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Sunday Notes: Catching Up on Box Scores

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While I was watching the Tokyo Giants put the screws to the Chunichi Dragons—there was a lot of chanting, and astroturf, and banners, and former Pirate Alex Ramirez hit a grand slam—the Cardinals went up two games on the Milwaukee Brewers. I didn't see the games, but I have some talking points, and then, in return for a companion piece I did on SBN sister blog Brew Crew Ball, Noah Jarosh of same has answered some of my questions about the Cardinals' newly-tucked NL Central rivals. 

Jaime Garcia: Early returns with pitchers can be a tricky thing—witness Rick Ankiel and Anthony Reyes (or Roy Halladay, for that matter)—and one game is hardly any returns at all. But it's good to see his first start as anointed member of the rotation work out like this, marking one basically successful trip through the starters. I only saw some highlights, but this was not the Jaime Garcia I remember being distinctly, worryingly unimpressed with in his 2008 stint. It's almost observation-by-default at this point, with the young pitchers who come back from elbow surgery without totally losing it, but the operation and the rehab seem to have given him a sharper fastball, one that looked plenty good at 90 mph. (The pitch speed graphs make it seem like he lost a fraction off it by the end of his 95 pitches—durability, in-game and in-season, is something the Cardinals will have to watch closely for a while.)

Yovani Gallardo: If Jaime Garcia's name were Kyle Lohse (sorry, Kyle) the big news about Saturday's game would be the non-ten-millionaires-club offense chasing Yovani Gallardo out of the game with that big second inning. Rasmus's sixth walk of the season—how about his Bondsian .385/.619/.923 OPS through five? Baseball-Reference tells me it leads baseball—set things up for Ryan Ludwick and Yadier Molina, whom the Cardinals are counting on for incremental (if unspectacular) gains relative to their positions, and both drove in runs against one of the best starters in the (rest of) the division. 

That's been the difference so far for the Cardinals, what's made this season's relentless bullpen worries go down so smoothly; Holliday and Pujols have performed exactly as expected, but some members of the supporting cast have performed considerably better. (Some members, meanwhile, are middle infielders.) Even Nick Stavinoha, early front-runner in VEB's Least Favorite Cardinal polling, has outpaced our wildest right-handed AAAA .300 hitter fantasies. Things will level out, probably just in time for me to see the Cardinals play on TV, but until then this is a team whose various flaws can't get in the way of... well, Colby Rasmus, mostly. 

Brendan Ryan: I am hoping his (and Skip's) poor hitting—especially given their status as Mark McGwire's pupils zero—becomes a non-story as sample sizes become large enough to worry. But while I worry anyway I've been rationalizing it like this: Brendan Ryan, who has spent his entire adult life hitting a baseball pretty well, retooled his entire swing over the offseason. Whether McGwire's tinkering was for good or ill in terms of its long-term effects on his hitting, early struggles are totally in keeping with the narrative. He's got a new swing, he's following up a career year, he has expectations, now, for the first time; these are all ingredients for a rough adjustment period, even if all his spring work has built a better hitter. 

Like most of us in VEB-land I am deeply emotionally invested in Brendan Ryan's success, and his continued availability for post-game interviews, but for now I will pretend not to be concerned. As determined as the irrational part of my brain is to infer from his problems in the first week of the season a story about Mark McGwire's hitting ideas being a hidden poison, killing the team from the inside, I refuse. If he's still hitting .067 (or even .167!) in May I will bring my fears out into the open, and it will be terrible. 

After the jump: Five questions with Brew Crew Ball's Noah Jarosh. Noah kindly ignored my original list of questions, which went like this:

1. How does the Brewers' right field situation look through the first few weeks? Corey Hart seems to have fallen into a platoon arrangement...

2. Do you like Jim Edmonds? Like, like-him like-him?

3. Sometimes, when Jim Edmonds makes a great play, and then he looks at the camera, does it feel like he's just looking right at you?

4. Because it feels like that for me sometimes. 

5. What does Jim Edmonds think about the Prince Fielder negotiations? 

1. The Brewers had some serious rotation problems in 2009, compounded by a pair of erstwhile Cardinals inning-eaters. What do you think about the job the front office did patching things up for 2010?

I feel that GM Doug Melvin and Brewers management did about as good a job as they could have done last offseason by signing Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. Honestly, looking at the pitching that was available in the free agent class last season, it's hard to imagine Milwaukee doing any better than they did. John Lackey was never an option for the money he was looking for. The one move that I wish the Brewers had made would have been to sign Rich Harden. He signed for just one year and $7.5MM. PersonalIy, I would have forgone the signings of Doug Davis and Latroy Hawkins for Harden.

Randy Wolf signed a 3 year/ $30MM contract, which I haven't really seen anybody complain about. He's not a pitcher that's going to carry a team on his back like CC Sabathia did in 2008, but he is a solid #2 pitcher. Nobody really expects him to repeat his excellent 3.23 ERA/1.101 WHIP performance last year, but even if he plays to his career average of a 4.13 ERA, that would have been significantly better than our second best starters ERA last year, which was Braden Looper with a 5.22 ERA. That's how bad the Brewers starting pitching was last year.

Doug Davis, I'm not as excited about. He's always been a guy who will give up a lot of walks and, consequently, a high WHIP. But again, his career 4.32 ERA sure would have looked nice last year. Really, it's hard to imagine the rotation having been anywhere as bad as they were last year, even if they had kept the same five starters. A rotation performance with ERA's of 3.73, 5.22, 5.29, 6.36 and 6.38 is tough to repeat. Though they may not be a great rotation this year, the Brewers did win 80 games with that terrible pitching last year, so it will be interesting to see how much better the team is this year. Wow, that was a much longer answer than I intended.

