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From the Bleachers: July 2007
 
  Brought to you by
 
From the Bleachers: July 2007

By Chris Hawkinson
Published 08/09/2007
 
Featured Player: Ryan Braun
Bio / Stats: [ link ]
 
 

This edition of From the Bleachers is dedicated to the memory of former Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Mike Coolbaugh. Coolbaugh, the first base coach for the Colorado Rockies AA affiliate Tulsa Drillers, was killed July 22 after being struck in the neck by a line drive. Coolbaugh appeared in 39 games for the Brewers in 2001 and five more for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002.

Mike is survived by his wife Mandy and sons Joseph and Jacob. The Coolbaugh's are expecting their third child in October. For those wishing to make a donation to the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund, please visit the Tulsa Drillers web site.



Much like the epic western, the month of July consisted of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". With Brewer fans accustomed to illusions of "good" and plenty of genuinely "bad" and "ugly", a month that includes as much good as July actually did might not seem so bad. While winning does make watching this team much more enjoyable, it comes at a price. When your team is hanging on to first place by the narrowest of margins, there is little consolation watching a rookie pitch six solid innings if the bullpen doesn't hold the lead. The days of appreciating a good Manny Parra start that ends with a loss are over. That's "good, bad and ugly".

Before we delve into this month, here are the National League Central standings as of July 31.

Standings as of July 31

NL CENTRAL W L PCT GB HOME ROAD JULY RECORD
Milwaukee 58  49  .542 - 37-17 21-32  11-16
Chicago Cubs 56  49 .533 28-24  28-24 17-9
St. Louis 50  53  .485 25-25  25-28 15-11
Houston 46  60  .434 11.5 28-25  18-35 12-13
Cincinnati 45  62  .421 13 24-29  21-33 14-12
Pittsburgh 42  62  .404 14.5 23-30  19-32 7-17 


THE GOOD

The streak

Easily the best news of the month is the Brewers extended their consecutive days in first place to 102. The last time the Brewers were not at least tied for first place was April 20 when the 9-7 Brewers trailed the Houston Astros by 1/2 game. This is perhaps even more impressive when one considers how poorly Milwaukee played for a good portion of July and how good the Cubs have played, but we'll save those details for the bad news.

The rookies

For those looking for a sign that this Brewer team is different than those in the past need look no further than the performance of rookies Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra and Ryan Braun.

When Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka went on the disabled list during the 2006 season, the Brewers attempted to replace internally only to watch the three primary replacements struggle to a 2-7 record with an ERA well over six. Fast forward a year and the Brewers have replaced, at different times, Chris Capuano and Sheets with Gallardo and Parra. Unlike past years where a start by a minor league pitcher meant almost no chance of winning, Gallardo and Parra have gone a combined 4-2 (2-0 in July) while both sporting an ERA under three.

And then there is Braun, who was good enough to win both the NL Player and Rookie of the Month awards for July. He seems to be intent on having the best rookie campaign by any player has had since Albert Pujols' 2001 season.

These guys are just like Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart; "studs" manager Ned Yost called them. They aren't your average players, they are different, better, and they are a big reason the Brewers are still in first place. And they are a big reason to be excited about next year, and the next, and the next.

The game

To wrap up the month of July (at least our good news section), we'll take a look back at the game of the year so far, the July 31 game against the Mets. The Brewers came home to Miller Park after having lost three straight to the St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee's lead had shrunk to a mere game over the surging Cubs. And the Mets were not only sporting the best record in the National League, but were also sending 299 game winner Tom Glavine to the mound. The Brewers appeared to be on their way to a fourth consecutive loss, trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the 8th. Bill Hall proceeded to smack a one-out double off Aaron Heilman to tie the game at two. Milwaukee loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th and 11th, but failed to score. The bullpen threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings, including the top of the 13th by starter Dave Bush, setting the stage for Geoff Jenkins' 13th inning walk-off, two-run home run off Aaron Sele .  The win kept the Brewers in sole possession of first place in the National League Central as the month ended.

