Hangin’ with Havel!

Chris Havel’s sports columns will appear throughout the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click to go to their website/Facebook):

 

Hangin’ with Havel

For
Tuesday, July 5th 

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to their website/Facebook)

** Chrysler World

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** Packer City Antiques

Twenty-eight years in business, owner Mike Worachek features rare Packers and sports memorabilia at 2208 S. Ridge Rd., Green Bay. Card and Coin also buys gold and silver at www.titletownnostalgia.com.

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Fight breaks out in 9th as Brewers rally, win

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Cubs-Brewers game showcased the best that American pro sports has to offer.

It began with all of the much-anticipated Fourth of July trappings, and it ended with the Brewers rallying for a 5-2 victory on Vic Caratini’s walk-off home run in the 10th inning.

But before the Brewers’ late rally, it was sports – and in particular fans – at their ugliest. What occurred in the bleachers during the ninth inning Monday afternoon was a bare-knuckles brawl in its rawest form.

Apparently, a trio of Cubs fans had been disorderly throughout the game, and especially leading up to its conclusion. According to several eye-witness accounts, complete with video, American Family Field’s security team quickly responded.

However, a nearly 90-second clip of the brawl shows a different story.

It appears that a handful of ushers – including several that appear to be beyond middle-aged – tried to intervene in the Battle Royale. It took way longer than it should’ve to settle the issue and take the appropriate action.

Instead, the brawl escalated while bystanders – including women and children – withdrew from the area with a look of bewilderment.

Ask a pro boxer if two minutes of moving, throwing and receiving punches is a long time. In that instance, and Monday’s brawl, it felt like an eternity.

Although I watched the TV broadcast, I didn’t hear anything about the brawl. Granted, I may have missed it being mentioned. And if it wasn’t I’ve got to say I understand where the Brewers are coming from. They work diligently to portray an image of “fan friendliness” to the billionth degree.

Discussing an alleged alcohol-induced fight on-air can’t be good for business. Given the thousands of fans stretching into the millions that attend Brewers home games and report a safe, exciting time are the vast majority.

Nevertheless, I feel sorry for the 60-something ushers who were figuratively – and nearly literally – dragged into this melee. I also feel badly for the other fans who had to endure the gut-wrenching sight of grown men exchanging blows.

Appalling doesn’t begin to describe it.

Through it all a tremendous Brewers’ victory played itself out.

Caratini’s late heroics occurred in a single swing of the bat.

After going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, Caratini caught up with a Scott Effross pitch and belted the game-winning home run with two outs in the 10th inning.

“I called it,” Brewers catcher Pedro Severino told reporters after the game. “Because normally when you have a tough day, that big moment just comes to you.”

The Brewers (47-35) hold a three-game lead over second-place St. Louis (44-38) in the NL Central. The Cubs and Brewers meet again tonight at 7:10 at American Family Field.

It’s going to be difficult for Game 2 to overshadow its predecessor.

Brad Boxberger pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th to set the stage for Caratini. Boxberger struck out Willson Contreras and Ian Happ to notch the victory. He was behind 3-1 in the count to Happ before striking him out with incredible back-to-back changeups.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell sang Boxberger’s praises afterward.

“Whatever’s going on, nothing fazes him and he keeps making pitches,” Counsell said. “He’s always got his wits about him.”

Caratini’s big moment came after struggling all day. His perseverance paid off.

“It’s a really hard sport,” he said. “You know you’re going to fail. (It’s) just (a matter of) staying confident, going to the next at-bat, knowing that you’ve got another at-bat and have got to be able to fight it, help the team win and move on from there.”

The Cubs took a 2-1 lead on Seiya Suzuki’s inside-the-park home run in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Christian Yelich drew a bases-loaded walk to tie it at 2-2.

The inside-the-park home run was a tip of the cap, albeit Cubs style, to former Brewers Hall of Fame centerfielder Robin Yount. When American Family Field – then Miller Park – was originally designed, the Brewers consulted with Yount on ways to keep triples and inside-the-park home runs in the game.

Yount suggested the angled portion of the left-center field fence, the Brewers agreed, and the rest is history.

“Just one of those plays you’ll see once every five years in this park,” Counsell said.

That’s probably true. Hopefully it’ll be more than five years before the next fan brawl breaks out in the stands.

Five things to watch at Packers’ open practice

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers are less than a month away from training camp.

The three-time defending NFC North champions are among the favorites to reach Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, Feb. 12, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Az. Green Bay fans will get their first “eyes on” view of the 2022 Packers Wednesday, July 27, at the first of 12 scheduled “open practices.”

So what to look for?

Here are five areas to have your eyes peeled open for in terms of ageless wonders, newcomers, key questions and dominant (or not)  position groups:

** No. 1 – Aaron Rodgers embodies that rare occurrence when a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback can still play at the highest level.

Rodgers, 38, is entering his 17th season.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound athlete keeps himself in tip-top shape while constantly utilizing ways to extend his career. The commitment is unquestioned. It will be interesting to see how Rodgers interacts with the receivers early in camp. Perhaps the best clue as to how Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, Christian Watson, Randall Cobb and the rest are performing is Rodgers’ reactions during practice.

Either way, the Packers have it covered at THE MOST important position.

Packers’ fans should be sure to relish Rodgers’ greatness as he embarks upon training camp with a singular purpose: getting to and winning Super Bowl LVII.

** No. 2 – The Packers’ offensive line will be interesting before, during and after the return (fingers crossed) of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. Both are rehabilitating knee injuries and may be ready for the start of camp.

Or it may be a bit longer. How much longer they could be out is something of a mystery. Should it be a concern? I say yes. Absolutely it is when the Packers’ top two offensive linemen – who also are two of the NFL’s best – are unavailable.

The story is interesting if they aren’t there at camp’s outset in terms of: So who is going to be the starting tackles? Will it be Yosh Nijman and Cole Van Lanen? Will it be a veteran to be signed at a later date? In terms of Nijman, I believe his experience last season should accelerate his progress this season, which is a nice way of saying if he doesn’t blossom now, when?

Then there’s the question of the guard position, which may affect the tackle spots. Is rookie Sean Rhyan going to compete for a starting tackle job? It’s possible.

** No. 3 – The Packers’ defense is running at the high end of the expectation meter, and for good reason. The front office somehow managed to re-sign every defensive player who was somebody. All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, the heart and soul of the defense, was a critical re-signing. The return of previously unsung cornerback Rasul Douglas also was a nice “bring back.”

Jarran Reed, the former Seahawks defensive tackle, is an obvious upgrade from Kingsley Keke up front. Reed has a double-digit sack season to his credit, and the former Alabama star brings cache and know-how to the position group.

Rookie Devonte Wyatt, at 24, is a seasoned veteran by the Packers’ standards. Typically, Green Bay doesn’t draft players in their mid-20s. Then again, the Packers don’t often get the opportunity to draft such a talented, polished stud.

Wyatt, who’s already excited about playing next to Reed, is a powerful, explosive pass rusher at the “three” technique. His ability to defeat single-blocking is going to create a quandary for offenses. They can’t double-team everybody, and with Rashan Gary lurking outside Reed’s or Wyatt’s shoulder pads, it’ll be a challenge.

** No. 4 – Sammy Watkins isn’t going to make anyone forget about Davante Adams, but he is going to remind everyone what a truly balanced attack looks like.

It’s a fair tradeoff.

Watkins is vastly underrated by some fans, and perhaps media, too.

The fact is this ninth-year pro is hungry, humbled and clearly understanding the opportunity he has to play catch with the great Rodgers for a living.

Watkins is flying under the radar right now. By Week 3 of the NFL season, the former fourth-overall draft pick will be on everybody’s radar.

** No. 5 – Quay Walker, the aforementioned Wyatt, Christian Watson and Rhyan are all worth taking time to get to know. Walker is a unique blend of sheer size and speed combined with the agility and quickness of a smaller player.

It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Joe Barry schemes up specific blitz packages to take advantage of Walker’s explosiveness. Wyatt should get plenty of reps in the one-on-one pass rush drills, and the hunch here is that he’ll be immediately deployed in the pass rush sub-packages.

Wyatt may be a difference-maker up front early on.

Watson, the 34th overall pick, has the potential to be a big-play game-breaker.

That’s rare for a rookie receiver but it’s possible because of several factors. One is that Watson’s been around the NFL for quite some time, with his father, Tim, having played NFL safety. Another is that he’s working with a Hall of Fame quarterback who can still make all the throws. While it will be incumbent upon Watson to grasp the Packers’ offense, and it’s a challenge pleasing Rodgers, the bottom line is this: Who’d you rather have throwing it to you? Rodgers or (Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, etc.)?

That’s easy.

Brewers tough it out VS. Jays, take 2 of 3

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – These are the types of games champions find a way to win.

The Milwaukee Brewers did just that in a 10-3 rout of usually hard-hitting Toronto in Sunday’s three-game series’ finale at American Family Field.

Ex-Blue Jays slugger Rowdy Tellez showed Toronto fans a blast from the past – make it two blasts – by slugging a pair of home runs against his former team. Tellez, who was traded by Toronto to Milwaukee last July, drilled his 12th and 13th home runs for his seventh career multi-home run game.

The Blue Jays put up three runs in the top of the first against Chi Chi Gonzalez, who was making his second start for Milwaukee since Aaron Ashby went on the disabled list with left forearm inflammation.

The Jays’ Alejandro Kirk belted a three-run home run to stake right-hander Jose Berrios to a 3-0 lead. It was short-lived.

The Brewers (42-33) matched it with a three-spot in the bottom of the first, and followed it up with a five-run second inning. Milwaukee pounded out 13 hits and chased Berrios after 2 2/3 with eight runs on as many hits.

“Any time you can put runs on the board after they have, it’s huge,” Tellez said.

Berrios (5-4) is typically a reliable starter.

“Berrios obviously didn’t have his stuff today,” Tellez said. “He left some pitches over the heart and was having trouble commanding stuff, and we made him pay.”

It’s a far cry from “the next hit just never came.”

That’s what Brewers manager Craig Counsell had to say after a recent loss.

On Sunday, Counsell’s message and mood were much different.

“It’s a day where the offense really picked us up and gave us a great cushion,” Counsell said. “Rowdy had a big day but up and down the lineup a lot of guys did good things. They carried us today. They made pitchers’ jobs much easier.”

The Brewers have a one-game lead on St. Louis (41-34) in the NL Central. The Cardinals fell to the Cubs on Sunday. Milwaukee is 18-12 in day games, second only to the New York Mets (21-11) in the National League.

The Brewers also improved to 4-2 in interleague play. They also are second in the NL in home runs with 99, and fourth in the NL in slugging percentage at .404.

Tellez’s everyday presence in the lineup has made a difference.

Brewers’ fans chanted Tellez’s name after his second home run. When the Brewers elected to keep him, rather than Daniel Vogelbach, some fans disagreed. Clearly, Milwaukee’s David Stearns and Co. made the right decision.

Gonzalez echoed the fans’ cheers.

“I know this whole organization, this whole place cheers for him, roots for him and we do, too,” Gonzalez said. “It’s also awesome to see him do that against his former team.”

Tellez is hitting .248 with his 13 home runs in the heart of the lineup. After the Brewers’ bats grabbed a lead, a rested and ready bullpen took it from there.

Jandel Gustave (1-0) got the win in relief of Gonzalez, who went four innings and allowed three runs on four hits. Gustave led a four-relief pitcher parade by giving up two hits in two scoreless innings. Trevor Gott struck out two in his one inning, and Brent Suter allowed a walk in his one inning. Trevor Kelley struck out one while pitching a scoreless ninth.

The plan coming in was getting as much as they could out of Gonzalez, pounce on Berrios for a lead, and then ride the bullpen to victory.

The Brewers’ bats appear to be heating up. Andrew McCutchen and Mike Brosseau each homered in Milwaukee’s 5-4 victory over Toronto on Saturday. McCutchen’s sixth homer of the season helped stake Milwaukee to a 4-0 lead early, and Brosseau’s fourth homer made it 5-0.

Josh Hader allowed a run but earned his 22nd save.

The Brewers received some good news on the injury front.

Kolten Wong homered in his first at-bat with the Timber Rattlers as part of his rehab assignment with a calf injury. Wong is expected to join the Brewers in Tampa on Tuesday for their series with the Rays.

Also, right-hander Brandon Woodruff (5-3, 3.74) is scheduled to start against the Rays on Tuesday night. Woodruff is coming back from an ankle sprain and a bout with Reynaud’s syndrome – a circulatory disorder that caused numbness in Woodruff’s three middle fingers – and has been sorely missed.

It will be Woodruff’s first start since May 27. The Brewers currently are without starters Freddy Peralta (60-day IL) and Ashby, who also is on the IL.

Speaking of the IL, outfielder Hunter Renfroe was placed on the 10-day list with a left calf strain. The Brewers recalled Pablo Reyes from Triple-A Nashville.

Brewers-Cards split series – what’s new?

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Cardinals and Brewers appear dead set on making the NL Central race a dead heat through the dog days of summer and beyond.

Milwaukee moved back into a first-place tie atop the division with a 6-4 victory over St. Louis in Thursday afternoon’s “getaway game” at American Family Field. Tyrone Taylor’s three-home run home and great pitching in key spots did the trick.

The Brewers and Cardinals have split the 12 games they’ve played to this point. Milwaukee is at St. Louis for a three-game series Aug. 12-13-14 and a two-game set on Sept. 13-14. The Cardinals are at Milwaukee for two games Sept. 27-28.

“It’s reflected in the 12 games we’ve played that we’re pretty evenly matched and it’s going to be tight all the way,” Counsell said.

The Brewers’ decision to have Lorenzo Cain designated for assignment was prompted by the right-handed hitter’s .176 batting average.

Milwaukee needed to add a productive right-handed bat to its lineup, so by moving Cain the Brewers freed up at-bats for Taylor – the starting center fielder until further notice – and veteran Andrew McCutchen.

The Brewers’ most glaring weakness when compared to the National League’s top teams is its difficulty defeating left-handed starting pitchers. Milwaukee is 29-19 against right-handers, which is among the NL’s best, but only 11-13 vs. lefties.

No other MLB team that currently is in first or second place in their division owns a losing record against left-handed starters.

The Mets (45-26) are 30-16 against righties and 15-10 versus lefties. The Dodgers (43-25) are 29-17 versus righties and 14-8 versus lefties. The Padres (44-28) are 27-20 versus righties and 17-8 against lefties.

Even St. Louis is 8-6 against left-handed starters.

It’s why Milwaukee needs Adames’ bat to stay hot, and Taylor to continue to provide power at the plate. McCutchen has been a .300-plus hitter the past month, so look for more plate appearances to sharpen his batting eye even further.

The Brewers’ lineup is really beginning to take shape.

It appears Christian Yelich has found a home in the leadoff spot, Adames is heating up and Rowdy Tellez has been solid at the plate all season.

The Brewers’ back end of the bullpen also is back in form. Brad Boxberger, Devin Williams and Josh Hader reduce most games to a six-inning affair. On Thursday they pitched a combined 3 1/3 innings scoreless innings while allowing one hit and one walk with four strikeouts. Hader recorded his 21st save.

The Brewers also got some timely hitting.

It isn’t that they need to go get a bat. They just need the right-handed sluggers they have (Adames, McCutchen, Taylor and Luis Urias) to deliver.

The Brewers’ pitching staff got a shot to the arm when right-hander Brandon Woodruff’s start in his rehab assignment with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers went well on Thursday night. Woodruff retired the first 12 hitters he faced. He allowed two hits and a walk while striking out seven in five innings.

Woodruff’s only mistake was a pitch that Quad Cities’ catcher Kale Emshoff hit for his 10th home run of the season. Woodruff is close to returning to Milwaukee.

That would provide a major boost to the rotation.

On Thursday, the Brewers (40-32) turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead on Taylor’s blast off right-hander Dakota Hudson in the fourth inning. It was Taylor’s eighth home run of the season, and the first off Hudson (5-4) in 46 1/3 innings.

The Cardinals (40-32) have now lost five of their last eight. The good news is they get the Chicago Cubs for a weekend series.

Meantime, Jason Alexander (2-0) continues to impress by keeping the Brewers in games. Alexander scattered six hits over 5 2/3 innings while walking two, striking out five and yielding four earned runs.

Alexander, 29, lowered his earned-run average to 3.21 with the win.

“We stuck to it today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters. “You have to do everything right in these games to beat good teams. We did some things wrong today but we kept at it and did enough things right the last six innings to get a (victory).”

Willy Adames tagged on a home run in the fifth to make it 5-3. It was Adames’ team-leading 15th home run.

The Brewers will continue their home-stand against Toronto (39-30) on Friday night. It will be Adrian Houser (4-7, 4.24 ERA) starting for Milwaukee against the Blue Jays’ right-hander Alek Manoah (8-2, 2.00).

