Monday, December 10, 2012

Packers Prospering in Adversity

The storyline looks strangely familiar.

Over the last three seasons, when the situation appears to be particularly bleak, the Green Bay Packers do their best work. Conversely, when they seem to be set up to succeed, they inexplicably find a way not to.

The 2012 Packers seem to be reverting to the 2010 storyline: adversity followed by triumph.

The Packers defeated the Detroit Lions Sunday night, 27-20, improving their record to 9-4. The win gave the Packers sole possession of the lead in the North Division, and calmed a Packer fan base that has been in a nervous frenzy for the majority of the season.

The Packers stumbled out of the blocks this year, dipping to 1-2 after the infamous last-second loss to the Seahawks. Many people in Wisconsin thought the anger over the blown call controversy would spur the Packers, but Green Bay found itself below .500 again just two weeks later after a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Panic spread quickly in Cheesehead Nation, with fans thinking the unthinkable: this team might not make the playoffs.

Since then, the Packers have won seven of their last eight games, and currently are in position for the third seed in the NFC. If the Packers defeat the Chicago Bears next week, they will clinch the NFC North Division and a spot in the playoffs. 

This all comes after an onslaught of injuries, similar to the 2010 season. In 2010 the Packers lost starting running back Ryan Grant to injury, along with tightend Jermichael Finley, defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, linebacker Nick Barnett, and offensive lineman Mark Tauscher among others. Despite these key injuries, the Packers made a late run, winning five straight on their way to the Super Bowl. The Packers managed to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, even after losing Charles Woodson in the first half to injury.

The 2011 Packers looked like a team prepared to make a run at the Super Bowl again, with minimal adversity faced the entire season. The Packers lost only one regular season game, and suffered no major injuries outside of a spinal injury to safety Nick Collins. They built momentum over the course of an entire season, only to fall flat in their first playoff game against the New York Giants.

This year, the team has been much more frustrating to watch, but you cannot deny its recent effectiveness. Their 9-4 record comes despite an onslaught of injuries yet again. Running back Cedric Benson, cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker Clay Matthews, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, wide receiver Greg Jennings, offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga, cornerback Sam Shields, and offensive lineman Derek Sherrod have all missed considerable time due to injury. Yet somehow, the Packers have powered through and found ways to win. With Jennings returning against the Lions, and Matthews and Woodson due back against the Bears, the Packers are slowly returning to a healthier-looking team nearing the playoffs. 

Maybe the recipe in Green Bay isn’t to play great football year-long, but rather to build character along the way and win when it counts. Ironically over the two previous seasons, the Packers did better dealing with adversity than they did dealing with prosperity. Packer fans can only hope that this 2012 team continues to contend with adversity the way that the 2010 team did.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hamilton poor fit

For several months now, rumors have swirled that the Milwaukee Brewers are interested in signing free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton. But at the Winter Meetings in Nashville last week, manager Ron Roenicke downplayed the whole idea.

“We are good offensively,” Roenicke said. “We don’t need to make any changes in what we have with our regular players. And Josh comes at a high price.”

Roenicke’s voice is one of reason. While fans in Milwaukee would love to see a star-studded outfield that included both Hamilton and Ryan Braun, signing Hamilton would be unreasonable for a variety of reasons.

The Brewers already have a potent lineup that led the National League in both home runs and runs scored in the 2012 season. They are in position to return that everyday lineup in 2013, and the arrival of Josh Hamilton would crowd an outfield that has three viable starters in place. 

On top of that comes questions of Hamilton’s salary and age. He will be turning 32 next season, and injuries have hampered him his whole career. He has only played in 150 games once in his six-year career, and will most likely be seeking at least a five-year deal. Spending big money on Hamilton over a long period of time is a risk that the Brewers won’t be willing to take. The Brewers made an effort to keep Prince Fielder in Milwaukee through free agency, but lost the bidding war to Detroit. If the Brewers couldn’t retain a player that grew up in their farm system, it can’t be expected that they will manage to sign Hamilton, one of the premier free agents this offseason.

Even if the Brewers could afford Hamilton, the organization is better advised to focus on a pitching staff that is stretched thin in the bullpen, and largely unproven in the starting rotation. Roenicke knows the importance of finding pitching this offseason as well.

“Obviously anytime you can get a quality starter, that’s important,” Roenicke said. “But if what we’re looking at isn’t much better than our young guys, all of a sudden it becomes important to look at the bullpen. Because there are holes in the bullpen. There aren’t holes in our starting rotation.”

The most immediate need appears to be in the bullpen, with the Brewers only returning relievers John Axford, Jim Henderson, and Brandon Kintzler. But the starting rotation is far from a sure thing either. While the Brewers already have six starters to fill five rotation spots, three of those candidates have less than a year of major league experience. 

Josh Hamilton would be an exciting addition to any club, but he isn’t the right acquisition for this one.