 

THE BAD

The Cubs

While the Brewers remained a game ahead of the Cubs by months end, that good news is somewhat tempered when one remembers they started July with 7.5 games lead. Combine an 11-16 month for the Brewers with a 17-9 month for the Cubs and you end up with a lead 6.5 games smaller after 31 days.

The team performance

After being solid in nearly every facet of the game thru June, the Brewers struggled both offensively and on the mound.

Statistical Comparison: The first 80 games versus July

  AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
June 30 2742 399 735 161 12 111 1253 382 .268 .337 .457 .794
July 930  116 230 42  33  381  113 .247 .318 .410 .728

  W L ERA SV CG IP ER R BB/9 SO/9 BAA WHIP
June 30 47 33 4.01 30 3 716 349 319 2.94 7.19 .258 1.32
July 11 16 4.63 6 0 241.0 124 128 3.47 7.10 .261 1.39

I think "ick" about says it all.

 

THE UGLY

The injuries

The injury bug finally struck the Milwaukee Brewers during July after being absent for most of the first half of the season.  Center fielder Bill Hall and starter Ben Sheets both missed the majority of the month with injuries.

Hall suffered a right ankle sprain in the second inning of Milwaukee's 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh at PNC Park on July 5. Hall, who was hitting .271/.310/.448 with a team-high 24 doubles in 79 games before the injury, landed hard after trying to rob Ryan Doumit of a home run. Hall's injury was initially diagnosed as a high ankle sprain and there was some talk that Hall may miss as many as six weeks.  However, it was discovered his injury was not so severe as initially thought and he rejoined the Brewers on July 25.

Ben Sheets was injured during his July 14 start against the Rockies after throwing a pitch to Todd Helton in the top of the fourth inning.  Sheets tore tissue in his middle finger on the pitch and was place on the disabled list on July 15.  Sheets, who was 10-4 at the time of the injury, was expected to miss between four and six weeks, but no immediate time table was established.  It is also thought that Sheets may have to make a rehab start or two in the minors, which means the earliest Sheets will probably be back is September 1.

Although hardly the sole reason for their slide, it isn't a coincidence that the Brewers had a sub-.500 month with two starters missing so much time.

Rickie Weeks

One can't mention the "ugly" and not talk about second baseman Rickie Weeks. We all know about the wrist injury Weeks suffered in 2006 and the subsequent surgery to repair it. We also know that while Weeks has been well enough to play he is still experiencing soreness.  That soreness not only lead to a stint on the DL but it has clearly affected his performance.  So, while Weeks' performance to date may be more of a reflection on his health than his ability, he has had a rough year (hitting .212/.330/.363/.693) and a bad July (.125/.279/.143/.422). In fact, Weeks was in such a funk that the Brewers optioned him to AAA Nashville at the end of the month. While the Brewers should benefit from increased offensive production from Tony Graffanino, a return by Weeks to his 2006 form in September would be a tremendous shot in the arm to the team that needs a player or two who can get on base consistently.

The Cardinals

Easily the ugliest stretch of the month had to be the Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29, in St. Louis. Milwaukee lost three of four to the Cards, including three in a row after taking the opener on Friday night 12-2.

The ugly started on Saturday afternoon in game one of a day-night doubleheader. Milwaukee jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and still led 6-3 after Manny Parra's six solid innings. But, the Cardinals got one more run in the seventh before scoring three in the ninth of All-Star reliever Francisco Cordero to win 7-6.

St. Louis scored three first inning runs of Chris Capuano en route to an easy 5-2 victory.

Sunday started much like Saturday. A rookie starter (this time Yovani Gallardo) was given a big lead early (this time 5-0 after 4 1/2 innings), only to see that lead evaporate into nothing. This time St. Louis did all their damage in just two innings, scoring four in the bottom of the fifth off Gallardo to make it a game and five more in the bottom of the eighth. The Brewers 9-5 loss capped off a brutal 27 hour period that saw them lose three straight and two after leading by five or more runs.