Brewers’ Burnes deals Cards a 2-0 shutout

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Brewers’ Corbin Burnes is the reigning Cy Young Award winner because of overpowering outings like the one he spun in Monday night’s 2-0 victory over St. Louis at American Family Field.

The Cardinals scraped out just two hits against the Brewers’ ace while being blanked in Game 1 of a four-game series between the NL Central Division rivals.

The Brewers (39-30) moved into sole possession of first place with the win, but with 93 games to play Burnes knows there’s still a long way to go.

“I try not to make any game bigger than it is,” Burnes said Monday night. “It’s still mid-to-end June, playing baseball. We’ve still got a lot of games left. If you start making one game bigger than the other, you start putting extra pressure on yourself and start trying to do too much.”

Burnes (5-4) surrendered both hits to Juan Yepez – a two-out double in the second and a two-out single in the seventh – while walking two and striking out 10. Aside from Yepez’s success he was practically untouchable. He needed 108 pitches (70 for strikes) to keep an explosive St. Louis lineup at bay.

The heart of St. Louis’ order – Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Nolan Gorman – went a combined 0-for-11 with six strikeouts. That’s the 3, 4 and 5 hitter on a Cardinals squad with World Series aspirations.

“I thought Corbin was as good as we’ve seen him this year,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters after the game.

Burnes is fast-becoming a Cardinals killer.

In two starts against St. Louis this season, he has 21 strikeouts in 14 scoreless innings with four hits and three walks. According to the Associated Press, Burnes featured a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings against St. Louis last season.

“His stuff’s electric,” St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol said. “We know it is.”

The Brewers lost eight straight games when weak hitting, shoddy defense and injuries to their starting rotation (Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta) conspired to seal their fate.

Since then they have bounced back to win six of eight going into tonight’s Game 2 of the four-game set.

Aaron Ashby, the Brewers’ scheduled starter for tonight’s game, was placed on the 15-day IL with left forearm inflammation on Monday. Milwaukee hasn’t announced a starter yet to replace Ashby.

St. Louis will counter with right-hander Jack Flaherty (0-0, 0.00 ERA) tonight. The series continues with a 7:10 p.m. game Wednesday night and the Thursday “getaway game” with the first pitch set for 1:10 p.m.

The Cardinals (38-31) got a strong outing from right-hander Miles Mikolas (5-5) who allowed the two-run home run to Taylor while striking out three and walking two in his 6 1/3 innings of work.

Mikolas’ outing was especially impressive in that it came on the heels of a 129-pitch performance in which he came within one strike of throwing a no-hitter.

Mikolas didn’t get any support Monday night thanks to Burnes, Devin Williams and Josh Hader. Williams pitched a scoreless eighth inning for his 16th hold, and Hader allowed a single but no runs in the ninth to record his 20th save.

It got more interesting in the ninth than Brewers fans might’ve preferred when Brendan Donovan reached on an infield hit to open the inning. However, Donovan made a base-running blunder by trying to advance to second on a pitch that rolled away from catcher Omar Narvaez. Narvaez pounced on the baseball, fired to second and Luis Urias delivered an excellent tag to erase Donovan.

Donovan’s decision was misguided with sluggers Goldschmidt and Arenado due up representing the tying run.

Hader was reinstated off the paternity list on Monday after his wife, Maria, gave birth to their first child, Lucas Alexander.

Taylor, who will be patrolling center field more frequently in the wake of Lorenzo Cain’s designation for assignment, drove in Keston Hiura with his seventh homer.

Each team only had one hit before Hiura’s single and Taylor’s blast in the fifth.

On another front, right-hander Brandon Woodruff is scheduled to make a rehab appearance on Thursday for the Brewers’ Class A affiliate in Appleton. Woodruff was placed on the injured list three weeks ago with an ankle injury, but is since dealing with Raynaud’s syndrome, which causes restricted blood flow to the three middle fingers. Woodruff was outstanding in his brief appearance at Triple-A Nashville Saturday night, when he went 2 2/3 innings while striking out seven of the eight batters he faced. He threw 37 of his 51 pitches for strikes.

Brewers on to Cincy

after 5-4 loss to Mets

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Rowdy Tellez could’ve made a much better throw to second. Anybody other than Brent Suter would’ve been a better option in the eighth. Hunter Renfroe should’ve been held at third base.

Could’ve, would’ve and should’ve doesn’t cut it against most teams.

It certainly didn’t cut it against the Mets in the Brewers’ 5-4 loss Thursday night in the series finale at Citi Field.  With both starting pitchers out of the game early for health reasons, it was up to the bats, the bullpens and the defense to settle the issue.

With the Brewers’ bats struggling mightily despite Wednesday’s 10-2 win, and Josh Hader on the paternity list, Milwaukee was decidedly short-handed.

The result wasn’t surprising so much as who committed the Brewers’ costly eighth-inning error – the normally sure-handed Tellez – that led to the Mets’ winning run.

Tellez tried to get a force play at second but threw wildly into left field. It allowed J.D. Davis to advance to third base, where he later scored on a fielder’s choice ground out. A dejected Tellez shouldered the blame.

“It was a play that I make 1,000 out of 1,000 times and I got lazy and I cost my team the win,” he told reporters. “And that’s something that I’m going to have to roll with. I messed up.”

The Mets (42-23) improve to 20-9 at Citi Field. The Brewers (35-30) trail the NL Central-leading Cardinals (37-28) by two games after Thursday’s loss.

The Brewers’ other impactful play was Renfroe being thrown out at home plate with one out in the ninth inning. Christian Yelich, who subsequently struck out, was on deck. Yelich homered earlier in the game to give Milwaukee a 1-0 lead.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell defended third base coach Jason Lane’s decision to send Renfroe. To the Mets’ credit it took a perfect relay to nail Renfroe.

Renfroe singled to open the ninth against the Mets’ closer, Edwin Diaz. After a strikeout, pinch-hitter Tyrone Taylor hit a double into shallow right field and Renfroe tried to score from first.

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, whose relay pegged Renfroe, said he anticipated the Brewers to send him.

“You’ve got to go. In their mind, they’ve got to go,” Alonso said of the Brewers’ third base coach. “Renfroe, he’s a really good base runner. He was hauling around the bases and at that point you’ve got to do whatever you can to tie the game.”

Diaz fanned Yelich to end the game and strand Taylor at third.

“It’s my fault we lost,” Tellez said.

Brewers’ starting pitcher Aaron Ashby yielded Mark Canha’s two-run home run in the fifth to tie it at 4-4. One batter later, Ashby exited with left forearm tightness. Ashby told reporters he felt he could’ve continued, but with Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff already on the IL Counsell wasn’t taking any chances.

Speaking of Woodruff, the big right-hander is expected to make a rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Nashville. Woodruff had been experiencing numbness in his middle three fingers of his throwing hand, a symptom of Raynaud’s syndrome.

Counsell told reporters Woodruff would need multiple rehab starts before he returns to the Brewers’ clubhouse.

As an aside, Hader and his wife, Maria, welcomed their first child into the world Wednesday, little Lucas Alexander. The Brewers’ All-Star closer is expected to miss tonight’s game at Cincinnati, but return for the balance of the weekend series.

Eric Lauer (5-2, 3.36 ERA) will start for Milwaukee versus the hard-throwing Hunter Greene for Cincinnati. First pitch is 5:40 at Great America Ballpark.

Greene has lost to the Brewers twice this season, but that was before the right-hander with the 100 mph-plus fastball began finding his control.

“He’s doing a nice job of adapting as the start goes and adjusting to the hitters as they adjust to him,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s pitching. We’ve seen that, really, most of the season now. It continues to be impressive.”

The Brewers tagged him for five home runs earlier this season. But in Greene’s last start, at St. Louis, he yielded just two hits and one run over five-plus innings. He has 15 strikeouts versus two walks over his two most recent starts.

** NBA FINALS: Warriors eliminate Celtics in 6

It was impossible for me not to think, “What might have been with the Bucks?” while watching Golden State eliminate Boston 103-90 Thursday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at TD Garden.

The Warriors’ championship was hard-fought and well-deserved and all that. It also came against a Boston team that knocked out defending champion Milwaukee in significant part due to Khris Middleton’s absence with a knee injury.

If that sounds like sour grapes so be it. If not for Al Horford’s out-of-body Willis Reed impersonation in Game 4 against the Bucks when he scored 30 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out three assists in the Celtics’ 116-108 upset.

In the NBA Finals, the Celtics were no match for Steph Curry and the Warriors, and Golden State would’ve found it difficult (at best) trying to defend NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

But I’m willing to get over it and move on.

Leave it to Las Vegas to post the NBA Finals odds for 2023 as soon as possible following the Warriors’ victory. The line listed the Warriors as the top favorite at 5-1 to win what would be their fifth title in nine years.

The Nets and Celtics are at 6-1 ahead of Milwaukee at 15-2, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers at 8-1, according to Caesar’s Sports Book.

The Bucks being the fourth favorite is going to be Ok with their fans. They will merely see a bigger pay day when Milwaukee wins its second title in three seasons.

 

Brewers halt drought behind Adames’ bat

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers’ 14th-longest losing streak is over.

Willy Adames’ run-scoring double in the third and two-run homer in the fifth helped the Brewers defeat Washington 4-1 Sunday at Nationals Park. The victory mercifully snapped Milwaukee’s eight-game losing streak.

The Brewers (34-28) trail St. Louis (34-27) by one-half game in the NL Central following a miserable stretch of injury and ineptitude since June 2.

Manager Craig Counsell tied Phil Garner for the most managerial wins in franchise history with 563, but he felt more like celebrating a rare victory. He also was pleased to have his shortstop regain his form at the plate.

“He’s gotten off to a slow start since he’s been back from the IL, but those (hot) days are coming,” Counsell said of Adames. “He’s too good a hitter for them not to come.”

Adames, who leads the Brewers with 11 home runs, was mired in a 1-for-16 stretch before his breakout day. Adames had been on the injured list with a sore ankle.

“It’s been a rough time, but it’s a challenge for us as a team,” Adames said. “I’m happy it happened now, not later on.”

The Brewers’ eight-game losing streak was the franchise’s longest since 2015. The Brewers’ longest losing streak was six games in 2021, five games in 2019, seven games in 2018 and six games (twice) in 2017.

History suggests this losing streak will be the Brewers’ lengthiest by far.

Another positive was Andrew McCutchen’s surge at the plate.

McCutchen belted a solo home run in the ninth, his fourth of the season and first since May 21 against the Nationals. He is hitting .407 (11 of 27) in seven games since ending a 1-for-40 slump with his walk-off hit in a 5-4 win over the Padres.

For an afternoon, at least, the Brewers cured what was ailing them.

They got a solid outing from starter Jason Alexander, who scattered seven hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings with two strikeouts. Alexander was followed by a quartet of pitchers (Hoby Milner, Brad Boxberger and Josh Hader) that shut down the Nationals.

Hader pitched the ninth to record his 19th save, while Milner (3-1) went 1 1/3 scoreless innings to get the victory.

The Brewers have Monday off before opening a three-game series with the Mets (40-22) who are a glitzy 19-8 at home.

The probable pitching matchups feature Adrian Houser (3-6, 3.92 ERA) versus right-hander Chris Bassitt (4-4, 4.35) on Tuesday night. It will be Corbin Burnes (3-4, 2.48) versus lefty David Petersen (3-0, 3.00) on Wednesday night, followed by Aaron Ashby (1-5, 3.91) versus Tylor Megill (4-2, 4.50) on Thursday night.

The Brewers are without Kolten Wong (calf strain) and may be without Luis Urias because of hamstring tightness. Counsell said he pulled Urias out in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game due to an abundance of caution.

Urias is said to be day-to-day.

So now the question becomes, “What are your expectations for the Brewers?”

In the wake of an eight-game losing streak that felt like, well, a wake, it’s difficult not to be a prisoner of the moment. Or in this case a prisoner of the month of June.

The Brewers’ bats are about as hit-or-miss as ever, although Rowdy Tellez’s presence and consistency in the heart of the order gives hope. Christian Yelich’s recent surge since being penciled in to bat leadoff also is promising.

Furthermore, Adames and McCutchen – plus the hard-hitting Hunter Renfroe – gives legitimate reason to believe the Brewers’ bats will come to life.

Brandon Woodruff’s return to the rotation can’t come soon enough. Meantime, Aaron Ashby is going to have to keep rolling. It appears Eric Lauer has hit a rough spot, which is Ok so long as it doesn’t linger.

The Mets will be a terrific test for the Brewers.

Have they shaken off the doldrums of the losing streak? Are they ready to step into the batter’s box and battle the Mets’ exceptional pitching?

We’ll begin to get answers starting tomorrow night.

As it stands I’m seeing the Brewers as a wild-card team with a chance to advance in the postseason because of its occasionally dominant, nearly unhittable pitching. If they reach the NL divisional playoffs it’s a reach to see them advancing to the NL championship series, but with the Brewers’ pitching anything is possible.

Packers’ ‘D’ is loaded

and it knows it’s good

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ first three days of mandatory minicamp provided a glimpse into the team’s psyche during this offseason. Here are what consider five “meaningful” takeaways based on early impressions:

** No. 1 – The Packers’ defense is loaded and it knows it.

There isn’t a player on defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s unit that isn’t aware of the defense’s solid reputation from last season. There also isn’t a player that doesn’t know GM Brian Gutekunst devoted ample resources to the defense.

So how was this manifested during minicamp?

The Packers’ defensive players – to a man – didn’t hide from the fact that expectations are running high. The reason to believe the defense’s production will match its potential is twofold:

** The Packers’ defense brings a considerable amount of continuity from a unit that was ascending last season. The re-signing of De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas are at the heart of this observation. Ask yourself, “How could a Packers’ defense be better without Campbell and/or Douglas?” It wouldn’t be better.

The continuity and carryover is critical to the defense’s overall success and its ability to become a dominant, take-over-the-game type of unit.

The fact that Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, Kenny Clark and the rest openly discuss the defense’s potential for dominance should give fans goose-bumps.

The second reason to believe the Packers’ defense may be dominant is the incredibly useful off-season signings. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed is a hardened seventh-year pro who will devour ball-carriers and snaps with equal efficiency. Reed’s mere presence makes first-round pick Devonte Wyatt that much better.

Slot cornerback Keisean Nixon is another valuable addition. He has a history with special teams’ coordinator Rich Bisaccia and he’s a proven cover corner. His presence takes the pressure off Alexander, Eric Stokes and Douglas to do everything, even if their talent suggests they’re eminently capable.

The off-season additions include the draft picks.

Quay Walker at No. 22 and Wyatt at No. 28 are significant talent upgrades. With all due respect to Krys Barnes and the departed Kingsley Keke the first-round picks from Georgia are the real deal.

** No. 2 – The Packers’ offense has embraced a “team” mentality in terms of trying to replace Davante Adams. It is reflected repeatedly during player interviews during which they talk about having to be concerned about their own game, rather than trying to compensate for a player who’s no longer here.

Marcedes Lewis talked at length about the tight end room’s tough-mindedness and determination to be reliable pass catchers and determined blockers both in-line and downfield while projecting a hard edge.

While Robert Tonyan recovers from injury the opportunity exists for others to step up. Tyler Davis is intriguing in that he has the size (6-4, 251) and speed (4.7 40) to go with soft hands and crisp route-running.

Josiah Deguara is the more reliable blocker, and his hands are solid, but he may not be as nifty a route-runner as Davis.

Dominique Dafney rounds out the room. Dafney is a reliable blocker but provides next to nothing in the passing game.

Aaron Rodgers has done a good job of setting the tone in regards to replacing Adams. He talked about the team’s success when Adams wasn’t available, and singled out Aaron Jones as one player who benefited with more touches in Adams’ absence. Rodgers also acknowledged that the Packers will run the football more.

He seemed on board with the fact that head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense is going to change without Adams. It’s going to be more similar to LaFleur’s preferred way to play offense, which is to run the football to set up play-action passes, and to rely on pre-snap misdirection to confuse a defense and identify the best matchups.

Rodgers appears to be all-in on the idea of running the ball more frequently and throwing the football to the running backs.

Those are all positives for an offense moving forward without Adams.

** No. 3 – Rodgers’ presence at the mandatory minicamp was meaningful for a variety of reasons. First, it allowed Packers’ fans to hear their franchise quarterback talk about an array of topics including Adams’ departure, the offense’s evolution and expectations for the fast-approaching season.

Rodgers appears to be in a great place right now, and that bodes well for the Packers.

** No. 4 – Gutekunst and LaFleur are on the same page. That much is readily apparent even in the minicamp practices. The Packers’ overall talent has been upgraded significantly and at key positions (inside linebacker and defensive end) while the transition is underway to massage the offense moving forward.

The young receivers certainly look the part. Christian Watson appears to have overcome the jitters or whatever and has reduced the number of drops. Romeo Doubs looks the part in terms of size, speed and hands.

The defensive players’ athleticism is readily apparent.

