Saturday, September 20, 2008

Brewers Collapse Is The Worst I've Seen

  • Reds 11-Brewers 2:
I'd say that everything looks to be the "worst" as it's occurring; that it's easy to forget other
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instances where something looked so terrible and unbelievable that it was unlikely to ever be seen again. There are cases in which teams have collapsed and allowed another team to overtake them; then there are cases in which teams have played well enough to hold onto their lead, but another team just played better, caught and passed them and the blown lead took on the appearance of a collapse. That being said, this Brewers free fall is the worst I've ever seen in all my years of watching baseball.
Just from memory, there have been certain comebacks/blown leads/collapses that immediately come to mind: the Braves desperation second-half surge to catch and pass the Giants in 1993; the Mets stumbling out of the playoffs not only in 2007, but in 1998 as well (they also came very close to doing it again in 1999, but fought back into a one-game playoff for the Wild Card, which they won); the Red
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Sox blowing their 14 1/2 game lead over the Yankees in 1978 (I don't remember that one firsthand----too young); the Blue Jays blowing a late September lead to the Tigers in 1987; and the Yankees awful finish in 2000 where there was panic everywhere until the playoffs started and they hit the switch.
With all of these instances I just mentioned, I don't remember a team having the wheels come off as they have for the 2008 Brewers in the past three weeks. It's one thing to lose; it's another thing to totally fall apart. The 1998, 1999 and 2007 versions of the Mets had no excuses for what happened to them late in the season; the 1993 Giants won 103 games, stumbled early in September, but started winning again----no matter how hot another team was, 103 wins should've been enough to get into the playoffs; the Red Sox of 1978 played well enough that they should've coasted to the playoffs, the Yankees simply played better head-to-head and overall; the 1987
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Blue Jays lost their last seven games, the final three to the Tigers blowing a 3 1/2 game lead with seven to play, but they were playing the Tigers in four of those seven games and lost them all; the 2000 Yankees lost 15 of their final 18 games, but they weren't playing their closest division competitor, the Red Sox, over those three weeks, had built a lead that was safe enough to counteract such a stumble and turned the machine on in the playoffs.
This Brewers team led the Wild Card by 5 1/2 games on September 1; they had just completed a sweep of the Pirates and had won nine of ten when the Mets came into Milwaukee and won three straight to start this tailspin. Blame has been placed on the shoulders of former manager Ned Yost for his overreaction to the final game of the Pirates series in which C.C. Sabathia was seen to have been deprived of a no-hitter because of a bad call by the Pittsburgh official scorer; but that wasn't the impetus of this collapse. Once the games start, I find it impossible to believe that pitchers and hitters are in the middle of doing their jobs and thinking about how Sabathia was screwed out of his place in history; they just started playing poorly at the wrong time.
Their starting rotation was supposed to be anchored by Sabathia and Ben Sheets, but Sheets's injuries have left him completely unreliable and the rest of the starting rotation is mediocre at best. Their bullpen is awful; their lineup, while immensely powerful, strikes out far too much to be able to handle good pitching consistently; Yost was not a good game manager, nor did he have the temperament and focus on the main goal to steer the team out
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of a crisis. (In Yost's defense, the combined managerial skills of John McGraw, Connie Mack, Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin wouldn't have known what to do with that bullpen.)
After that sweep at the hands of the Mets (including the first game from which Sheets removed himself with a strained groin after five dominant innings), the Brewers split four games with the clueless Padres; lost two of three to the Reds; and got mauled in Philadelphia; Yost was fired (rightfully, but too late) and they've continued to find imaginative ways to lose. Last night, Jeff Suppan, whose barely average stuff is mitigated by his control and gutty big game performances was throwing batting practice upon which the Reds were more than happy to tee off.*

*Speaking of which, I don't know who's operating and calibrating the radar guns around baseball, but if Suppan was hitting 88 with his fastball, as the readings were saying, then
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Dick Cheney is about to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oddly enough, there's still time remaining in the season for the Brewers to make another drastic turnaround, this one in a positive direction. They have two remaining games with the Reds, three with the Pirates, and three with a Cubs team that will be resting up for the playoffs. Things are bleak and on the whole, they look like they're waiting for bad things to happen to them; but they can still save themselves from the embarrassment of a total collapse by pulling themselves together for the last week even if it's in what looks like a hopeless cause. It makes no sense to give up now, but sadly, that appears to be what the Brewers have done.
  • A manager in control:
Lou Piniella was walking out to the mound to remove Carlos Zambrano after the pitcher
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was attacked by the Cardinals as if they were taking all their frustrations of the past few weeks out on him. As Piniella was nearing the mound, Zambrano started walking off before Piniella arrived to take the ball. Piniella saw this, gestured to Zambrano and told him to wait on the mound until he got there. Zambrano stopped walked back and waited for his manager. This was an example of a manager who's in control of his clubhouse and his team; such a thing reverberates through a team that the manager is not to be messed with and is very important to maintaining control. Piniella is no martinet; he lets his players be themselves as long as they do their job and play the game correctly, but if he let his ace get away with such a blatant lack of respect, then things could slide downhill very quickly. Such forcefulness is sometimes necessary to let the troops know who's in charge.
Years ago, when he was managing the Giants, Frank Robinson was walking out to the mound to remove Jim Barr from a game; Barr responded by flipping the ball to Robinson before his manager arrived and stalking past him; Robinson retorted by catching the ball with
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one hand and using his other hand to grab Barr and fling him back onto the mound. (Fooling with Frank Robinson at any time was a bad idea.) The two engaged in a heated confrontation right then and there in which Robinson told Barr in no uncertain terms that such an action was a no-no. Piniella didn't have to resort to such extremes, but would have if the situation called for it. If a manager has such a handle on his players by disciplining them and still protecting them in the media as Piniella later did with Zambrano, it makes his life much, much easier and he can concentrate on trying to win games rather than worrying about what the players think about him because he's in charge, knows it, and most importantly, the players know it as well.
  • Mets 9-Braves 5:
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I'm going to believe(?) that with nine games to play and a three game Wild Card lead in the loss column over the Brewers (division schmivision), that the Mets playoff spot is relatively(?) safe(?). I'm going to believe that...for the moment...

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