2. Jim Edmonds can do no wrong in St. Louis, and to be honest if I could I would be asking you five questions about him, instead of the Brewers in general. But is it worrisome to you to see him take time from Corey Hart?

This is something that I'm on the fence about. While spring training stats are usually pretty insignificant, Edmonds did have a very good spring (.292/.382/.500) whereas Corey Hart had a line of .172/.221/.313 after learning he needed corrective lenses for his eyes. I don't mind seeing a platoon between the two players. Over their careers, Edmonds has been excellent against right handed pitching and Hart has been very good against lefties. What will be a problem is if Edmonds is the prime backup for Carlos Gomez in center field over Jody Gerut. Edmonds, as you no doubt know, was an outstanding defensive outfielder in his day. Not anymore. The last year he played, he put up a -14.1 UZR. I understand that one year UZR numbers aren't super reliable, but when you watch him play you can see that his defensive game has slipped with age, which is understandable. Geruts UZR numbers don't suggest that he is an exceptional defensive outfielder, but again, when you watch him play you can see that he is better than Edmonds.

I am, and have been since his signing was announced, very cautious about what I expect from Edmonds. Having taken a year off and being nearly 40 years old, it's not hard to imagine him getting off to a good start until his age catches up to him and he drops off a cliff in the middle of the season. I hope not. I hope that he is, in fact, rejuvenated from taking the year off. We'll see how it works out, and you guys at VEB can see your old friend again in action this weekend.

3. From one team worriedly watching a slugging, free agency-bound first baseman to another: what's the Prince Fielder situation?

Not really a whole lot of news on that front right now. The Brewers did, though, sign Yovani Gallardo to a 5 year/$30MM contract, with a club option for a sixth year worth $13MM, which is an excellent deal. That, along with the Ryan Braun contract the two sides signed a couple years ago, lend optimism that Milwaukee will be able to sign Prince Fielder to some kind of contract, though Prince would obviously come at a higher price. It is also important to keep in mind that in 2010, the Crew is paying $4.5MM to David Riske, $12.5MM to Jeff Suppan and $7.15MM to the long gone Bill Hall. That's nearly $25MM that will be coming off the books after this season. For a team with an $80MM payroll (only around $10MM less than the Cardinals, who can support two 9-figure contracts), they probably will have the flexibility to sign Fielder long term.

The Problem is whether signing Prince will cripple the team in the future. The Brewers have Wolf, Braun, and now Gallardo signed to long term contracts. Everyone else is either young enough that they are still arbitration controlled or signed to a shorter contract. If the Brewers don't go overboard and give Fielder some sort of eight year enormous contract (he is represented by Scott Boras, remember), I think that the team could absorb a larger contract and remain competitive. If they could work out a 3 year/$60MM or 4/$75MM, I would be pretty happy. If you ask other Brewer fans, they might tell you differently, but in my opinion I think a Fielder extension is far from impossible.

4. J.J. Hardy for Carlos Gomez?

I'm actually not unhappy with this deal. The one problem I do have, is the Brewers made this move nearly as soon as the offseason began, prior to signing Wolf and Davis. If you had asked any Brewers fan then, they would have told you they expected Hardy to be traded for some sort of starting pitching. It seemed as though Doug Melvin, rather than exploring all his options and doing due diligence by calling any team that might have ANY interest in Hardy called one or two teams and settled for what they offered. I remember, I think there was a story that told how Melvin first tried to get some kind of pitching from the Twins, then tried for Denard Span (which would have been absolutely outstanding, if unrealistic), then settled for Carlos Gomez. The whole Hardy fiasco just seemed to be poorly handled by the Brewers GM.

As far as what they actually did get, I'm not too disappointed. Gomez is nowhere near Mike Cameron offensively, though he could possibly be even better than Cammy defensively. Gomez has all the talent and skills in the world--blazing speed, great defense, the potential to be a great bat--he just hasn't been able to put it all together. He hasn't put up an OBP over .296 in his career to this point, thought he did manage to be around .350 the last couple years of his minor league career. Gomez has been quickly becoming one of my favorite Brewers just because of how exciting he can be. Rickie Weeks, Alcides Escobar and Gomez should be fun to watch, though they will all do their share of frustrating Brewers fans.

5. Two years into the Ryan Braun in left field experiment, what do you think about it? I've always thought he looked pretty good-athletic, decent arm-but UZR and the other play-by-play metrics aren't a fan.

Well, he's not outstanding defensively, that's for sure. You would probably get all sorts of answers if you posed this question to a bunch of people. It is traditionally a line-up spot that isn't strong defensively, though that's not really any excuse. To me, I think that Braun looks pretty good in left field.

I had even seen it suggested, prior to the Carlos Gomez trade, that the Brewers could potentially move Braun to center field, citing his plus speed and how well he transitioned to LF as reasons he could make the switch. That almost certainly would have been a poor idea. But in left field, his bat is clearly good enough to overcome any defensive deficiencies he may have (it seems he is leveling off as around a -0.5 to -1 WAR defensive player). However, no matter how bad is defense gets, there's no way it is ever as bad as his clothing line.

Thanks, Noah, both for the answers and the opportunity to link to this picture one more time