The Packers’ defense WILL be faster, stronger and greatly improved.

** No. 5 – Nobody questions the special teams much anymore.

That may be the greatest harbinger of success to this point.

A welcome day off for

road-weary Brewers

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers got a much-needed day off Monday after limping in on the heels of a grueling 18-game, 17-day stretch.

The Brewers haven’t had a day off since May 19.

That was a mere handful of days after the Celtics eliminated the Bucks in Game 7 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals. In other words, it’s been a minute since the Brewers have been able to rest and recover.

And it showed.

The Brewers’ 6-4 loss to San Diego in 10 innings on Sunday at American Family Field punctuated the point. With Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta still in the starting rotation, and Willy Adames and Hunter Renfroe still healthy and hitting, the Brewers opened the 18-game stretch with an impressive 8-4 start.

They finished by losing five of six, including Sunday’s disappointing setback.

Milwaukee (33-23) holds a half-game lead over second-place St. Louis (32-23) in the NL Central. The Cardinals won three of five against the Cubs during a long weekend at Wrigley Field.

Sarcasm would suggest the last thing the Brewers’ bats need is a day off. Aside from one miracle inning in Thursday night’s 5-4 win over San Diego, the Brewers’ offense was non-existent. They were one-hit and shut out 7-0 on Friday night, and blanked again 4-0 on Saturday.

“We’re just in a little stretch where we’re not getting much going (offensively),” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Sunday.

In addition to Adames and Renfroe, the Brewers were also without Omar Narvaez (COVID-19 list) and Luis Urias (sore right thumb). Victor Caratini and Pablo Reyes filled in, respectively, and combined for three hits and a run scored.

However, Reyes’ error at shortstop led to an unearned run during San Diego’s three-run fifth inning.

Eric Lauer started and pitched well for Milwaukee but couldn’t protect a slim 1-0 lead afforded by Kolten Wong’s lead-off home run. Wong blasted a two-run shot in the eighth inning to tie it at 3-3. That stood up until Jake Cronenworth delivered a three-run home run off Trevor Gott in the top of the 10th.

The Brewers battled for a run in the bottom of the 10th on Andrew McCutchen’s RBI single, but the Padres’ Taylor Rogers settled down for his 18th save.

The longer the Brewers struggle offensively, the more likely it is that they’ll be hearing fans advocating for a trade to bring in a high-powered bat. The rumblings have begun already, and understandably so, but is a trade the right decision?

Two possibilities are Boston’s J.D. Martinez and Washington’s Josh Bell. Martinez is hitting an A.L.-best .360 with five home runs. Bell is hitting .309 and also has five home runs.

Martinez, a right-handed hitter, would look nice in the lineup. The problem with that is they already have a “J.D. Martinez” and his name is Andrew McCutchen. Bell, a switch-hitter, can still hit for average although his power is down.

But does it make sense to replace Rowdy Tellez with Bell? Tellez is hitting .249 with a team-leading 10 home runs and 36 RBI.

Not just yet.

The Brewers’ lineup should be more than capable when healthy.

Milwaukee leads the National League with 72 home runs and ranks seventh in runs scored despite mustering just nine runs in the past four games.

The Brewers went 3-4 when they scored just 19 runs (an average of 2.7). That was because the terrific pitching bailed out the weak hitting, but with Woodruff and Peralta down that’s going to be less frequent.

Milwaukee ranks 13th in batting average (.230) and strikeouts (502), and is just 10th in the NL in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

When Adames, Renfroe, Narvaez and Urias are available the Brewers’ lineup is considerably more potent. It’s going to be up to Counsell to navigate this upcoming stretch while awaiting the return of those big bats.

On Tuesday, Milwaukee opens a three-game set against Philadelphia with right-hander Jason Alexander (0-0, 2.57 ERA) facing Phillies left-hander Ranger Suarez (4-3, 4.69) in the opener.

 

Brewers break out in big 9th to edge Padres

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If anybody enjoyed Milwaukee’s 9th-inning comeback as much as Jace Peterson, who drilled the game-tying triple, or Andrew McCutchen, who singled to drive in the winning run, it was Brewers catcher Alex Hall.

Hall celebrated with his new teammates in the Brewers’ dugout after Milwaukee capped a thrilling 5-4 victory over San Diego. The Padres led 4-1 entering the ninth but Keston Hiura’s single and consecutive hit batters loaded the bases for Peterson, who promptly cleared them with a triple off the center-field wall.

The slumping McCutchen, who was 0-for-32 before the at-bat, rifled a base hit up the middle to send Peterson home with the winning run.

So who is Alex Hall?

Hall is a 22-year-old catching prospect with the Timber Rattlers, the Brewers’ Class A affiliate in Appleton. When Omar Narvaez was placed on the COVID-19 injured list hours before Thursday night’s game at American Family Field, the catching-thin big-league club called him up.

It wasn’t about ability as much as proximity.

The other catcher named Alex – Alex Jackson – had a cup of coffee with the Brewers earlier this season. But Jackson is with Triple-A Nashville, which isn’t nearly as close to Milwaukee as the hop-skip from Appleton.

Hall initially thought he was being pranked by a “fake” call-up.

“I thought everyone was just messing with me,” he told reporters after the game. “(Brewers minor league director) Tom Flanagan tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Can we have a word?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, this can’t be good.’ Then we went into the office and (T-Rats manager) Joe Ayrault was on FaceTime and he just said that I’d evaded COVID for this long and one of ours has gone down and I have to go fill in.”

Hall told reporters he called his family in Australia to give them the good news while he was driving to Milwaukee. Even they doubted him at first, also believing (like he had) that it was a prank.

Hall arrived in time for the game and spent the evening in the dugout. On Friday, he was headed back to reality and Appleton, but it was an eventful 24 hours.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell was thrilled with the win and happy for Hall.

“Hopefully, he enjoyed the day,” Counsell said. “A fun win for him … he’s got a story to tell.”

So did McCutchen, whose on-field, post-game interview with Brewers’ broadcast and digital content director Sophia Minnaert was priceless.

He joked with Minnaert about reminding him of the “0-for-32” slump, but then got a touch emotional while thanking the fans for supporting him during the drought.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for their support.”

The remaining fans at Am-Fam responded with an appreciative applause.

Peterson said he wasn’t surprised McCutchen came through in the clutch.

“He’s had great at-bats the whole trip,” Peterson said. “Then again today, he had some really good at-bats without getting a hit but he came up big in that situation and got it done. That’s what he does. We don’t expect anything less from him.”

Meantime, Hall wasn’t the Brewers’ only newcomer Thursday night.

Right-hander Peter Strzelecki made his big-league debut by pitching two innings in relief to earn his first major league win. Strzelecki allowed one run and two hits while walking two and striking out three.

Counsell was impressed by Strzelecki’s debut.

“He did a really nice job,” Counsell said of Strzelecki. “He gets through two innings and gave us a shot. It’s a day when we kind of put our bullpen back in order and the two innings from Pete were a big reason for that.”

San Diego left-hander Sean Manaea and the Brewers’ Adrian Houser were locked in a pitcher’s duel early. Manaea had eight strikeouts over six innings, while Houser racked up five Ks while allowing a run through five innings.

Brent Suter got roughed up in relief, but the Brewers’ bats bailed him out.

In what shapes up to be another pitcher’s duel, the Brewers will start right-handed ace Corbin Burnes (3-2, 1.95 ERA) versus the Padres’ Joe Musgrove, who has allowed one run with 11 strikeouts in 13 innings over his last two outings.

 

Milwaukee (33-20) holds a three-game lead in the NL Central over second-place St. Louis (29-22) following the Cardinals’ loss to the Cubs on Thursday night.

Brewers sweep Cubs,

dominate 1-run games

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It is no surprise that Brewers fans ardently love their team.

Milwaukee’s win-loss record in one-run games since 2018 is simply amazing. The Brewers are 104-61 in the single-run thrillers during that span. That’s a .630 winning percentage in games where the outcome can be decided in a single at-bat.

Brewers fans are used to one of three outcomes: the Brewers win by two-plus runs and it’s a great day at the ballpark; the Brewers win a one-run thriller and it’s even better; the Brewers lose and the margin of defeat is irrelevant.

Consider that almost 65 percent of the time the Brewers have been in a one-run game the past four-plus seasons they WIN! The Brewers are currently 12-4 in one-run games this season, including Monday’s doubleheader at Chicago.

The Brewers got the Cubs 7-6 in the first game of Sunday’s split-doubleheader at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee completed the sweep with a 3-1 victory on the strength of Aaron Ashby’s pitching masterpiece.

Ashby (1-3) allowed two hits, two walks and Willson Contreras’ home run while striking out 12 through six-plus dominant innings. The left-hander overpowered Cubs’ hitters throughout a windswept evening at Wrigley.

It was Ashby’s finest performance in the big leagues, and is timely in that he’s replacing Freddy Peralta (right shoulder sprain) in the rotation until further notice.

Brad Boxberger entered the seventh with the bases loaded but struck out Nico Hoerner and induced Andrelton Simmons to bounce into an inning-ending doublep play. Ashby’s 12 strikeouts are the most by a Brewers pitcher against the Cubs since Corbin Burnes fanned 15 in August of last season.

“This is what we think Aaron is going to be,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said after the game. “He’s throwing the ball real well and he’s just got big-time stuff.”

Ashby had high praise for his teammates’ defense, especially outfielder Tyrone Taylor, whose amazing catch might’ve been the game-saver.

“I owe guys something,” Ashby said after the game. “I owe them steak dinners or something. …Tyrone with that unbelievable catch (and) an awesome job by ‘Box’ getting the strikeout and the ground ball.”

Josh Hader was perfect, again, by recording his 18th save in as many tries.

“I’ve been pretty fresh this month, so I felt like I was able to do it and I bounce back pretty well,” Hader said. “Give it a go, you know, and see what happens from there.”

In addition to Taylor’s fancy glove work he slugged home runs in both ends of the doubleheader. Luis Urias lined a three-run home run in the left-center basket to give Milwaukee a 7-6 lead in the seventh of the opener. The Brewers trailed 4-2 when Taylor drilled a two-run shot in the sixth.

Taylor’s solo shot in the eighth made it 3-1 in Game 2.

Taylor has been red-hot and is enjoying every at-bat of it. He is 10 for 31 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his last nine games, all on the current road trip. The Brewers are 6-3 on the 10-day, 11-game trip and have guaranteed that they’ll return to American Family Field no worse than 6-5.

“Every day playing baseball is fun, man,” he said. “It was a fun day. … a long day but a fun day.”

The Brewers (32-18) will start left-hander Eric Lauer tonight as he looks to notch a third straight winning start. The Brewers are on a three-game winning streak and lead the NL Central by four games over second-place St. Louis (27-21).

Lauer (5-1, 2.31 ERA) has been pitching well since last season. He has surrendered more than two runs just twice in eight starts.

“Everything has just been so much more consistent – so much more over the plate,” Lauer said in an interview with MLB Network. “Things are happening better. Things are just more controllable – and I think that’s been a big key for me this year.”

Lauer simplified and refined his delivery.

There is less motion and fewer moving parts, which leads to the consistency.

The Brewers need Lauer to continue pitching strong and Ashby to ride the momentum from his outstanding start Monday night. That’s especially true with right-hander Brandon Woodruff on the 15-day IL with a high right ankle sprain.

Justin Steele (1-5, 5.40) will start for the Cubs. Steele was hammered in the Cubs’ 20-5 loss at Cincinnati last week. The left-hander had been pitching well during his previous three starts leading up to that disaster.

The Brewers’ Christian Yelich is 3-for-6 against Steele and hopes to break out of his 5-for-35 (.143) slump during the road trip.

Hader to the rescue as Brewers tip Cards 4-3

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Brewers are winning with a next-player-up mentality.

They opened a four-game series at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium Thursday night by getting to veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright early in a 4-3 victory. The win was Milwaukee’s third straight and upped its lead to 4 ½ games over the second-place Cardinals in the NL Central.

Tyrone Taylor drove in a run for the seventh straight game and Luis Urias homered to lead the Brewers’ offense. The hot-hitting Taylor has been filling in for Hunter Renfroe, who is out with a pulled hamstring. Urias also has been really good at shortstop and at the plate while Willy Adames recovers from an ankle injury.

On Wednesday, Aaron Ashby started in place of the injured Freddy Peralta and pitched well enough to put the Brewers in position for a 2-1 win at San Diego. Peralta is on the injured list until at least mid-August with a shoulder injury.

Ashby, a hard-throwing left-hander, is a terrific option under the circumstances.

And while All-Star closer Josh Hader was absent to be with his wife as she dealt with complications during her pregnancy, bullpen mate Devin Williams notched a pair of saves while appearing in a career-first three straight games.

In addition to all of those positive responses, the day’s best news was that the expectant mom was doing much better, in fact well enough for Hader to return to the Brewers in time to rejoin the bullpen for the four-game series at St. Louis.

Hader responded by tap-dancing out of a jam in the ninth inning to record his 16th save in 16 tries and an incredible 37th straight scoreless appearance.

“They definitely made me work and I had to grind for some pitches,” Hader said. “Fastball wasn’t locating the way I like it to, but at the end of the day I made the pitches when I needed to.”

Hader allowed a leadoff single to Tommy Edman to open the ninth. He issued a one-out walk to Nolan Arenado before inducing Albert Pujols – who represented the winning run – to pop out foul, and then Juan Yepez to pop out as well.

It was Hader’s 30th consecutive converted save opportunity.

The fire-balling left-hander hasn’t allowed a run since July of last season.

Left-handed starter Eric Lauer marveled at Hader’s exploits.

“We only play eight innings,” he said. “When you’ve got a guy that’s that good at the back end, the end of the game doesn’t seem like the end of the game. It’s like it’s already over, almost.”

The Brewers (29-16) have won seven of their last 10. They will try to build upon their 15-10 road record tonight when right-hander Brandon Woodruff (5-2) goes for his third straight win and second of the season over St. Louis.

Lauer (5-1) gave up two runs on four hits in the first two innings. After that he was perfect aside from issuing a walk. He struck out one and walked four while throwing a whopping 96 pitches over five innings.

“It was like two different games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Lauer. “I think he was at 58 pitches through two and only gives up two runs. Then he was very, very good the next three innings.”

The diminutive Urias belted his fourth home run with one out in the first. One out later Andrew McCutchen smacked a single and scored on Taylor’s hit. Christian Yelich, who had two hits, drove in a run in the second inning.

McCutchen added an RBI in the fourth. It was enough to stop Wainwright (5-4) from winning his fourth straight outing. The Brewers tagged Wainwright for 10 hits and four runs in five innings with three of those runs coming with two outs.

Brewers lose to Nats,

Peralta lands on IL

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers are off to their finest start in franchise history.

The Brewers (26-15) are on pace to win 104 games and shatter the single-season record of 96 wins set in 2011 and equaled in 2018. They didn’t let up by winning four of six against the Braves and Nationals on their recent six-game home stand.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is it’s an incredibly long season and injuries are part of the deal. The most recent injury is to starting pitcher Freddy Peralta’s right shoulder.

Peralta (3-2) started Sunday but exited with shoulder tightness in the fourth inning. Brewers manager Craig Counsell indicated Peralta would undergo an MRI on Monday and be placed on the IL.

“Hopefully, it’s nothing that big or crazy, but it’s part of the game,” Peralta said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Brewers’ catcher Omar Narvaez noticed early on that Peralta wasn’t quite right.

“I thought in the second inning, he didn’t’ have the same life on his fastball,” Narvaez told reporters. “In the third inning, I went out to see how he felt. I asked him how he was feeling and he said he was a little tight. I told him there’s no point this early in the season trying to be the hero.”

While Peralta remained in Milwaukee to be evaluated, the Brewers embarked on an 11-game, 10-day road trip which begins tonight at San Diego.

The Brewers and Padres (27-14) play a three-game series in San Diego before Milwaukee travels to St. Louis to face the NL Central Division’s second-place Cardinals (23-18) in a four-game set. The road trip wraps up with four games (including a doubleheader) against the Cubs (16-24) at Wrigley Field.

It’s a daunting stretch made more difficult by Peralta’s absence. The 2021 All-Star came into Sunday’s game having allowed just one run over 12 2/3 innings during his previous two starts.

Adrian Houser (3-4, 3.22) will start Monday night’s game at San Diego. The Padres will counter with 31-year-old right-hander Nick Martinez (2-2, 3.89) in Game 1.

Brewers’ left-hander Aaron Ashby is one possibility to fill Peralta’s spot in the rotation. Ashby has been dominant during his two most recent appearances and will have several days to “stretch out” his arm for starting duty.

Milwaukee must rely on its hitting if it hopes to go 6-5 or better on the road trip.

The Brewers currently have 55 home runs to lead the National League. The defending World Series champion Braves are second with 52. Milwaukee also is second in stolen bases (28) and fifth in runs scored among NL teams.

The Brewers’ pitching has been strong throughout.

