration is coming to a close. And as that buzzing feeling of post-Super Bowl elation wears down, you'll start to feel a bit empty. The question of "Where do I go from here?" will come up, or more specifically, "What will I do without Green Bay Packers football?"

The easy answers are Badgers and Bucks, but if you're like me, football doesn't go away that easily. And so, as you shift around on your futon while trying to pay attention to the Bucks game, you begin to wonder: what happens next year?

Obviously the CBD situation (Collective Bargaining Disagreement) muddles things a bit, but for the moment let's just throw a tablecloth on that elephant in the room. There are a number of difficult decisions Ted Thompson will face this off-season, and they're all interesting to ponder.

Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn are both slated to become free agents, and while both were valuable role players in 2010, the FA market will determine just how much they're actually worth. Safety Charlie Peprah is another contributor who may or may not be back depending on how Thompson feels about Morgan Burnett. Daryn "False Start" Colledge is also a FA to be, and with TJ Lang fighting for roster time, it might be easier to let him walk than he thinks. But these decisions pale in the face of the following three conundrums.

James Jones

When Jones was drafted by Green Bay he drew comparisons to Sterling Sharpe. Needless to say he hasn't lived up to those expectations, nor was it really fair to do to a 3rd round draft pick, but he has certainly shown flashes. He has made some amazing acrobatic catches in his four years as a Packer, and at 6'1" and over 200 lbs he would compliment the smaller, speedier Greg Jennings well as Donald Driver's age pushes him further down the depth chart.

But then there are the lapses in concentration for which he has become infamous, and they usually strike when he beats his man and has nothing but daylight ahead of him. He had a big drop in the Giants game, the embarrassing fumble vs. the Bears in week 3, and the whole nation saw his drop in the Super Bowl. His drop against the Eagles during the playoffs was so infuriating that Aaron Rodgers wasn't able to compose himself enough to get the next play off in time.

Still, he has that unrealized potential that lights up coaches eyes and drives fans crazy, and the hole he would leave behind can't be ignored. The Packers just do so much with their wide receivers that it would be a huge loss if he left. You can't count on a rookie to step in and contribute, and Brett Swain is definitely not an NFL wide receiver. There's always the chance of Ted Thompson bringing in a FA WR, but it would seem unlikely when he has Jones who already knows the system.

The Guess: He's back. His drops are frustrating, but he's just such a high character guy that I think he'll take a little less money to stick with a winning team. Also, the league tends to evolve with the Super Bowl teams, and with the Steelers and Packers both fielding largely homegrown squads this year, free agency may be in for a bit of a down year. This would hurt Jones's market value, thus making it easier for the Packers to sign him.

Cullen Jenkins

I think Jenkins' situation will give Thompson the most trouble. There's no denying the impact Jenkins makes on the field. He's such a disruptive force in the pass rush, and he's a solid run stopper. Complete defensive ends are a rarity in this league, and it would seem bringing him back is a no-brainer. But he has three things working against him: age, injuries, and personnel.

Jenkins is 30 years old and coming off a season in which he was both productive and unreliable. He played half of the season with a club for a hand, and missed significant time with a calf injury. Ted has made it clear through his actions that his purse strings get just a bit tighter when it comes to free agents aged 30+ years, which also works against him.

Then there's the personnel issue. Mike Neal and Johnny Jolly both return next year, while CJ Wilson and Jarius Wynn are steadily improving. This will be a group crowded with youth, and Ted Thompson loves his young players. Jenkins' saving grace could have been his status as veteran leader on the line, but Ryan Pickett serves in a similar role.

The Guess: Unfortunately, I think he's gone. Think about the Aaron Kampman scenario. Kampman was not only a fan favorite, but one of the team's best players. Then Green Bay opted to switch to the 3-4, which rendered him obsolete, and let him walk a year later as a free agent. Although the scheme didn't switch for Jenkins, his injury troubles and age have similarly rendered him obsolete in Thompson's eyes. Honestly, if Thompson wanted him back he probably would have already resigned him.

AJ Hawk/Nick Barnett

Nick Barnett may have made this decision a bit easier in the down time leading up to the Super Bowl, and if you haven't heard about the team picture fiasco I envy you.

Although he's an emotional leader, Barnett has always had a bit of a me-streak in him. His refusal to consider a move to outside linebacker when AJ Hawk arrived, a move he felt would hurt his stats, was a very clear indicator of what kind of a person Barnett is. Such selfishness is often dismissed as immaturity in younger players, but Barnett turns 30 in May, and he continues to behave like a kid.

With a team like the Packers, where youth rules, you need your veterans to be strong role models for the up and comers (see Charles Woodson, Donald Driver). So when your elder statesman in the linebacking corps is whining on Twitter about not being included in the Super Bowl picture rather than dealing with the issue professionally (ie-internally), you might lean in the other direction.

In this case, the other direction is AJ Hawk, who also poses a problem for Ted Thompson in that there's no way he's worth the $10 million he's owed in 2011. The Packers have an opt-out clause, and it will be exercised.

The plus side is that it's unlikely that any other team feels he is worth that much, meaning Hawk faces a reality of a significantly lower contract no matter where he goes. Because he knows the system and players in Green Bay, the Packers likely have an edge on other teams. But if Hawk gets the itch to go back to Ohio, I'm sure Mike Holmgren wouldn't mind putting him in a Browns uniform.

And let us not forget the third party: Brandon Chillar, who just signed a 4 year deal last season. He could help shape this.

The Guess: This will get ugly. I think Hawk restructures and returns as a starter, but Barnett will find himself sharing time with Desmond Bishop. Barnett won't be able to complain his way back into the starting line-up this time around--the chemistry between Bishop and Hawk was too good to ignore.

The easy solution would be to cut Barnett, but Thompson doesn't just let players who are under contract go when they put up a stink. You may be thinking Brett Favre here, but Javon Walker may be a better example of how this will go. Barnett will begrudgingly play after an uncomfortable holdout filled with vague, passive-aggressive tweets, and with any luck be traded before the deadline.