Before everyone runs out and rents the Sergio Leone classic, here is a look at the rest of the month of July. Don't worry, there are plenty of good things to read about to take your mind off the bad.

 

2007 All-Star Game

The Milwaukee Brewers sent four players to the 2007 All-Star game in San Francisco. Each of the four got into the mid-summer classic as the National League lost 5-4.

First baseman Prince Fielder got into the action a day early as one of the five National League representatives in the Home Run Derby. His three first-round home runs were good for fifth place, with only the top four advancing to round two.

Fielder, was voted the starting first baseman, hit sixth for the National League. Prince committed a first inning error that allowed David Ortiz to reach base, walked in the second off Danny Haren and lined out in the fourth off Josh Beckett before giving way to Derrek Lee in the fifth.

The next Brewer to enter the game was pitcher Ben Sheets, who replaced Brad Penny in the top of the third with the NL ahead 1-0. Sheets worked around hits to eventual game MVP Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter to record a scoreless inning.

Closer Francisco Cordero entered the game in the top of the sixth with the American League ahead 2-1. While Cordero did retire Alex Rodriguez, Home Run Derby champ Vlad Guerrero and Carlos Guillen, he did give up a two-out home run to Carl Crawford.

J.J. Hardy entered the game in the bottom of the ninth with the AL clinging to a 5-4 lead as a pinch hitter for Jose Reyes. Hardy's at-bat came after Alfonso Soriano's two run home run off J.J. Putz. Hardy drew a walk and eventually advanced to third before Francisco Rodriguez got Aaron Rowand to fly out to end the game.

The loss by the National League, their tenth in 11 games since 1997, ensures the American League will have home field advantage in the 2007 World Series.

 

Barry Bonds comes to Milwaukee

Barry Bonds hit his 752 and 753 career home runs on July 19 against the Cubs, leaving him two short of home run king Henry Aaron's magical 755.  That made San Francisco's series at Miller Park July 20-22 potentially historic.

The three-game series opened on the 31st anniversary of Aaron's final home run, hit on July 20, 1976 at Milwaukee County Stadium. With Commissioner Bud Selig looking on, Bonds went 0-4 with a walk as the Giants beat the Brewers 8-4.  Bonds faced starter Jeff Suppan three times, grounding out, walking and popping out.  Bonds flew out in the seventh off reliever Carlos Villanueva and was struck out looking by Derrick Turnbow in the eighth.

The Giants shut out the Brewers 8-0 on July 21, but Bonds was again held homerless, going 0-2 with two walks, one intentional.  Starter Dave Bush struck out Bonds swinging in the first and induced a 1-3 ground out in the fourth before walking in the sixth.  Brian Shouse intentionally walked Bonds in the eighth, at which time he was lifted from the game for pinch-runner Fred Lewis.

Bonds didn't play in the series finally on July 22 but he his presence was noted.  With the Brewers leading 7-5 entering the top of the ninth, Bonds lurked in the dugout and appeared ready to pinch hit should a Giant hitter reach base.  However, Brewer closer Francisco Cordero had a 1-2-3 ninth, preserving a victory.

For the series, Bonds was 0-6 with three walks, one intentional.  It wasn't until July 27th that Bonds hit number 754, his last home run before the end of the month.

 

Parra's debut and first start

It's been quite a ride for Manny Parra.  The Brewer left-hander started his professional career as a 26th round pick in the 2001 draft.  As a draft-and-follow candidate, Parra wasn't signed until just before the 2002 draft, but the wait was worth it, as he signed a contract with a $1.55 million signing bonus.

Parra made his Miller Park debut on August 14, 2003, not with the Milwaukee Brewers, but rather with the class A Beloit Snappers.  That was Parra's last of the 2003 season, as he was sidelined for the rest of the year.  That was the last season before this year that Parra pitched more than 100 innings in a season.

Parra started the 2007 season healthy.  After starting the season in AA Huntsville's rotation, he was promoted to AA Nashville on June 15.  Just eleven days later, in his second AAA Start, Parra fired the eighth perfect game in Pacific Coast League history, striking out 11.