Milwaukee ranks first in all of baseball with 417 strikeouts as a staff. Their 3.46 earned-run average ranks fourth in the NL.

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer and Houser have pitched really well, while the middle relief has been consistently good and the set-up man (Devin Williams) and the closer (Josh Hader) have been lights out.

The Brewers sit atop the NL Central with a three-game lead over St. Louis, while the Cubs and Pirates (both 14-26) are tied for third. The last-place Reds are 12-28.

Brewers edge Braves

on Hiura’s HR in 11th

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the course of 162 games Brewers manager Craig Counsell may find his post-game media obligations to be a bit tedious at times.

How often can one manager praise his pitchers’ exploits – from the starters to Josh Hader and everyone in between – while explaining his hitters’ dry spells?

It can be redundant.

What never gets old is talking about late-game heroics and big-time rallies.

The Brewers got both in a thrilling 7-6 victory over Atlanta in Wednesday afternoon’s “getaway game” at American Family Field.

“It was just a great team win,” Counsell said. “We had a lot of guys who came up clutch and had great at-bats in big spots, and Keston (Hiura) topped it off.”

Milwaukee trailed 4-0 after three innings but closed it to 4-3 entering the ninth. Kolton Wong, who was 0-for-4 to that point, was down to his last strike with two outs when he lined an RBI triple into right to send the game into extra innings.

The Braves took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th, but the Brewers tied it on Hunter Renfroe’s sacrifice fly. Then the Braves took a 6-5 lead in the top of the 11th to set the stage for Hiura’s heroics.

Hiura had been recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday and was hitting eighth and playing first base. He was hitless when he stepped to the plate to face Atlanta’s Jesse Chavez with automatic runner Jace Peterson on second in the 11th.

That’s when he celebrated his return to the big leagues by belting a Chavez sinker over the fence in dead center to claim the walk-off win.

It was the first time this season the Brewers rallied from a four-run deficit to win. Thanks to Wong’s ninth-inning triple it also was the first time Braves closer Kenley Jansen blew a save this season in 10 appearances. It also was the first time the former Dodgers’ closer blew a save against Milwaukee.

Hiura was hitting .216 with two home runs when he was sent down in early May. He made the most of it by hitting .421 with three home runs and 10 RBI in just 19 at-bats with Nashville.

Hiura said he was battling the flu and didn’t get much sleep Tuesday night.

“I tossed and turned last night,” he said.

It was the second walk-off home run of Hiura’s career. His other walk-off homer came in a 5-3, 10-inning victory over the Cubs on July 27, 2019.

The Brewers (24-14) improve to 12-5 at American Family Field. The NL Central Division leaders hold a 3 ½-game edge over second place St. Louis (20-17) as they are off today before hosting Washington (13-26) in a three-game weekend series.

The Brewers’ rally featured some outstanding at-bats.

Wong’s may have been the best. He was down 0-2 before working the count full against Jansen, one of the game’s top closers, and drilling the game-tying triple.

“A great piece of hitting by Kolten Wong,” said Jansen, who accepted the blame for walking Peterson to open the door for the Brewers’ rally.

Wong said the Brewers were in no mood to lose the three-game series. The defending World Series champs blanked the Brewers, 3-0, on Tuesday. That came after Milwaukee bested Atlanta, 1-0, in Monday’s opener.

“We wanted to fight,” Wong said. “I feel like that was something we hadn’t done this year, was continue to fight all nine innings. That was an awesome team win.”

Milwaukee’s Trevor Kelley (1-0) notched his first big-league win.

Atlanta (17-21) had taken a 4-0 lead on back-to-back home runs by Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna after two outs in the third against Corbin Burnes. The Brewers sliced it to 4-2 on RBI singles by Tyrone Taylor and Rowdy Tellez in the fourth. Mike Brosseau’s two-out RBI double in the sixth made it 4-3.

Braves starter Max Fried had given up just four runs in 31 innings pitched against Milwaukee dating back to last season, including the playoffs. On Wednesday, the Brewers tagged Fried, a lefty, for seven hits and three runs in six innings.

On Friday night, Eric Lauer (3-1, 260 ERA) will start for Milwaukee against right-hander Erick Fedde (2-2, 4.24) for the Nationals.

Bucks’ title defense falls short in Boston

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The odds against the Bucks winning Sunday’s Game 7 at Boston were much greater than the five points they were getting from Las Vegas.

They needed that and another 24 points from Khris Middleton to advance, but with the Bucks’ All-Star guard still sidelined with a sprained MCL there was nobody coming to bail them out.

The Celtics’ 109-81 blowout of the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals’ decisive game illustrated the toll an extremely physical best-of-seven series took on a shorthanded Milwaukee team.

Not that anyone feels sorry for the NBA’s defending champions. The Mavericks took it a step further in the Western Conference semifinals later Sunday by blowing out the Suns in Phoenix.

It will be an all-new NBA Finals matchup featuring the Celtics and Warriors after they dispatch the Heat and Mavs, respectively.

For the Bucks trying to win a third game at Boston was too much to ask.

Grant Williams poured in a career-high 27 points and keyed a Celtics’ defense that literally wore out Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jayson Tatum added 23 points and Jaylen Brown tossed in 19 as the second-seeded Celtics advanced.

Tatum made five 3-pointers and Payton Pritchard added four as the Celtics shot an amazing 22-for-55 from beyond the arc. They outscored the Bucks 66-12 (Milwaukee was just 4-for-33) on 3-point shots. Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughton got plenty of good looks but combined to shoot 0-for-11 on 3s.

The Celtics were the better team throughout the series. They now advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in six seasons. They haven’t reached the NBA Finals since 2010 but are looking to change that against the Heat.

Right now Boston appears to be the best team still standing in the playoffs.

The Bucks opened an early 10-3 lead but the Celtics dominated the rest of the way in Sunday’s decisive game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer made no excuses.

“They were the better team in a seven-game series,” he said of Boston.

Clearly, Middleton’s absence was a factor in the series’ outcome, but the Celtics also had injury issues to deal with.

“Every team goes through something,” Budenholzer said. “Nobody feels sorry for us. It’s the age-old equation: You’ve got to have good players; you’ve got to be a little lucky; and you’ve got to be healthy. You need all of these things to be successful in the playoffs. I’ve heard it a million times. We weren’t as healthy as we could have been, but nobody cares.”

The Celtics’ focus was taking and making 3-point shots by the barrel full and using every opportunity to push, shove and lean on Giannis throughout.

A weary Antetokounmpo scored a team-high 25 points, but he shot just 10 of 26 from the floor, including misses on six of seven attempts in the fourth quarter.  He finished with 20 rebounds and nine assists, but couldn’t do it alone.

“I felt like we started grinding him down,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “He missed some of the easier shots around the basket. That’s what we talked about. It’s not just one guy (guarding him). We stuck with that.”

Holiday finished with 21 points and Bobby Portis came off the bench to score 10 points, while Brook Lopez had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

A disappointed Antetokounmpo said he wouldn’t have changed anything about his approach. He just kept playing as hard as possible to final buzzer.

“I’d rather miss a bunch of shots and keep playing, keep coming and keep being aggressive … than to go into passive mode,” he said. “I can live with that. I can live with giving everything for a game. Shots that I usually make weren’t going in. But that’s basketball. That’s sports. … You’ve just got to live with it.”

Last season, Giannis led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years while being voted Finals MVP.

This postseason the Bucks tried to survive without Middleton, but ultimately his absence severely limited Milwaukee’s 3-point shooting and depth. Giannis and Holiday gamely tried to overcome his absence, but it was all in vain.

Giannis played 43 minutes Sunday, including the entire second half until the game was out of reach. Afterward, he was asked if his legs felt heavy down the stretch.

“Legs heavy, body heavy, mind heavy,” he replied. “Everything was heavy.”

Giannis averaged 29.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists in the seven-game series. He scored 40 or more points three times and had 20 rebounds twice.

He is the first player in NBA history to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series.

Budenholzer had nothing but love for his MVP.

“The way Giannis evolved throughout this series, the way Giannis played against a very good defensive team, against a lot of good individual defenders, was like another one of those growth moments, growth opportunities,” Budenholzer said. “I thought he was phenomenal. His scoring, his attacking, his playmaking, his unselfishness … I was beyond impressed.”

Now, the Bucks must watch while another team hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and they prepare to get back to the NBA Finals next season.

Bucks’ epic rally puts

Celtics in a 3-to-2 hole

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was as improbable as it was enjoyable.

The Milwaukee Bucks rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Boston 110-107 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Bucks are nine wins away from a successful title defense while grabbing a 3-2 lead in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference playoff semifinal.

Jrue Holiday’s defense, Bobby Portis’ rebounding and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s over-arching dominance were enough to silence the Celtics’ premature celebration.

To those boisterous, boohooing Boston fans I say: Jrue you!

On a day when the Bucks mourned the passing of Hall of Fame great Bob Lanier at age 73, they turned in a performance worthy of The Dobber’s greatness.

Trailing 105-99 with 42.4 seconds to play the Bucks got back-to-back 3-point shots from Giannis and Holiday to tie it at 105. Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who scored a team-high 34 points, hit two free throws with 31.1 seconds to make it 107-105 and set up a wild finish.

Antetokounmpo drew a foul with 14.2 seconds and converted the first of two free throws to make it 107-106. He missed the second but Portis got the offensive rebound and scored to make it 108-107.

That’s when Holiday’s defense took control.

The Celtics’ Marcus Smart tried to retake the lead but Holiday blocked his driving shot and threw the ball off Smart and out-of-bounds to give the Bucks the ball. The Celtics fouled Pat Connaughton with 6.6 seconds to play.

After Connaughton made both free throws to make it 110-107 Smart pushed the ball up the court, but Holiday stripped him at midcourt and it was game over.

Holiday’s back-to-back defense stops preserved a most unlikely victory.

Now, the NBA’s defending champions can eliminate Boston in Friday night’s Game 6 at Fiserv Forum.

“Obviously, in Boston you’re down 14 in the fourth quarter, people would say everything’s against us. But we come together,” Holiday said. “We live and die like that.”

Antetokounmpo was outstanding … again.

He finished with a game-high 40 points, including the key 3-point shot late, to get the Bucks one win away from their third trip to the Eastern Conference finals in the past four seasons.

Portis was clutch, too.

He came off the bench to score 14 points and grab a game-high 15 rebounds, including the most important one off Antetokounmpo’s missed free throw.

Holiday had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

He also was the defensive catalyst as the Bucks outscored the Celtics 33-21 in the fourth quarter. It was a total reversal of the Bucks’ Game 4 loss in which Boston routed the Bucks 43-28 in the final quarter to get the win.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer sang Holiday’s praises afterward. He singled out the play in which Holiday stripped Smart, grabbed the ball and threw it off the Celtics’ player and out-of-bounds to retain possession.

“Just a great instinctive play by Jrue,” Budenholzer said. “He’s a winner. Jrue Holiday’s a winner. You ask any player in this league or any coach in this league. He’s a winner.”

Milwaukee finally found its 3-point shooting eye after struggling in the series. The Bucks drilled 13 of 29 (44.8 percent) from beyond the arc, compared to 10-of-31 (32.3 percent) for the Celtics.

That the Bucks came all the way back to win is fairly amazing.

The Celtics had more assists (25-22), steals (6-5), blocks (7-5), points in the paint (50-44) and fast-break points (19-14). They also committed three fewer turnovers.

And the Bucks still won.

Afterward, the TNT analysts finally acknowledged Giannis’ greatness, Holiday’s defense and the Bucks’ heart of a champion.

The Bucks had 17 offensive rebounds to Boston’s five and scored nine of their 20 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. The most critical of the second-chance points came when Portis gathered Antetokounmpo’s missed free throw and scored to give Milwaukee a 108-107 lead.

“Growing up as a kid, I really wasn’t very skilled or really had one thing I really did well,” Portis said. “I was always like a jack of all trades, did everything good but nothing great. My mom always told me as a kid just to be a garbage man. Being a garbage man is if you want scoring opportunities and you’re not getting the ball passed to you, you go get the ball on the offensive glass. That’s one thing my mom always taught me. Shout-out to my mom on that.”

For that great advice, and the gift of Bobby Portis, Bucks fans everywhere are forever grateful to Tina Edwards.

Bucks eyeing 3-1 lead;

Brewers visiting Reds

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Bucks are 10 wins away from successfully defending their NBA championship. The roadblock known as the Boston Celtics have other ideas, beginning with tonight’s pivotal Game 4 at Fiserv Forum.

A Bucks’ victory would give them a daunting 3-1 edge going back to Boston. A Celtics’ win would restore their home-court advantage and essentially reduce what’s been a bruising best-of-7 series to a best-of-3.

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 42 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out eight assists in Milwaukee’s narrow 103-101 victory in Saturday afternoon’s Game 3 at Fiserv Forum.

The Game 3 winner has gone on to capture the series 77 percent of the time.

For his part, Giannis does what he does, which is dominate. His 42-point effort was the sixth time he has scored at least 40 points in a playoff game.

“I just try to do whatever is in front of me,” he told reporters. “Play to my strengths as much as possible, and I know what my strengths are. As long as I play within my strengths, I’m going to be in a good place and I just try to take it a possession at a time.”

Jrue Holiday backed Giannis’ play with 25 points and seven rebounds, and Brook Lopez had 13 points and 10 rebound in his best game of the series.

The Bucks trailed by four points at halftime, but came out blazing after intermission to outscore the Celtics 34-17 in the third quarter.

Boston still trailed by 13 points with less than 10 minutes to play but managed to fight back and grab a 100-99 lead in the final minutes. After Antetokounmpo and Holiday each scored to make it 103-100, Marcus Smart drew a foul and sank the first of two free throws. He intentionally clanked the second free throw, but Robert Williams and Al Horford each missed follow-up shots.

The Bucks saw the return of guard George Hill, who has been out with an abdominal strain, and expect him to contribute the remainder of the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 27 points and 12 rebounds, while Horford added 22 points and 16 rebounds and Derrick White chipped in with 14 off the bench.

The Bucks’ Wes Matthews was the primary defender on Jayson Tatum, who struggled mightily Saturday afternoon and finished with 10 points on 4-of-19 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Game 5 is set for Wednesday night at Boston’s TD Garden.

** BREWERS LOSE 2 OF 3 AT ATLANTA OVER THE WEEKEND

Milwaukee and Atlanta wore pink to celebrate Mother’s Day, but early on Brewers fans probably felt like reaching for a bottle – a pink Pepto-Bismol bottle.

The Brewers seemed to explore every conceivable way to commit errors, both throwing and fielding, and to hit into rally-killing double plays.

As a result, the Brewers dropped two of three at Atlanta over the weekend, including a 9-2 blowout loss to the Braves Sunday at Truist Park. The Brewers won Friday night’s series opener 6-3 despite committing three errors but lost Saturday 3-2 as Atlanta’s Max Fried out-dueled the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes.

Mama said there would be days like these.

The Brewers (19-10) loaded the bases in the second before Braves starter Charlie Morton (2-3) struck out Lorenzo Cain and induced Jace Peterson to ground out.

“We hit some near-misses with men on base,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

The Braves (14-16) had more traffic on the bases than Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway has vehicles at rush hour. They stole five bases and scored nine runs despite leaving 14 baserunners stranded.

The Braves opened a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning when Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson scored on a wild pitch by Brewers starter Aaron Ashby. The left-hander allowed six hits, six runs and four walks in four innings.

“I just didn’t think he threw enough strikes today,” Counsell said of Ashby’s worst outing of the season. “There were just too many easy pitches for the other team.”

Morton, 38, turned back the clock by allowing only two hits while walking three and striking out five. It was his first win over Milwaukee since Sept. 11, 2015, when he was pitching for the Pirates.

William Contreras, the brother of another big-league catcher, Willson, drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in one run and belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning off reliever Jandel Gustave to blow the game open.

Ashby saw his earned-run average leap from 2.33 to 4.24 in four innings.

The Brewers’ Willy Adames and Ashby committed errors Sunday to give Milwaukee an uncharacteristic six errors in the three-game series.

The good news is the Brewers open a three-game series today at Cincinnati. The Reds (5-23) were rained out Friday night, split a double-header with the Pirates Saturday and won 7-3 on Sunday. It was the Reds’ first series win in nine tries. They also snapped a nine-game losing streak.

The Brewers will start right-hander Brandon Woodruff (3-1) against the Reds’ right-hander Luis Castillo tonight at Cincinnati’s Great America Ballpark.

Celtics handle Bucks,

Adames leads Brewers

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – After their road romp in Game 1 at TD Garden, the Milwaukee Bucks were braced for Boston’s best Tuesday night.

The Celtics didn’t disappoint.

Jaylen Brown scored 30 points and Jayson Tatum added 29 to carry Boston to a 109-86 victory over the defending NBA champions at TD Garden. The Celtics’ win makes it 1-1 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Brown and Tatum shot a combined 10-for-31 from the floor in the Bucks’ 101-89 win in Game 1. They came back with a vengeance on both sides of the court to temporarily regain control – if not home-court advantage – in this series.

