Monday, September 15, 2014

An Envelope from the Hot Corner

On the Saturday before I went to the card show, a little white envelope showed up in my mailbox. It appeared literally a couple of days after I said that the mail had run out, and it was marked as being "From the Hot Corner."

It's always a good thing to see that mark on the envelope, and this time was no different. The envelope contained two Ryan Brauns and a Yovani Gallardo.

This card was an insert in the 2012 Topps set, and it highlights a day when Braun won the Brewers a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 25, 2008.  The Brewers were in a tight race with the New York Mets for the one and only Wild Card spot that year. The race was so tight that the Brewers had fired manager Ned Yost with the Brewers standing at 83-67 and replaced him with Dale Sveum.

The Brewers had put their chips into the middle of the table in July of that year, sending to the Indians Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta, and a player to be named later -- which turned out to be the best player the Indians got in the deal, outfielder Michael Brantley -- in return for three months of CC Sabathia. Two weeks later, the team picked up Ray Durham from the Giants as a backup for Rickie Weeks.

Things started falling apart, leading to the Yost firing. With just 3 games left in the season, the Brewers squared off against Pittsburgh. Karmically speaking, the Pirates winning out this season as wild card really should happen, because the Brewers were just 4 games over .500 as a team in 2008 except for the fact that they got to play the Pirates.

Coming into that September 25, 2008, game, the Brewers had gone 13-1 against their whipping boys from Allegheny County. For that night's game, Yovani Gallardo came back off the DL to throw four innings -- 67 pitches, 7 strikeouts, 3 hits, one run.  After that, the Brewers threw their entire bullpen at the Dodgers -- a bullpen which sounds today like reading a list of failed closers...Carlos Villanueva, Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, Brian Shouse, Salomon Torres, Todd Coffey, and, finally, Mitch Stetter.

For the Pirates, current Brewer Zach Duke was the starter. He threw 7 innings of 7-hit, 1-run ball against the Brewers and was followed by Tyler Yates, John Grabow, and Jesse Chavez.

The game went to the tenth inning tied at 1. Coffey and Stetter worked their way out of the 10th without any damage despite Coffey giving up a hit. In the bottom of the inning, Rickie Weeks led off and moved to second when bunted over by Jason Kendall. Durham pinch hit for Stetter and was intentionally walked. After Mike Cameron struck out swinging, Chavez walked Craig Counsell.  Up stepped Braun. He took the first two pitches for balls. He then watched as Chavez threw strike one. Braun fouled off the next ball, putting the count at 2-2.

And then, Braun crushed the 2-2 pitch to hit his first-ever career grand slam for the walk-off win. The Brewers racked up a 14-1 record against the Pirates that season. Add in the Brewers 9-0 record against the Giants and the Blue Jays that year, and the 90-72 record looks almost like overachieving. Indeed, it was 23-1 against those three teams, and 67-71 against everyone else.

This card is an insert in the Donruss packs from this year. It's the whole "background that looks like nothing" issue, matched up with the "we can't show you logos" issue that makes this card a tough one to love.

In other words, the card is a lot like Braun has become. As much as the heroic retelling from days of yore makes a Brewers' fan's heart flutter, one look at Braun's contract and his chronic thumb issue this year makes the Brewers' GM and ownership have heart palpitations. Soon, Brewers fans (well, okay, at least one fan, probably me) will start making Samuel Taylor Coleridge references when discussing Braun.

Trust me, that's not good.

Finally, it's Yovani Gallardo. The one thing I appreciate about the Donruss/Panini efforts in this year's set is that they didn't go with those bizarre pajama-looking uniforms that dominated the Panini Hometown Heroes set from last year. While this card is suboptimal due to the logo-less hat, it's not as bad as it could be.

In my card-show purchases post, I mentioned that Gallardo has a team option for next year at $13 million. When that contract was signed, team officials were exultant about "having what we consider an ace of a staff, a No. 1 guy, tied up" (contractually speaking, I trust). It looked like a good deal in 2010, when Gallardo made the All-Star game. Frankly, it hasn't looked all that bad during the life of the contract.

What is very disconcerting, though, is the decline in strikeouts over the past two seasons.  From 2007 through 2012, Gallardo struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings -- pretty much one an inning. Over the past two years, that number has dropped to 6.9 K/9. Perhaps it's just the accumulation of innings on his arm; between 2009 to 2012, when Gallardo was 23 to 26 years old, Gallardo threw nearly 800 innings. 

Some guys can take that workload, and some guys cannot. Perhaps Gallardo will go on to pitch for another 10 seasons after this year without any problems. After all, he emerged from that injury nexus between the ages of 20 and 26 without getting hurt. But the declining dominance is disconcerting. Even in season, Gallardo's K/9 has dipped by another 0.5 K/9 between the first half and second half. 

So, do I want the Brewers to pick up his option at $13 million? It's a close call. The team has six guys who started this season other than Gallardo -- Lohse, Peralta, Garza, Estrada, Nelson, and Fiers. Marco Estrada turned into a batting practice pitcher, giving up homers at a crazy rate (1.8 HR/9 innings even after being relatively unscarred as a reliever). Mike Fiers alternates between being Bob Gibson (African-American of the 1960s) and Bob Gibson (awful white dude who pitched for the Brewers in the 1980s) -- and I keep waiting for the bullpen car to turn into a pumpkin again with him.

I think a lot will depend on what the Brewers think their outlook is for 2015. If they believe they can contend again, I think they pick up his option or work out a 2-year deal at a slightly lower salary. If not, then we might see Tyler Thornburg in the rotation next year.

Thanks for the cards, Pat. I hope that this post does not dissuade you from sending more cards for fear of another 750-word wishy-washy dissertation on whether the Brewers should pick up Yovani Gallardo's option. I'm pretty sure I'll change my mind again in a few weeks.


  1. I refused to go to a Pirates/Brewers game for almost 5 years because of all the beat downs.

    1. It's like that with Brewers fans and the Cardinals, I think. They just seem to own us.

  2. Thanks for the reminders of the Mets epic collapses of 2007 and 2008.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I did think of you when writing this post and tried not to linger on the Mets collapse so much as I did the Brewers playing well.

  3. I've got some more '14 Donruss Brewers in a PWE about to head out to you.

  4. I don't think $13mil is too unreasonable for a mid-rotation starter for a year.