Parra was recalled to Milwaukee on July 16 and made his debut against the San Francisco Giants on July 20.  Parra entered the game in the top of the 8th with the Brewers down 8-4 and the bases loaded.  Parra struck out Guillermo Rodriguez to end the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth with two more strike outs.  Of Parra's 15 pitches, 13 were for strikes.

Parra made one more relief appearance in July before making his first major league start in St. Louis on July 28.  Parra went six innings, allowing three runs, one earned, and left the game with the Brewers leading 6-3.  A three run St. Louis ninth inning cost Parra his first major league victory. 

Parra's Line

IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB BF PITCHES
1.2  15 

 

Linebrink acquired from San Diego

With the bullpen turning from a team strength in July to a weakness, the Brewers traded three minor leaguers, including their top prospect, to San Diego for Scott Linebrink.  Linebrink, who had been the Padres top setup man until recently, was acquired for Will Inman, Joe Thatcher and Steve Garrison.

Because Linebrink's wife was due to deliver the couple's first child, Milwaukee's newest reliever appeared in only two games before leaving the team at the end of the month.  The Brewers hope that the 31 year-old Texan will stabilize a bullpen that has been worked a lot this summer.

For an analysis of this trade, please read Analyzing the Linebrink-Inman Trade and this months' Farm Hops.

 

Pitcher of the Month
Yovani Gallardo

When Yovani Gallardo was recalled to start for the injured Chris Capuano, it was thought that Gallardo would leave the rotation when Capuano returned.  This would allow the Brewers to better manage Gallardo's innings and help keep him fresh for September.  Gallardo did pitch twice out of the pen during the early part of the month, but the best laid plans changed on July 14 when Sheet's injured the middle finger on his pitching hand.  Gallardo pitched 4.2 one hit innings that night, while striking out four and walking none.

In three July starts, the 21-year-old Gallardo was 2-0, pitching 17.2 innings.  In those 17.2 innings Gallardo allowed only 13 hits and 5 runs, walking 7 and striking out 17.

While losing a pitcher the caliber of Ben Sheets is never good, it's nice to have a pitcher as good as Gallardo to slide into the rotation in his place.

Gallardo's July Line

W-L IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB BF PITCHES ERA WHIP
2-1 27.0  20  21  28  34  108 428  2.67 1.07

 

Player of the Month
Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun has spent two full months in the major leagues, and he has been named the Brewerfan.net Player of the Month twice. Ok, so that might not be as cool as being named National League Rookie of the Month for June and July, and National League Player of the Month for July, but I think Braun would appreciate the award anyways.  Braun became the first player to win Rookie and Player of the Month in the same month since the inception of the former in 2000.

After recording 11 multi-hit games in June, including four three-hit and two four-hit games, Braun "only" had 10 in July.  In fact, as good as Braun's July was, his June was statistically better.  Only in home runs and RBI did the rookie better his June numbers.

In case that didn't let you know the kid can hit a little, Braun is having the best rookie campaign since Albert Pujols' 2001 season.  Just for fun, let's project Braun's numbers as of July 31 to the 590 ABs that Pujols had in 2001.

  AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Braun 590  119  204  40  44  123  47  140  25 .347 .394 .657 1.051
Pujols 590  112  194 47  37  130  69  93  .329 .403 .610 1.013

I really am having trouble finding a comparable season by any Brewer player, much less a rookie. While he has only played 59 games, his batting average is the third highest in Brewer history behind Paul Molitor and Cecil Cooper. Braun's current home run pace is 36, which would break Prince Fielder's rookie record and be the 9th highest single season total in Brewer history. His full season projection of 44 home runs would be second only to Richie Sexson and Gorman Thomas (depending on what Fielder does the rest of the year). That's one heck of a rookie season. Brewer fans can only hope Braun continues to hit like that for the next 10-15 years.

Braun's July Line

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
110 18  38 11  25 27 4 .345 .397 .673 1.069


 
The Daily Brew is a near-daily column covering the Milwaukee Brewers baseball organization published exclusively at brewerfan.net.
 

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