“How you respond is everything in this league,” Brown said. “We knew we had to come out and play like our season was on the line.”

The hot-shooting Celtics opened an 18-3 lead midway through the first quarter. It mushroomed to 65-40 by halftime.

The Bucks tried to mount a second-half rally but it wasn’t happening. After a horrendous 2-of-12 shooting performance in the first half, Giannis Antetokounmpo began asserting himself after intermission.

But nothing came easy for Antetokounmpo, who posted a triple-double in Game 1 but needed 27 shots to score his team-high 28 points on Tuesday night. No other Milwaukee player reached the 20-point plateau.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer credited the Celtics’ smothering defense.

“The guys on (Giannis), they’re solid, good, good defenders and then quite a bit of help,” Budenholzer said. “That’s where he’s just got to see and feel it – do we kick it and get more 3s or he’s got to finish against one-on-one defense. So, I think it’s a little bit of both. But Giannis, he always figures things out.”

Antetokounmpo agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“I try. I try to figure it out,” he said. “It’s the playoffs. Obviously they’re going to be physical. They’re going to be more physical. It’s not going to be a lot of fouls called, they’re going to be more active, more disciplined, but at the end of the day, it’s the same mentality, the mindset doesn’t change, you’ve got to keep chipping away, keep finding solutions to make the game yours. Make good plays. Find your teammates, get in the paint. No matter what they do, my mindset and the team’s mindset cannot change.”

The Celtics’ Grant Williams and especially Al Horford hounded Giannis all night. Horford has a history of success defending Giannis, but much of that reputation was earned when Horford was a hardened veteran and The Greek Freak was a kid.

On Tuesday night, Horford turned back Father Time and rebuffed Antetokounmpo’s repeated attempts to finish around the basket.

Boston coach Ime Udoka was impressed with his team’s response to Game 1.

“We have been a bigger, more physical team all year,” Udoka said. “I didn’t love how we didn’t react to them being physical (in Game 1). We adjusted well, we learned some things from Game 1 … we haven’t been outmuscled like that all year. I think our guys took that to heart. I knew we would come out with the right effort tonight.”

The series continues at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum with Game 3 on Saturday afternoon with tip-off set for 2:30 p.m. Game 4 will be played Monday night.

** BREWERS BEAT UP ON HISTORICALLY AWFUL REDS

The Brewers’ bats didn’t make life easy for their terrific starting pitchers last season, and that was especially true when Brandon Woodruff pitched.

The big right-hander and Cy Young Award vote-getter could’ve sued the Brewers’ hitters for non-support last season. That would’ve been an easier ‘W’ than tossing three- and four-hitters and praying for enough runs.

On Tuesday night, Willy Adames provided the punch with a three-run home run in the Brewers’ 6-3 victory over the epically awful Reds at American Family Field.

Cincinnati (3-20) has lost 18 of its last 19 games, including seven straight. They opened the season by splitting a four-game series against the defending NL champion Atlanta Braves. Since then they have been hideous.

Meantime, the NL Central-leading Brewers have been playing well.

Milwaukee (16-8) holds a 2 ½ game lead over St. Louis (13-10) while Pittsburgh (9-13) and Chicago (9-14) trail the Brewers by 6 and 6 ½ games, respectively.

Woodruff (3-1) struck out 12 hitters while allowing three runs and no walks in his 5 2/3 innings.

“I’ve been working extremely hard on getting back to just kind of myself and making some tweaks and I think tonight it showed up,” Woodruff said. “I know there were strikeouts but, in terms of the way I felt moving down the mound, it felt a lot better tonight.”

For the first time in franchise history the Brewers have had three straight starters record 10 or more strikeouts. Woodruff’s 12-strikeout smoke show came on the heels of Corbin Burnes’ 10 strikeout Sunday and Eric Lauer’s 11 K Saturday,

“It’s boring, they strike out everybody,” Adames told reporters. “I only had one groundball today and it was the last out. It’s always good to see the show that they always put on. It’s amazing to see how they execute everything.”

Woodruff got tagged for back-to-back home runs by Tommy Pham and Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning. Aaron Ashby yielded a run-scoring double to Moustakas in relief of Woodruff, but then settled down to pitch 2 1/3 scoreless innings before Devin Williams came on to earn his second save.

Reds manager David Bell couldn’t help but be impressed by Brewers pitchers.

“The Brewers, they threw some really good stuff at us, really from the first inning through the ninth inning,” Bell said.

Rowdy Tellez belted his fifth home run and Milwaukee’s “Toy Cannon” – diminutive slugger Luis Urias – made his season debut at third base. Urias, who was recovering from a quadriceps injury, reached base all three times.

Urias, who is 5-9, 186, hit .249 for the Brewers last season while slugging 23 home runs and driving in 75 runs. The return of Urias’ bat in the lineup will help. Urias reached on an error and scored ahead of Adames’ home run. He also smacked a run-scoring single in his return.

The Reds will start right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez (0-4, 7.41 ERA) versus the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta (0-1, 5.00) in tonight’s 6:40 game at Am-Fam Field.

Bucks smother Celtics,

Brewers take 2 of 3

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks don’t want to hear about being undermanned.

That’s because they have The Man.

Giannis Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat line like it was an open-court slam dunk. He finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to record a triple-double and lead the Bucks to a 101-89 victory over the Celtics Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at TD Garden.

The Bucks are without All-Star Khris Middleton, who is sidelined with a left MCL sprain and will miss the best-of-seven series against Boston.

No matter. Giannis and friends are doing their part to ensure the Bucks will be alive in the postseason when Middleton returns.

It starts with Milwaukee’s suffocating defense.

The Bucks have held their playoff opponents to less than 100 points in four of six postseason games. Boston had its worst offensive showing of the playoffs Sunday, shooting a playoff-low 33% (28 of 84) with just 21 assists and 18 turnovers.

The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum scored 21 points and Jaylen Brown 12 on a combined 10-of-31 shooting. The Bucks forced the Celtics to settle for jump shots with Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and Giannis protecting the rim.

“That’s what they try to do, deterring you from driving to the basket,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “And for the most part our decision-making wasn’t great.”

Jrue Holiday led the Bucks with 25 points and added nine rebounds and five assists. Grayson Allen scored 11 points off the bench, hitting three of six 3-point attempts. Portis posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Antetokounmpo said he tries not to overthink things during the game, especially when he’s being mobbed and his teammates are open.

“I try to be as simple as possible,” the NBA’s two-time MVP said. “My teammates were there, they were open and they were knocking down shots.”

The Bucks, up 1-0, have successfully flipped home-court advantage. Game 2 is set for Tuesday night at Boston.

Antetokounmpo played 38 minutes in a very physical Game 1.

“Maybe I’m weird,” he said. “I thrive through physicality. I love feeling beat up after games. I don’t know why. My family thinks I’m a weirdo.”

That’s OK because the rest of the NBA thinks he’s a marvel.

** BREWERS TAKE 2 OF 3 FROM CUBS DURING WEEKEND

The Brewers’ bats came alive to belt out 25 hits on Friday and Saturday.

Cubs’ pitcher Marcus Stroman decided to celebrate his 31st birthday by blowing out the candles on Milwaukee’s red-hot bats. Stroman’s two-hit, seven-inning gem helped the free-agent pitcher earn his first win with the Cubs on Sunday, a 2-0 shutout over the Brewers at American Family Field.

Stroman (1-3) retired the final 14 batters he faced to post the third shutout against Milwaukee this season. The Brewers put up a total of 20 runs two win the first two games of the series, but Stroman was able to cool them off.

Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes retired the first 13 hitters he faced, including seven via the strikeout. Burnes allowed four hits over seven innings while walking one and striking out 11. He joins Yovani Gallardo as the only other Brewers pitcher to post three straight double-digit strikeout games. Eric Lauer, who has double-digit strikeouts in his last two starts, will look to join the exclusive club the next time he takes the mound.

The Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom broke the scoreless tie with a fifth-inning home run off Burnes. Seiya Suzuki added an RBI double for the Cubs, who broke a three-game skid while stopping the Brewers’ five-game winning streak.

The Brewers (15-8) hold a two-game lead over St. Louis (12-9) in the NL Central. The Pirates (9-13) and Cubs (9-13) are 5 ½ games back, while struggling Cincinnati (3-19) is 11 ½ games out of first place.

The Brewers are off Monday before opening a three-game series at Cincinnati on Tuesday. Right-handers Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser are scheduled to start the first two games, set to begin at 5:40 p.m., with Lauer throwing Wednesday’s “getaway game” set for 11:35 a.m.

Milwaukee follows that up with a three-game weekend series at Miami.

Packers pounce early to secure WR Watson

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Brian Gutekunst must have had an itchy trigger finger.

The Packers’ GM spent the first round of the NFL draft patiently sitting and picking to select Georgia Bulldogs Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt at 22 and 28. Walker, the first “off ball” linebacker drafted, and Wyatt, arguably the draft’s top interior defensive lineman, should help cement an ascending Green Bay defense.

But the question remained going into Friday’s Rounds 2 and 3 of the draft: What are the Packers going to do to replenish the receiver room after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders?

Nobody had to wait long for Gutekunst’s retort.

The Packers’ GM traded the Packers’ 53rd and 59th picks in the second round to NFC North rival Minnesota in return for the 34th overall pick, which Gutekunst immediately used to select North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson.

Green Bay’s 19-spot leap was aided and abetted by the Vikings’ first-year GM, Kwesi Odofo-Mensah, an analytics expert, who may come to regret this decision.

Watson (6-4, 208) is an exceptional athlete whose NFL bloodlines were forged by his father, Tim Watson, a 1993 draft pick of the Green Bay Packers. Watson never played in Green Bay, but he did have a five-year NFL career as a safety.

Watson was asked if he’d spoken with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as of Friday evening. He said he hadn’t, but that he looked forward to it. He was fairly gushing, if not borderline breathless, when discussing No. 12.

“Obviously being able to catch passes from one of the best to ever do it is something I’m definitely excited about,” Watson told reporters. “I feel like I’m going to be able to learn and grow a lot through not just him but all the other receivers and everyone else in the organization as well. I definitely couldn’t be more excited to go at it with Aaron Rodgers.”

Watson played in a championship program at North Dakota State where running the football and asking receivers to block downfield was part of the deal. He learned to be a good teammate there and said it prepared him for the NFL.

He also was excited about playing for the Packers – the team that drafted his father – and carrying on the family tradition.

“Being able to follow in his footsteps and be drafted by the same club is extra-special to me for sure,” Watson said. “It’s definitely a surreal experience. Just getting the phone call itself brought tears in my eyes, I was so excited.”

Gutekunst said he traded up to the 34th pick because he felt Watson would be gone otherwise.

“We did feel we had to go there to get him,” Gutekunst said.

The Packers’ GM showed no sign of second-guessing or flinching after the decision to move up 19 spots in the second round. He seemed pleased to get the talented receiver to work into the attack.

“He’s a big, fast, physical receiver,” Gutekunst said of Watson. “We think his best football is ahead of him. We got a chance to spend a lot of time with him and felt he was a really smart kid that we feel could fit our culture.”

Watson hit Twitter early Saturday morning to express his feelings regarding being selected by the Green Bay Packers. Watson tweeted, “First morning as a Green Bay Packer and I’ve gotta say, it feels pretty damn good!”

The Packers traded Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for the 22nd and 53rd overall picks in the draft. They signed veteran free agent Sammy Watkins to join holdovers Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers and Juwann Winfrey, among others, in the receiving corps.

Watson was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash and should provide an immediate deep threat for Rodgers. In addition, Watson is an accomplished kick and punt return specialist, should special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia elect to use him in that role.

Rodgers didn’t sound concerned when the Packers didn’t take a receiver in the first round, based on his comments on the Pat McAfee Show.

Rodgers said, “We’ve had a lot of success with second- and third-round receivers. You look at Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones in the third round (in 2007), obviously Davante Adams in the second round. Those guys turned out pretty good.”

Watson didn’t put up great numbers at NDSU but that was more due to the system and the circumstances than any commentary on his ability. He caught 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns last season, career-highs in all three categories.

“I don’t think it was for a lack of anything that Christian did or didn’t do,” Packers director of football operations Milt Hendrickson said. “If you’re familiar with NDSU, they love to run the football. His opportunities will come and go sometimes.”

The Packers selected UCLA offensive lineman Sean Rhyan with the 92nd overall pick in the third round. Rhyan was a three-year starter at left tackle during his college career, but he’s also been talked about as an NFL guard.

“I’m extremely versatile as well as available,” Rhyan said. “I never missed a snap in college due to an injury. I was only pulled from a game if we were stomping the other team and we wanted to get some of the other guys some playing time.”

The Packers entered Saturday’s draft with two picks in the fourth round, one in the fifth and three in the seventh.

 

Packers’ pivotal draft

brings Walker, Wyatt

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers stood pat with the 22nd and 28th picks Thursday night in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.

Then they promptly surprised more than a few fans by passing on a receiver and doubling down on defense – Georgia Bulldogs style – by selecting “off ball” linebacker Quay Walker at 22 and “three technique” Devonte Wyatt at 28.

It was the first time in the common draft era that a team selected two players in the first round from the same team, let alone the same unit.

The Packers’ ninth-ranked defense got a major boost because of it.

Walker will line up inside next to All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell to form a dynamic duo of 6-foot-4, 240-pound rangy, active linebackers who love to impose their will.

Wyatt, at 6-4, 304, is a “three technique” defensive lineman who will line up next to All-Pro Kenny Clark, and work in a rotation with veteran Jarran Reed, to give the Packers’ defensive line some juice.

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco said Wyatt has a chance to be a special player.

“He had some character concerns, but he was productive on a good defense,” Prisco said. “I know Packers fans wanted a receiver here, but this is a player who can really help a defense inside. I like it.”

I second that notion, having predicted the Packers would select Wyatt at 22 (they took him at 28) and Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks at 22 (Burks was selected by the Titans at 18, who traded up with the Eagles to select him. The deal sent receiver A.J. Brown to Philadelphia).

For now, the $1 billion question remains: What about the Packers’ receiving corps? When will it get its booster shot?

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst admitted that he entertained conversations with teams about the possibility of trading up to select a receiver in the first round.

“There was a couple, there was a few,” he said. “That (WR) run happened early. They’re really good players. At the same time I think you’ve got to look at the asking price and does that make sense?”

A record six receivers were selected in the first 18 picks.

Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, Jahan Dotson and Treylon Burks were off the board before the 19th pick came up. Green Bay simply wasn’t in a good position to land one of its favored receivers.

Now, it has a chance to trade up in Round 2 and acquire another Georgia peach – Bulldogs receiver George Pickens – in the early 30s.

Ok, it’s difficult to imagine the Packers NOT selecting a receiver in Round 2, but Gutekunst said he didn’t feel like he had to trade up to take a receiver.

“I don’t think we have to,” he said Thursday night. “I think there’s some really good receivers left in this draft and we’ll kind of see how it plays out. We have nine picks left, so we’ve got a lot of ammunition. Whether we stick and pick or move around, we’ll kind of see how that goes.”

Georgia’s Pickens would be a gift from the football gods. That still leaves North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce and Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton as other possibilities.

Watson (6-4, 208) is an explosive, gifted athlete coming from a Division II program. He may take time to develop, but he is an accomplished return specialist and his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash will make him an immediate deep threat.

Pierce (6-3,211) was a deep threat at Cincinnati with his 4.41 speed in the 40 and an incredibly explosive 40 ½ inch vertical leap.

Thornton (6-1, 181) is a fluid route-runner with blazing speed (4.28 in the 40) and good hands. He also is a return specialist who has been compared to the Ravens’ Devin Duvernay, one of the NFL’s top kick and punt returners.

In addition, look for the Packers to consider Colorado State tight end Trey McBride in the middle half of Round 2, or Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar or Virginia’s Jelani Woods as a mid-round alternative at tight end.

Meantime, Walker and Wyatt will trade their Georgia “G’s” for Packers “G’s” as Green Bay’s “D” just became more daunting.

The Packers added scheme-specific defenders in Walker and Wyatt, who starred on Georgia’s national championship defense in 2021.

In fact, they joined a trio of ex-Bulldogs selected in the first round of Thursday night’s 2022 NFL draft. The list includes: No. 1, Travon Walker, DE, Jaguars; No. 13, Jordan Davis, DT, Eagles; and No. 32, Lewis Cine, S, Vikings.

The Packers selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes with the 29th pick in the 2021 draft. Packers’ coordinator Joe Barry now has an ex-Bulldogs defender at every level of his defense.

“Oh man, that’s crazy,” Walker said of joining Wyatt and Stokes in Green Bay. “It’s a reunion, man. I can’t even really say nothin’ – I’m gonna start crying all over again.”

