Just as the fans who started getting "World Champion Milwaukee Brewers" tattoos at the end of April should have tempered their zeal, those who melted down their Ben Sheets bobbleheads in the backyard grill over the holiday weekend need to relax a bit, too.
The end of May still finds the Brewers atop the flaccid National League Central Division. After finishing April at 16-9, the Brewers started May with a bang, winning eight of their first nine games. And then, of course, they hit the skids, losing 14 of their next 19 games. The buzz around the team went from ecstatic to pessimistic.
But the charm and curse of a 162-game major league schedule is that it rarely follows a neat and tidy plotline. It's time for Brewers fans to not only toughen up, but look around and count their blessings.
With youngsters Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy leading the National League in homeruns with 18 and 15, respectively, the Brewers put two potential All-Stars on the field for every game. Fielder, in particular, has proved to be a legit slugger whose patience at the plate has led to 21 walks and bolstered his on-base percentage (.368).
The Brewers also have solid talent in players like Geoff Jenkins, Johnny Estrada and Bill Hall, who is too good a hitter to remain at his current average of .256 for long. Good things are also expected from the newest Brewer, third baseman Ryan Braun, who many fans are hoping will permanently replace the struggling Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell.
Pitching has remained respectable, despite the slump. The club ranks fifth-best among National League teams in the fun-to-watch walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) statistic at 1.31. But the Brewers starters aren't likely to produce a lot of shutouts and need decent run support. In the 13 losses since May 11, the Brewers are averaging a little under 2.5 runs per game.
Still, a mediocre May is no reason to panic, and there remain plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks for a return to early-season glee. In particular, next week's home stand against the Cubs should have Miller Park crowded and rowdy. If the Crew can't take at least two of three in that series, then maybe April was a fluke.
Zink in the Pond
Mallards fans recently got the good news that Madison La Follette alum Ryan Zink will return for a second season at the Duck Pond this summer. Zink pitched for Madison in 2004, when the Mallards won the Northwoods League championship, then took 2005 off, hoping to be a high draft pick in the following year's Major League Baseball draft.
But Zink blew out his throwing arm just before his junior season in 2006 at the University of Illinois-Chicago and spent last summer rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
What in hell's bells is Tommy John surgery?
The procedure replaces the damaged ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow with a ligament from somewhere else, like the hamstring or knee. It was first performed on Tommy John, who pitched for six major league teams - most famously the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers - over a 20-year career. John underwent the procedure in 1974 after 11 years of pitching in the majors. He rehabilitated his arm for more than a year, and went on to pitch another nine seasons; some said he was able to throw harder after the surgery.
Zink, who finished the 2007 regular season at UIC with a 6-3 record and 4.79 ERA, is in Long Beach for the NCAA Regionals, where the Flames will play the Long Beach State Dirtbags on Friday night.
More good news
Madison La Follette grad Quincy Henderson has been awarded a sixth year of NCAA eligibility and will return to the Winona State men's basketball program in 2007-08. He'll join fellow La Follette alums Jonte Flowers and Curtrell Robinson - assuming Robinson resolves academic issues that benched him in 2006-07, when the Warriors lost only one game. (Tragically, it was the Division II national championship, which saw Barton College take advantage of a botched in-bounds pass between Henderson and Flowers in the final seconds.)
The Wisconsin Hodags, UW-Madison's men's ultimate club, claimed the sport's national college championship over the weekend, dominating the field and never winning by fewer than five points. Senior Dan Heijmen received the Callahan Award as college ultimate's top player. Bella Donna, UW's women's team, lost to UCLA in the quarterfinals, and captain Holly Greunke finished second in balloting for the women's Callahan.