Jaquavian Jy’Quese (Quay) Walker started 15 games for Georgia’s national championship team in 2021. He registered 67 tackles, 5 ½ tackles for loss and 1 ½ sacks in addition to three pass breakups.

Some scouts had another Georgia player – inside linebacker Nakobe Dean – rated as a better pro prospect than his teammate, Walker. However, Dean (5-11, 229) is a fast but extremely undersized inside linebacker. Utah’s Devin Lloyd, the other top inside linebacker prospect, was selected by Jacksonville with the 27th pick.

Walker, at 22, makes sense in hindsight.

Think of Walker as a rookie version of Packers All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who was instrumental in elevating the defense’s play. Campbell led the team with 146 tackles (102 solo), five passes defended, two sacks, two interceptions and six tackles for loss.

Campbell (6-4, 232) and Walker (6-4, 241) are clones.

Campbell ran a 4.58 40-yard dash with a 34-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine. Walker ran a 4.52 with a 32-inch vertical leap. Their ability to read and react against the run, coupled with their skill in pass coverage, makes them a potentially formidable interior duo.

Gutekunst said he didn’t think Walker would be on the board if they waited to draft him at No. 28. He said Walker’s tackling ability, impact in the passing game and exceptional skill when blitzing made him too good to pass up.

The Packers raised their talent level at inside linebacker considerably.

Krys Barnes, an undrafted linebacker from UCLA, started next to Campbell and played well last season. Barnes was third on the team with 81 tackles (58 solo), four tackles for loss, four passes defended, two fumble recoveries and a sack.

Imagine putting Walker – a Top 22 talent – next to Campbell.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to stay in certain packages with two inside ‘backers and handle everything in run defense and the passing game,” Gutekunst said. “This really gives our defense a ton of flexibility.”

Gutekunst sounded as if Walker will play right away.

“That makes it really tough on an offense,” he said of the dynamic duo inside. “(Walker’s) range and speed and explosiveness as a tackler were something that we couldn’t pass up.”

Walker played in 52 games during four seasons at Georgia, but he didn’t start full-time until 2021. He said he reshaped his body and rededicated his mind. The result is starring on a national championship team and being the 22nd player drafted.

“I became smarter,” Walker said. “I learned what everybody does around me. Way more smarts on the mental side. There’s a whole lot I need to get better at, but nothing I can’t get better at.”

Then there is Wyatt, the 28th overall pick, to consider.

Wyatt, 24, is older than most of the Packers’ preferred draft picks. However, this isn’t a typical draft (COVID-19 led to more experienced players being available in this draft) and the Packers need immediate help in their Super Bowl quest.

Some NFL scouts believe Wyatt is the best player at his position in the entire draft.

Wyatt (6-3, 304) was the most disruptive force on the Georgia Bulldogs’ dominant defense. He carried that through at the Senior Bowl, where he led everyone at the position in “win rate” during the one-on-one pass rush drills.

The better the competition, the taller Wyatt stood.

Wyatt’s proponents are enamored of his interior pass rush ability.

The Packers could line up Wyatt next to Kenny Clark on Day One and be better.

So what about safety?

The Packers’ defense deployed a third safety on 40 percent of its snaps last season. It is possible Green Bay will draft a safety on Day Two to replace the departed Henry Black, especially with Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos in contract years.

Green Bay had Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker in for a pre-draft visit.

Brisker (6-1, 199) was a second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team all-Big Ten Conference in 2021. He started 12 games and registered 64 tackles, a career-high six for loss, with two interceptions and five breakups.

NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlien wrote: “(Brisker) has the versatility to become a moving chess piece in a variety of coverages and has the size and talent to match up with both “Y” and “F” tight ends. … Brisker is an ascending talent with the NFL traits to become a long-time starter as a Day Two draft pick.”

The Packers hold the 53rd and 59th picks in the second round and the 92nd pick in the third round entering Friday night’s Day Two, which begins at 6 p.m.

Packers’ pivotal draft

brings Wyatt, Burks

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ needs are apparent and their ammo is abundant entering the 2022 NFL Draft which kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. from Las Vegas.

Green Bay currently holds the 22nd and 28th picks, in addition to the 53rd and 59th picks in the second round, which begins at 6 p.m. on Friday night.

Armed with all of that draft capital, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst will be looking to find a receiver or two, a “three technique” defensive lineman, an offensive tackle, a safety and an “off ball” linebacker.

The Packers are set to contend for the NFC Championship and beyond … again.

Green Bay is 39-10 in head coach Matt LaFleur’s three seasons. They have made three straight playoff appearances before falling short of the goal. This offseason they retained All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas and signed free-agent receiver Sammy Watkins.

The trade that sent Davante Adams to the Raiders for the 22nd and 53rd picks accounts for all of the ammunition. It also is the reason the Packers signed Watkins and continue the search for a receiver or two in this draft.

The Packers are only a few pieces away from completing the Super Bowl puzzle. For that reason this draft should be regarded among the most pivotal in franchise history. If Gutekunst and Co. nails it the Packers will be set up for the foreseeable.

The mocks entering this draft are all over the place.

Ex-Packers cornerback and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks has five receivers being drafted before the 20th pick. Brooks has Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson to Atlanta at No. 8, USC’s Drake London to the Jets at No. 10, Alabama’s Jameson Williams to Minnesota at No. 12, Ohio State’s Chris Olave at No. 15 to Philadelphia and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks to New Orleans at No. 19.

Brooks also has Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd off the board by the 22nd pick.

The old saying goes, “They can’t ALL be gone.” In this case, Brooks’ mock draft comes about as close to that as it gets for Green Bay.

Meantime, CBS football analyst Will Brinson doesn’t have Wyatt OR Lloyd being selected in the first round.

It’s like playing darts blindfolded, or so it seems, and yet there is an art to the draft.

Gutekunst has shown the courage to trade up or down, and the patience to stay put.

The trick is to know when to do what to end up selecting the right players.

In my wildest dreams, the Packers trade a first and a second to land one of two veteran receivers: the Titans’ A.J. Brown or the Commanders’ Terry McLaurin.

The next-best scenario is sending a second and a fourth to the Raiders for tight end Darren Waller.

As terrific as it would be, I don’t see any of these scenarios playing out.

Longtime NFL sage Peter King has the Packers selecting Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson, who is a bit undersized (5-11, 178) but can run like the wind (4.43 40-yard dash) and catches everything (178 catches on 180 targets).

In fact, he was my early draft crush (Dotson, not King).

I’d still be fine with the Packers selecting Dotson, but I’ve since decided Gutekunst is likely to look elsewhere.

So without further ado here are my Packers’ predictions for the first round of the draft, based on what I see them doing if they stay put and pick at 22 and 28:

** No. 22 – The Packers may be tempted to trade up for a receiver, but they won’t.

It’s not their style. They have been making hay at the position with second- and third-round receivers even before they selected the Kansas farm boy, Jordy Nelson, in the second round of the 2008 draft.

Greg Jennings was the 52nd pick in 2006. James Jones was the 78th pick in 2007. Nelson was the 36th pick in 2008. The Packers also drafted Texas tight end Jermichael Finley with the 91st pick in 2008. That pass-catching quartet became even more lethal with the selection of Randall Cobb at No. 64 in the 2011 draft.

History is destined to repeat itself.

While Ohio State’s Olave and Wilson, USC’s London and Alabama’s Williams are terrific receivers, they won’t be Packers. The price is too steep to move up.

If replacing Adams were as simple as trading up and selecting Olave with a top 15 pick the Packers might pull the trigger. But they won’t.

They will bide their time and wait to land receivers.

Meantime, they will be thrilled to select Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt with the 22nd pick. Some NFL scouts believe Wyatt is the best player at his position in the entire draft.

Wyatt (6-3, 304) was the most disruptive force on the Georgia Bulldogs’ dominant defense. He carried that through at the Senior Bowl, where he led everyone at the position in “win rate” during the one-on-one pass rush drills.

The better the competition, the taller Wyatt stood.

He became a full-time starter at Georgia in 2020 (25 tackles, 2 TFLs) and developed into a dominant player in 2021 (39 tackles, 7 TFLs, 2 FF, 2 ½ sacks).

Wyatt’s proponents are enamored of his interior pass rush ability.

The Packers could line up Wyatt next to Kenny Clark on Day One and be better.

As a “three technique” Wyatt would line up in the “B gap” – the gap between the guard and tackle – to create one-on-one mismatches. The center is too far away to help, and the tackle is busy with Rashan Gary or Preston Smith off the edge. That leaves Wyatt single-blocked and highly dangerous.

Even a less-talented player such as Kingsley Keke managed to flash next to Clark. Imagine the possibilities of putting a disruptive weapon like Wyatt next to him? It’s a sure bet the Packers’ brain trust has done so.

Even Wyatt’s detractors have little of substance to offer.

They say his strength is “adequate” and he “struggles to withstand a second blocker.” For comparison’s sake, Clark’s strength is off the charts, but even HE struggles to withstand a second blocker. It’s a red herring, but it makes the point.

Lining up Wyatt and Clark together means an offense can’t double-team both. Something’s got to give – namely the pass pocket – and that means trouble for opposing offenses and quarterbacks.

Wyatt would be an excellent choice at 22.

With the 28th pick, the Packers will be faced with several options.

They could trade down and add a pick, believing they can still get their preferred receiver, safety or offensive tackle. They could stay put and select a receiver. Or they could stay put and select an offensive tackle.

The offensive line prospects at 28 come down to Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann.

Another possibility in the early second round is Tulsa’s Tyler Smith.

This is where it gets tricky.

The Packers’ quest for starting-caliber offensive tackles – like every other NFL team – is a never-ending search. That’s why a tackle has to be in play.

One factor will be the number of receivers already off the board. Some mock drafts have as many as six receivers being selected in the first round. If that’s true it’s likely that Wilson, Olave, London and Williams will be gone by 28. It’s also possible that Dotson also will be gone, too.

That leaves Arkansas’ Burks or Georgia’s George Pickens at 28. In order to select either beyond 28, they would have to trade up from 53 or 59 into the second round.

That’s why I see the Packers drafting Burks at 28.

Burks (6-2, 225) has been compared to the Titans’ Brown, who has become one of the NFL’s top receivers entering his fourth season.

Burks, like Brown, shredded SEC defenses.

He had 66 catches for 1,104 yards (16.7 average) and 11 touchdowns in 12 starts last season. He also set the school record with six 100-yard receiving games.

Burks was clocked at 4.55 in the 40-yard dash and had a 33-inch vertical leap. For comparison, Nelson (6-2 ½, 217) ran a 4.54 40-yard dash with a 31-inch vertical.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlien wrote of Burks, “Big, smooth and natural … He’s a mismatch receiver combining size, strength and competitiveness similar to the Titans’ A.J. Brown … The tape is extremely exciting with real NFL skills jumping off the screen.”

Burks had eight catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. He is similar to Wyatt, the Georgia defensive lineman, in that the better the competition, the better he plays.

Fans should be thrilled if the Packers manage to land Wyatt and Burks in Round 1.

The first-round “By George, I think they’ve got it” plan is for the Packers to select Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis at 22 and Georgia’s George Pickens at 28. But that’s only if Wyatt and Burks are gone.

In the second round, the Packers are apt to select an offensive tackle or defensive lineman (whichever they didn’t get in Round 1). Ole Miss’s Sam Williams or Minnesota’s Boye Mafe would fit the bill as a second-round edge rusher, while Tulsa’s Smith still would be in play at offensive tackle.

Also, look for the Packers to consider Colorado State tight end Trey McBride in the middle half of Round 2, or Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar or Virginia’s Jelani Woods as a third-round alternative at tight end.

The Packers undoubtedly will select a second receiver to go with Burks.

Georgia’s Pickens or Penn State’s Dotson would be a gift from the football gods, but they’ll be gone no later than early second round. That still leaves North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce and Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton as possible Packers.

Watson (6-4, 208) is an explosive, gifted athlete coming from a Division II program. He may take time to develop, but he is an accomplished return specialist and his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash will make him an immediate deep threat.

Pierce (6-3,211) was a deep threat at Cincinnati with his 4.41 speed in the 40 and an incredibly explosive 40 ½ inch vertical leap.

Thornton (6-1, 181) is a fluid route-runner with blazing speed (4.28 in the 40) and good hands. He also is a return specialist who has been compared to the Ravens’ Devin Duvernay, one of the NFL’s top kick and punt returners.

The best news for Packers fans is this: No matter which players Gutekunst selects, his draft history suggests Green Bay will be significantly better by Saturday night.

Bucks rout Chicago;

Brewers win 2 of 3

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bucks did more than survive without Khris Middleton.

They thrived.

Milwaukee’s weekend getaway to Chicago was a smashing success despite the absence of Middleton, their all-star guard, who is sidelined with a sprained MCL. While Middleton watched, the Bucks went to work.

Milwaukee routed Chicago 111-81 on Friday night and backed it up with a 119-95 romp on Sunday afternoon in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

The Bucks, up 3-1 in the Round 1series, host the Bulls on Wednesday night.

Milwaukee’s resurgence has been fueled by an unlikely source.

Grayson Allen scored 22 points in Friday night’s blowout win.

On Sunday, he eclipsed that career postseason high with 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting, including 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.

In a single weekend, Allen has shot his way into the hearts of Bucks fans. He went from being the most-disliked Duke Blue Devil since Christian Laettner to one of the Bucks’ fan favorites. His dynamic back-to-back games appear to have broken the Bulls’ backs.

Milwaukee outscored the Bulls by a total of 54 points in the two games. The Bucks’ 30-point win Friday night was Chicago’s most lopsided home loss in franchise history.

Allen, in his first season with the Bucks, already is paying dividends. His 3-point shooting, high energy and defensive grit are all positive, especially while “Cash Money” Middleton recovers from his knee injury.

Bulls’ fans have lustily booed Allen ever since he committed a hard foul that resulted in a broken wrist for Bulls guard Alex Caruso in a game in January.

His teammates have started having fun with the booing, too. They’ve booed him at practice, during film sessions, on the bus and at the team hotel, according to reports. Now, his teammates are even booing him during games.

“They have so much fun with it,” said Allen, aka Public Enemy Number Seven. “I think it’s funny. I think it’s honestly hilarious. They’ve kind of turned it into a fun thing. It makes hearing it out there during the game a lot easier, too. That’s because (my teammates) think it’s so funny.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points to lead the Bucks and complete the two-game road sweep on Sunday afternoon.

The Bucks, who have won 15 of their last 17 first-round playoff games, have a chance to clinch the series Wednesday night. If so they will await the Brooklyn-Boston winner. The Celtics are up 3-0.

** BREWERS TAKE TWO OF THREE AT PHILADELPHIA

The Brewers came into the season expecting big things from starting pitchers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser. They’re beginning to include left-hander Eric Lauer in that conversation.

Lauer struck out a career-high 13 hitters over six innings Sunday night to lead the Brewers to a 1-0 victory over the flailing Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Christian Yelich provided all the offense necessary with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.

“I think it was as good as stuff has ever been working for me,” Lauer said.

Lauer and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola combined for 22 strikeouts in game that neither received a decision. Nola allowed one hit and struck out nine in seven innings. The Brewers managed to win with a total of just three hits.

In the ninth, Jace Peterson singled and went to third on Andrew McCutchen’s one-out single. Corey Knebel, the ex-Brewers pitcher, then yielded Yelich’s sac-fly.

Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez was getting grief from both dugouts for much of the game. The catalyst was an inconsistently large strike zone. The Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber was ejected in the ninth for slamming his bat and helmet to the ground after taking a called third strike.

Lauer is 22-24 over his career, but he went 4-1 down the stretch last season. He altered his delivery and it has increased his velocity and location.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell was impressed.

“This is the show that he can put on,” Counsell said. “Against a good-hitting team, I think he showed everybody how he’s been pitching, really, the last four months of baseball.”

Bucks rolled by Bulls,

Middleton is injured

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Losing the game was bad enough. The specter of losing Khris Middleton for an extended time to a knee injury made it worse.

The upstart Chicago Bulls started fast and never looked back in a 114-110 win over the Bucks on Wednesday night in Game 2 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. The defending NBA champion Bucks trailed 9-0 at the start and never really found their footing at Fiserv Forum.

DeMar DeRozan rode roughshod over the Bucks by pouring in a postseason career-high 41 points on 16 of 31 shooting from the floor and 9-for-9 at the line.

Middleton, who finished with 18 points, was injured midway through the fourth quarter when he slipped while driving into the lane. He completed a pass to Brook Lopez, but went down and appeared to be in significant discomfort. He exited to the locker room and didn’t return with what’s believed to be a sprained MCL.

Middleton is scheduled to have an MRI today to determine the extent of the injury.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 33 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. He passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Milwaukee’s all-time playoff scoring leader, but was more concerned with Middleton’s welfare.

“You expect (Middleton) to get up and walk it off and get back to the game, but you see that he was limping and limping and limping and you’re thinking like, ‘Oh, I hope  it’s not bad, I hope it’s not bad,” Antetokounmpo said. “We need this guy. When he asks for a sub, you know that it’s bothering him because he doesn’t leave the game.”

Lopez scored 25 points while Jrue Holiday added 15 and Wesley Matthews finished with 11.

The loss of Middleton compounded the Bucks’ problems because Bobby Portis had already exited with a right eye abrasion. The Bulls’ Tristan Thompson nailed Portis with an elbow to the face while they were battling for a rebound. According to the post-game pool report the officials said they didn’t see the elbow to the head.

How they missed the blood streaming down Portis’ cheek is difficult to imagine.

Portis had two points and two rebounds in six minutes. He is expected to be OK for Game 3, according to Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. The news wasn’t as encouraging for guard George Hill, who will remain out with an abdominal sprain.

The problem of defending DeRozan is complicated with the injuries to Middleton and Hill, leaving Matthews, Jevon Carter or Grayson Allen to try and defend him.

The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 going into Game 3 at Chicago Friday night.

Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for the Bulls, while Zach Lavine also backed DeRozan’s superb night by scoring 20 for Chicago.

The Bucks looked sluggish at the outset and committed 10 first-half turnovers that led to 13 Bulls points.

Antetokounmpo stressed that the Bucks need to retain their focus despite the possibility of going forward without Middleton for the remainder of the series.

“We have a job to do here,” he said. “Obviously Khris is one of the best players on the team. If he’s not able to be with us, it’s going to be a tremendous loss for us.”

** BREWERS COMPLETE THREE-GAME SWEEP OF PIRATES

A glance at the Brewers’ lineup would suggest the team is struggling mightily.

Kolten Wong, the leadoff hitter, is batting .191. Willy Adames, who resides in the No. 2 hole, is scuffling at .167. Christian Yelich has had some big at-bats, including a grand slam, but he’s only batting .195.

Nevertheless, the Brewers have won seven of 10 games – including a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday to complete a three-game series sweep of the Pirates.

Brandon Woodruff started and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before former Brewers slugger Daniel Vogelbach singled to center with one out.

Woodruff (2-1) allowed just the one hit while walking two and striking out nine to notch the win. Josh Hader pitched the ninth to record his sixth save.

Milwaukee (8-5) trails N.L. Central-leading St. Louis (7-3) by one-half game with the Chicago Cubs (6-6) by two games.

The Brewers haven’t been hitting for average, but they have been drawing walks and belting timely home runs. Rowdy Tellez’s solo shot gave Milwaukee a 1-0 lead, and Keston Hiura’s three-run shot in the seventh sealed the deal.

The Brewers travel to Philadelphia for a three-game weekend series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Freddy Peralta (0-1) starts the opener against left-hander Ranger Suarez (1-0) on Friday night at 6:05 p.m. In Game 2 it’s Adrian Houser (0-2) versus righty Zack Wheeler (0-2) at 3:05 p.m. Saturday.

Game 3 is ESPN’s featured telecast Sunday night. First pitch is 6:08 p.m. with left-hander Eric Lauer (1-0) pitching for the Brewers against hard-throwing righty Aaron Nola (1-2).

Bucks suffocate Bulls;

Brewers back to .500

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It seems fitting that the Milwaukee Bucks’ first step toward their NBA title defense was spurred by – you guessed it – their defense.

The NBA’s reigning champions edged the feisty Chicago Bulls, 93-86, at Fiserv Forum Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup. On a night when the Bucks’ offense wasn’t clicking they rode their defense to victory.

The Bucks built an early 36-18 lead but the Bulls clawed their way back to take a 78-77 lead with 5:56 to play. That’s when the Bucks put the clamps on and scored eight straight points to pull away for the win.

The Bulls shot just 6 of 28 from the field, including 1 of 12 from 3-point range, in an ugly fourth quarter.

“We’ve got to win the ugly games,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said afterward. “I feel like today was ugly. It was a battle and it was tough, but it was an ugly one.”

So it’s one down and 15 to go for Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and pulled down 16 rebounds for the third-seeded Bucks. Center Brook Lopez, who missed most of the regular season with back problems, looked good while scoring 18 points. Holiday added 15 points, Khris Middleton 11 and Bobby Portis 10. Portis also had 12 rebounds.

The Bulls’ 86 points was the fewest scored by a Bucks’ opponent all season. Chicago shot just 32 percent from the floor and was only 7 of 37 on 3-point shots.

The Bucks had their own offensive woes. After shooting 53.8 percent (14 of 26) in the first quarter, they converted just 34.5 percent of their shots (20 of 58) the rest of the way. The Bucks also finished with an unacceptable 21 turnovers.

“The whole team was kind of out of rhythm,” said Antetokounmpo. “We weren’t able to find one another as easy as we usually find one another and make shots. We missed a bunch of open shots today. Usually we make those and we get energy.”

The Bucks held a slight edge on the boards, 58-53, but outscored the Bulls 42-32 in the paint. That and the Bucks’ defense proved to be the difference.

“We showed resiliency tonight,” Lopez said. “Things didn’t go our way offensively for a lot of the game, and we fought through it and did a good job defensively.”

The Bulls returned to Chicago after the game because Game 2 isn’t set to tip off until Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at Fiserv Forum. Games 3 and 4 are set for Friday, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon, at Chicago.

** Brewers edge Cardinals 6-5 to earn split

The Brewers have an eighth inning problem.

Whether it’s Devin Williams or Jake Cousins doesn’t seem to matter. The Brewers have yielded eighth-inning runs four times in 10 games. They’ve given up solo runs twice, and they’ve surrendered two runs in two other games, the most recent occurring in the Brewers’ 6-5 win over St. Louis on Sunday.

The Brewers (5-5) managed to earn a four-game split against the Cardinals (5-3) with the win at American Family Field.

Tyrone Taylor’s two-run double in the seventh inning gave the Brewers a 6-3 lead, but St. Louis rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth to make it tense.

No worries.

Josh Hader came on in the ninth to collect his fourth save and 100th of his career. Hader is only the third pitcher in Brewers history with at least 100 saves. He joins Dan Plesac (133) and John Axford (106).

“It was a fun journey just to make it here and to get 100 (saves), it’s pretty special,” Hader told reporters after the game. He needed just 286 1/3 innings and 236 appearances to reach the century mark.

“He’s four-and-a-half full seasons (into his career),” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Hader. “No reliever has had a better start to his career than Josh Hader in the history of the game. I’m not exaggerating. That’s a fact. I don’t think it’s really disputable.”

The Brewers’ biggest problem has been surviving the eighth to get to Hader.

Cousins (1-0) pitched a scoreless fifth to get the win. Williams, Cousins and others have seen action, and failed to deliver, in eighth-inning situations. Counsell has said he trusts Williams and expects him to work through his most recent hiccups.

Meantime, the Brewers have struggled to plate runs. Through 10 games they’ve been blanked twice and managed just one run in two other games.

The Brewers believe they have added enough punch to be productive. They acquired Andrew McCutchen in the offseason, and he has been a blessing. They also will benefit from having Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez the entire season, while a revitalized Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura would go a long way.

Taylor, who was red-hot in the abbreviated spring training, also appears to have worked his way out of an early season slump.

The Brewers open a three-game series against Pittsburgh tonight at 6:40 p.m. at American Family Field. Right-hander Zach Thompson will start for the Pirates versus Brewers’ left-hander Eric Lauer.

On Tuesday night, it will be the Pirates’ righty J.T. Brubaker versus the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes. In Wednesday afternoon’s “getaway game” set for 12:40 p.m., Pittsburgh will start righty Mitch Keller versus Brandon Woodruff.

Brewers back to .500;

NFL draft 2 weeks out

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers’ pitchers and hitters struggled to find home plate during their week-long road trip to open the season. There were too many walks issued and too few runs delivered.

The Brewers are counting on that to change at American Family Field.

On Wednesday night the Brewers (3-3) fought back to .500 with a clutch 4-2 victory against the Orioles (1-5) in their three-game series finale at Baltimore.

Corbin Burnes started and scattered three hits over seven shutout innings. He walked one and struck out eight on 97 pitches before exiting with a 2-0 lead. The Orioles rallied for two runs in the eighth off Devin Williams to tie it at 2-2.

In the Brewers’ ninth, Hunter Renfroe singled and scored on Kolten Wong’s line-drive triple to the right-field corner to make it 3-2 Brewers. Rowdy Tellez followed by doubling to deep right-field to deliver Wong and make it 4-2.

Josh Hader pitched the bottom of the ninth to record his third save. Brad Boxberger (1-0) recorded the final two outs of the eighth to swoop in for the win.

Burnes, who got a no-decision in his first start, focused on his own performance.

“Wins are one of those things that are out of my control,” said Burnes, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner. “I was better tonight. I definitely have things to work on, but definitely a step in the right direction.”

The Orioles’ lone extra-base hit off Burnes was Rougned Odor’s double to lead off the fifth. Burnes buckled down and followed up by striking out the side.

“He pitched beautifully,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He looked really comfortable, kind of got everything going. So it was fun to see and fun to watch him pitch tonight.”

Counsell was second-guessed by some because he could’ve saved Burnes for Thursday’s home opener against St. Louis. Instead, he kept his rotation in order and will start Brandon Woodruff today versus the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright.

The Cardinals’ game scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Kansas City was postponed due to inclement weather, allowing Wainwright to pitch the opener of the four-game series between the NL Central rivals. Miles Mikolas was pushed back a day and will start for St. Louis on Friday night.

Wainwright (1-0) allowed five hits and struck out six over six scoreless innings in a 9-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Opening Day at Busch Stadium.

Wainwright, 40, is 20-12 with a 2.60 ERA in 49 games against Milwaukee. He was 2-1 with a 3.62 ERA in five starts vs. the Brewers last season.

Woodruff (0-1) got lit up by the Chicago Cubs in a 9-0 loss in his first start. The two-time All-Star yielded seven runs on six hits in 3 2/3 forgettable innings. He walked three, hit two others and struck out two.

“We need to score a couple more runs,” Counsell said. “We’re making it pretty challenging on our pitching staff a little bit right now, so to get those runs in the ninth (at Baltimore on Wednesday night) was needed for sure.”

The Cardinals (3-1) have scored in the first inning of each game thus far.

Meantime, the Brewers have just three home runs, tied for last in the big leagues.

Tellez, who is hitting .313, has been red-hot lately. Andrew McCutchen, Christian Yelich and Willy Adames have had their moments, too.

Now the Brewers need to start putting up crooked numbers.

In an interesting oddity, the Brewers were 45-36 at home last season, while the Cardinals were 45-36 on the road.

** PACKERS ROLLING THROUGH DRAFT PREPARATION

Two weeks from today the Packers will be contemplating all that draft capital and putting together the final touches on their draft preparation.

The Packers’ 22nd, 28th, 53rd and 59th picks give them great flexibility.

In fact, they could find a way to select the top two receivers, the top tight end and an unparalleled hybrid safety in this draft.

It could happen. It’s not even farfetched.

The Packers could send their 22nd pick and two fourth-round picks to the L.A. Chargers in return for the 17th pick, which they use to land Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. Before Williams tore his ACL in the national championship game, he was generally regarded as the best at his position.

The injury didn’t change his potential. It merely means he’ll be ready nine months later than the ideal scenario.

Without question the Packers would have their future WR1 in the fold.

Clearly, some Packers’ fans would be miffed because Williams doesn’t equate to immediate help. That’s understandable, but to them I would say, “Be patient.”

At 28, the Packers double down at receiver and select Arkansas’ Treylon Burks.

The 6-2, 225-pound receiver is one of the most sure-handed targets in the draft. He also is a menace after the catch and reminds NFL scouts of another former SEC receiver: Ole Miss’s A.J. Brown.

Burks was a first-team All-SEC pick in 2021when he caught 66 passes for 1,104 yards, a 16.7 average and 11 touchdowns in 12 starts.

Scouts and fans alike want to see how players perform against the best. In that regard, Burks passed with flying colors. He caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama last season.

At 53, the Packers use their third-round pick (the 92nd overall) and the 53rd to trade up and select Michigan safety Dax Hill at 39.

Hill (6-0, 191) was clocked at a blistering 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash to go with his elite 33 ½ -inch vertical leap.

Hill was described by scouts as “rangy playing over the top, the eyes and burst to play in zone coverage, and the loose hips and length to shade big slot receivers in man-to-man coverage.”

Mel Kiper, Jr., rated Hill as the 13th best player in the entire draft.

At 59, the Packers add another weapon in the passing game: Colorado State tight end Trey McBride.

McBride (6-4, 246) was an AP All-American after ranking ninth in the nation with 90 catches for 1,121 yards (both school records). His only touchdown of the season came on a 69-yard fake punt in which he outran the Nevada defenders.

McBride’s ability and willingness as a blocker would appeal to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. McBride’s precise route-running and sure hands – which remind some NFL scouts of the Ravens’ Mark Andrews – would appeal to Aaron Rodgers.

The consensus among scouts is that McBride is the best, most complete tight end in this draft.

If the Packers went this route in the draft they would have:

** No. 17 – James Williams, who is the best receiver in this draft and undoubtedly would have been unattainable for the Packers if healthy.

** No. 28 – Treylon Burks, who is a dynamic receiver with crazy after-the-catch skills, could step in and contribute immediately at a position of great need.

** No. 39 – Dax Hill, a versatile hybrid safety, is the chess piece defensive coordinator Joe Barry currently doesn’t have on the roster. Darnell Savage, Jr., is similar to Hill and could be his future replacement. Both Savage and Adrian Amos are working on one-year contracts.

Furthermore, the Packers didn’t tender a contract offer to safety Henry Black, who played on nearly 40-percent of the defensive snaps last season. Hill would represent a major upgrade over Black on Day One.

** No. 59 – Trey McBride, who is considered the best tight end in this draft, has to be a strong consideration for Packers GM Brian Gutekunst.

Some fans would gripe about the Packers not selecting an offensive lineman in the first four rounds. They also would be less-than-thrilled with the team using seven picks to net four players.

On the other hand, the Packers would be set at receiver and tight end for the foreseeable future. They also would add a Top 15 talent on defense with Hill.

That’s four first-rate, upper-tier players in as many rounds.

If that happens, the question should be, “What if?”

It should be, “What’s not to like?”

Brewers’ bats get a lift on Brosseau’s HR shot

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Chicks aren’t the only ones that dig the long ball.

The Brewers maximized their five hits Sunday by blasting three out of Wrigley Field in a 5-4 comeback win over the Cubs in their weekend series finale. The home run trifecta triggered smiles and sighs of relief for Milwaukee fans.

The Brewers opened the season with back-to-back losses scoring just four runs during the first 20 innings. It didn’t quell concerns seeing Christian Yelich’s ongoing struggle at the plate. Then Yelich managed an infield single in the first, and followed it with a resounding double in the sixth, and the Brewers rallied.

Willy Adames hit the Brewers’ first home run of the season to close Chicago’s early 3-0 lead. The shortstop hit 25 home runs last season, including 20 with the Brewers after being acquired in May. It’s good to hear the thunder in Adames’ bat.

Rowdy Tellez’s two-run blast with Yelich aboard gave Milwaukee a 4-3 lead, its first lead of the season, in the top of the sixth. Yelich drove in Adames with an opposite-field double to deep left earlier in the three-run uprising.

The Cubs rallied in the bottom of the sixth when Clint Frazier scored on Jake Cousins’ wild pitch. That set the stage for one of the newest Brewers – utility man Mike Brosseau – to have his “get to know me” moment.

Brosseau smashed a 400-foot drive over the centerfield fence. It enabled Milwaukee (1-2) to ride its bullish bullpen through the finish line.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh to get the win. Devin Williams notched a hold with a clean eighth, and Josh Hader rolled through the ninth to record his first save.

The trio combined to allow just one hit while walking none and striking out five. Brewers’ pitchers were bedeviled by walks in their first two losses. Freddy Peralta started and allowed three runs and four walks over four innings. He struck out six and settled down after a shaky three-run first inning.

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Peralta all struggled at Wrigley Field. Baseball’s top “starting three” allowed 13 earned runs and 10 walks in 12 2/3 innings pitched. The good news is that all three threw free and easy, and while their control wasn’t pinpoint, the velocity and movement were first rate.

Meantime, Brosseau watched and waited his turn.

It came when he pinch-hit for Jace Peterson with one out in the seventh. Brosseau stepped in against ex-Brewers left Daniel Norris and delivered the big blow.

Brosseau, a northern Indiana native, grew up watching the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“I came here a lot,” he said. “It’s full circle now playing here.”

Brosseau, 28, had family and friends in attendance when he nailed the first pinch-hit home run of his career.

“It’s really cool, yeah, definitely,” he told reporters after the game. “Kind of looking back on it now after it set a little bit, you can kind of see how cool of a story (it is.”

It was also cool for Brewers’ fans to see their team win.

It’s not surprising that a trio of home runs and a trio of closers did the job.

“It’s one of our strengths, to try to shorten games and then have those guys (Boxberger, Williams and Hader) being really solid at the end of games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

Brosseau is on the Brewers’ roster while third baseman Luis Urias remains on the injury list with a strained calf muscle.

The Brewers take on winless Baltimore in the Orioles’ home-opener today at 2:05 p.m. at Camden Yards. The Orioles were outscored 15-4 while losing three games during the weekend at Tampa Bay.

Milwaukee will start right-hander Adrian Houser, who was 10-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 28 appearances last season. Houser aims to build on his strong finish last year, when we went 7-1 with a 2.65 ERA over his final 17 starts.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Bruce Zimmerman, who struggled mightily in spring training, allowing eight earned runs in seven innings. The Brewers will look to extend his struggles through Baltimore’s home opener.

McCutchen highlights

Brewers’ drab opener

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In baseball it isn’t where you start. It’s where you finish.

The Brewers are the favorites to finish first in the National League Central and their 5-4 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field Thursday didn’t dampen their hopes.

Mother Nature handled that by forcing the Brewers and Cubs to postpone Friday’s afternoon game, which was rescheduled for May 30.

So after an unscheduled day off, the Brewers and Cubs will get back after it today with the first pitch set for 1:20 p.m. It will be right-hander Brandon Woodruff on the mound for Milwaukee versus Chicago left-hander Justin Steele.

Woodruff went 9-10 with a career-best 2.56 ERA in 30 starts last season. Steele made his big league debut in 2021, going 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 20 appearances, including nine starts.

The Brewers’ season-opener didn’t go as planned, but there were several things to get excited about, beginning with Andrew McCutchen. The long-time Pirates star was signed by the Brewers to be their DH and hit left-handed pitching.

McCutchen went 2-for-5 in his Brewers’ debut against right-handed pitchers, including a laser to center field that might’ve found Waveland Avenue if it had been elevated. It ended up being a long, loud fly out.

The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks was especially sharp in the opener. The soft-throwing veteran right-hander spotted his 87 mph fastball to set up his 80 mph changeup. Hendricks’ off-speed pitches kept the Brewers’ hitters off-balance most of the day.

Hendricks scattered five hits over 5.1 innings while allowing just one run on three walks and a surprisingly high seven strikeouts. Reliever Mychal Givens, the fifth of six Cubs pitchers used, recorded just one out in the eighth to get the win.

The Brewers’ top five hitters combined for seven hits. Willie Adames, Rowdy Tellez and McCutchen had two hits each. Leadoff hitter Kolten Wong also singled.

So what’s the concern? Christian Yelich, the No. 3 hitter, went hitless and didn’t look good doing it. While the Brewers and their fans hope Yelich can recapture at least some of his MVP magic at the plate, the fact is the clock’s ticking.

Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell, the National League’s longest-tenured manager, might’ve been wise to pencil in Yelich further down the lineup. It’s difficult to second-guess Counsell, so he may be right to hit Yelich third. But if the left-fielder continues his two-year struggle Counsell will have to make some tough decisions.

The Brewers’ lack of production at the plate was a season-long storyline last year. They had trouble getting runners aboard, and they lacked clutch hitting all season.

The Brewers were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position Thursday. Lorenzo Cain knows all about the concern, but he isn’t fretting just yet.

“We kind of dealt with that last year,” said Cain, who went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. “I don’t see that as something we’re dealing with all year long. It’s the first game of the season. Everybody is excited and amped up.”

McCutchen believes the Brewers’ lineup is going to be just fine.

“With the amount of talent we have up and down the order,” McCutchen said, “if guys go out and they can be themselves, I think the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Cubs’ left-fielder Ian Happ had three hits and drove in two runs, including a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth. It came off the usually reliable Jake Cousins.

“I just need to make a better pitch to Happ there,” Cousins said. “I had Frank (Schwindel) on deck, too, and I need to realize that. It was just a bad decision, and I’ve just got to live with it.”

Corbin Burnes started for the Brewers and struggled with command throughout.

Burnes allowed four hits over five innings with an uncharacteristic three walks. The Cy Young Award winner threw just 48 strikes on 83 pitches. The Cubs’ Nico Hoerner touched him up for a two-run home run.

“Obviously, throwing from behind all game is tough and three walks is something I’m trying to avoid, but they didn’t hurt me,” he said. “They strung a couple of hits together and really, we were one pitch away from (limiting it to) one run in that inning. Obviously, it was unfortunate that I had that one pitch, the backup slider (to Hoerner), and it made things look worse than they were.

“Command-wise, I have to be better.”

The Brewers’ backup catcher, Pedro Severino, was suspended 80 games for testing positive for an illegal substance. Severino said it was an unapproved fertility drug. He won’t be able to play in the postseason because of the suspension, so the Brewers acquired ex-Cubs catcher Vic Caratini from San Diego. Caratini will back up All-Star catcher Omar Narvaez.

Kansas rallies by UNC

to capture NCAA title

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – At halftime even Kansas’ most faithful basketball fans might’ve had a difficult time believing they’d swinging and swaying to the words, “Rock Chalk … Jay-Hawk … KU!” by game’s end.

Then again, they know all about their Jayhawks’ reputation as a second-half team.

Kansas rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit to edge North Carolina, 72-69, to win the NCAA Tournament championship Monday night in New Orleans. The epic comeback erased the previous record set by Loyola Chicago in 1963, when the Ramblers rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Cincinnati 60-58 in OT.

The Jayhawks trailed the red-hot Tar Heels 40-25 at halftime.

Ex-NBA star and TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley nailed it at halftime. Barkley said the Kansas guards needed to be more involved on offense and they needed to pick up the pace. The Jayhawks did indeed play with tempo after an ugly first half and they ultimately took control of the game.

“I didn’t say much at halftime,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, who became the first Kansas coach to win two national titles. His first title came in 2008. “We were disappointed in how we played in the first half. North Carolina obviously was the better team in the first half, but that was about as good defensively as a team can play in the second half.”

Indeed, the Jayhawks outscored the Tar Heels 47-29 in the second half. Kansas trailed Miami by six at half in the Elite Eight before outscoring the Hurricanes by 32 in the second half of a 76-50 blowout win.

North Carolina hammered Kansas on the boards and out-rebounded the Jayhawks 55-35, but the Tar Heels converted just 11 of 40 second-half shots in the loss.

Hubert Davis, the Tar Heels’ first-year coach, had nothing but love for his team.

“I should be disappointed,” Davis said, “but I feel so much pride for what these guys have done for themselves, this team, our university and our community. You can’t ask for them to do any more. I’m extremely proud of each one of them.”

Kansas got big nights from center David McCormack and forward Jalen Wilson, who scored 15 points each. Ochai Ogbaji scored 12 points and added three rebounds to be named the Final Four’s “Most Outstanding Player.”

Kansas guard Christian Braun scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and transfer Remy Martin had 11 of his 14 in the final 20 minutes.

Clearly, Kansas’ improved guard play keyed the second-half turnaround.

North Carolina’s cause took a blow when an already gimpy Armando Bacot reinjured his sprained right ankle late in the second half.

The Jayhawks went at Bacot and it paid off.

“When we had to have a basket, we went to Big Dave (McCormack), and he delivered,” Self said.

McCormack scored the final four points of the game to close it out.

Bacot, despite being limited, had 15 points and 15 rebounds to become the first player to record a double-double in all six tournament games. R.J. Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Brady Manek had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Caleb Love finished with 13 points.

Love’s potential game-tying 3-point shot fell short at the buzzer.

“They were penetrating and doing whatever they wanted,” Love said.

The game was dead even at 65-65 when Martin nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, but back-to-back baskets by Love and Manek gave UNC a 69-68 lead with 1:41 to play. The Tar Heels (29-10) went scoreless after that.

“This is a special group of guys,” Agbaji said. “We overcome the odds and adversity as a family.”

McCormack seconded that notion.

“We just locked in as a family, as a team, and that’s what we do,” he said. “We’re just built for this.”

Kansas has no intention of resting on its laurels, at least according to the Las Vegas odds-makers, who installed the Jayhawks as 10-1 favorites to repeat next spring. Gonzaga was at 12-1. The usual suspects – Arizona, Kentucky and Duke – each came in at 15-1.

The pre-tournament betting favorite has won seven of the past 17 tournaments.

Kansas to edge ‘Nova,

top UNC-Duke winner

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Final Four’s marquee matchup in the semifinals is upstart North Carolina and first-year head coach Hubert Davis taking on Duke and the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach, Mike Krzyzewski, in Saturday’s nightcap.

Amazingly it is the first time the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have met in the NCAA Tournament, and it comes in coach Krzyzewski’s record 13th Final Four appearance and his final season.

In the other half of the bracket, Villanova head coach Jay Wright leads his Wildcats into their third Final Four appearance in the past six seasons. Villanova won the title in 2016 and 2018, but faces a mammoth challenge against Kansas.

The Wildcats (30-7) will be without Justin Moore, who tore his right Achilles tendon in the final minute of Villanova’s 50-44 victory over Houston in the Elite Eight. Wright has called Moore “the team’s MVP” and will be missed.

Kansas (32-6) comes in on a nine-game winning streak while easily playing its best basketball of the season.

Here’s a closer look at the matchups with predictions:

Kansas vs. Villanova, tip at 5:09 p.m., Saturday, coverage on The FAN

One of Kansas coach Bill Self’s greatest challenges will be convincing his Jayhawks that Moore’s absence doesn’t make the Wildcats a pushover. On the contrary, it’s a good bet Villanova’s Collin Gillespie, the Big East “Player of the Year,” will elevate his game. Jermaine Samuels, the “Most Outstanding Player” in the South Region, averages 11.1 points and will be counted on heavily.

“That’s certainly a blow to him and to the program and so sad for him, but they’ve got capable guys,” Self said. “They’ll bring (Caleb) Daniels in, or whoever, and they’re usually going to have five guards that we’re going to defend all the time on the perimeter.”

Sixth man Caleb Daniels will join the starting lineup and others will see expanded roles off the bench. None other than CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg believes Villanova will push Kansas to the limit.

“It’s human nature to take a breath and relax just a little bit knowing that Moore is out,” Kellogg said in a Final Four radio row interview Thursday. “But Villanova is exceptionally well-coached and they’ll make you beat them. They don’t take bad shots or commit unforced turnovers. They play a deliberate style. They’ll pass and pass and work the ball until they get a good luck. I think this game is going to be closer than maybe some people think.”

I agree with Kellogg’s assessment.

Villanova is capable of knocking off Kansas without Moore, but they’re going to have to play heady basketball and hit a lot of 3-point shots. In fact, the Wildcats have taken 957 3-point shots as a team, with Gillespie the top trigger man.

Kansas lost to Villanova 95-79 in the Final Four’s semifinals in 2018. The Wildcats went on to rout Michigan to win the title.

Mitch Lightfoot, a sixth-year center, was on that Jayhawks’ team in 2018.

“It’s like it’s written,” Lightfoot said.  “We played them in the Final Four and lost in 2018, and it’s only fair to go out there and play again and give them our best shot. I know they will give us their best shot. It will be a great game.”

Ochai Agbaji, who averages 18.9 points, is the Jayhawks’ top star. He was the Big 12 “Player of the Year” and has drilled 96 3-pointers this season.

Guard Remy Martin also has played well, twice eclipsing the 20-point mark in the tournament. Martin didn’t exceed 20 points once in the regular season.

Kansas center David McCormack (10.1 points, 6.8 rebounds) is a key to the game. McCormack has been dealing with a sore foot most of the season. So long as it doesn’t flare up at the worst possible time, McCormack should be Ok.

Prediction: Kansas 71, Villanova 64

North Carolina vs. Duke, tip at 7:49 p.m., Saturday, coverage on The FAN

It is incredible that North Carolina and Duke have never squared off in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll get that chance on Saturday with the Blue Devils coming into the game as 4-point favorites.

Duke (32-6) and coach K are trying to write a storybook finish to this team’s season and the legendary coach’s career.

North Carolina (28-9) hasn’t backed down from any challenge since upsetting Duke in coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That victory has propelled a previously inconsistent Tar Heels team to the Final Four.

“I don’t think anything can be as crazy as the game leading up to the game over in Cameron,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. “As I said before, we keep our eyes straight ahead and we ignore all the noise. And I consistently tell them to turn down or turn off the noise of the phone, family and friends. If you do that – just focus on our preparation and our practice and if you do that, then our play will be good. And that’s what we’re going to do this upcoming week.”

This is Davis’ first season as UNC’s coach. Coach K has won five national titles.

If Krzyzewski is going to get his sixth championship his Blue Devils are going to have to continue to play outstanding defense. North Carolina’s Armando Bacot is a beast down low, but he’ll have to contend with Duke’s best player, Paolo Banchero, who needed 26 shots to score 23 points in their last meeting.

Prediction: Duke 79, North Carolina 75

In Monday’s Final Four championship game I see Kansas edging Duke, 69-67, to capture the national title.

Packers’ GM, coach

work puzzle together

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It has been 10 weeks since the Packers’ disheartening loss to San Francisco in the NFC divisional playoff round.

Green Bay’s offense and special teams were exposed in the 13-10 stunner.

The special teams’ units were a ticking bomb that exploded in the postseason.

The offense was incapable of sustaining drives, putting up points and taking control of a game Green Bay should’ve won.

Only the defense rose to the challenge.

Green Bay’s response has been direct, decisive and on-point.

Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur addressed their offseason moves with the media Monday at the NFL’s owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together; you’ve got to find those pieces that you’re missing and put it all together,” LaFleur said. “How’s that going to look in the end? I have no idea right now.”

While it’s true LaFleur doesn’t know what the team’s final version will look like, it’s also fair to say the Packers are headed in the right direction.

They succeeded in retaining the defense’s key components.

They cleaned house on special teams by hiring a new coordinator and declining to resign the three players who had the most snaps on special teams in 2021.

They also convinced their trigger man, All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to sign a massive contract that all but guarantees he will retire in a Packers’ uniform.

“I think he’ll go as long as he wants to go,” LaFleur said of Rodgers’ career. “Those aren’t conversations that we have regularly. So we’re just going to take advantage of the time that he is with us and continue to try to work and grind to hopefully someday be able to get a Super Bowl.”

Rodgers is going to have to make a Super Bowl run without Davante Adams. The Packers traded the All-Pro receiver to the Las Vegas Raiders in return for the 28th and 53rd picks in the NFL draft, set for April 28-30.

Gutekunst realizes replacing Adams isn’t going to be easy.

“You never really replace a guy like Davante Adams,” Gutekunst said. “It’s gonna be more cumulative and how the whole team steps up and plays and what we can add to that. So getting the two picks and having four picks in the top 59 I think gives us a little bit of ammunition to try to make a difference there a little bit.”

Gutekunst said it’s still possible the Packers could sign a veteran free-agent receiver. They also might trade for one, but that seems problematic at best. The Packers are about $15 million beneath the salary cap with approximately half of that needed to sign their draft picks.

Miami’s DeVante Parker may be available following the Dolphins’ blockbuster trade for wide-out Tyreek Hill. Parker (6-3, 219) possesses enough breakaway speed to be a replacement for the departed Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Parker, 29, had 72 catches for 1,202 yards, nine touchdowns and 58 first downs with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback in 2019. He isn’t that far removed from those numbers. Imagine what he might do with Rodgers throwing to him?

The Jaguars’ Laviska Shenault (6-1, 227) is another trade possibility.

Shenault has 121 catches for 1,219 yards and five touchdowns through two seasons. He is a versatile weapon that can line up wide, in the slot or out of the backfield ala the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel.

In terms of available free agents, Jarvis Landry and Will Fuller are two reasonably priced options.

The Packers tried to acquire Fuller two years ago, so it’s reasonable to think Gutekunst and LaFleur still believe he could help them.

Landry, 29, wants to be paid like the perennial Pro Bowl receiver who led the NFL with 112 catches in 2017 and had a career-best 1,174 yards receiving in 2019. The problem is Landry isn’t THAT GUY anymore.

Then again he never was a speedster. He ran 4.61 out of college. He is known for making difficult catches in traffic, and possessing a knack for getting open.

Fuller or Landry plus a receiver or two in the draft makes sense.

The question is which receiver(s) do they draft and when?

“Certainly, if you look at our roster right now, we definitely need to get some speed in that room,” LaFleur said. “We need a legit guy that can take off the top of the coverage. We lost a guy (MVS) that was pretty good at doing that.”

Marquez Valdes-Scantling signed with Kansas City, and Equanimeous St. Brown did likewise with Chicago. The Packers’ receiving corps currently consists of Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Juwann Winfrey and whichever receiver(s) the Packers select in the draft.

So what should the Packers do in the draft?

Here’s the answer and it rhymes: They should draft Dotson and Watson. That’s Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and North Dakota State’s Christian Watson.

Dotson (5-11, 185) is a 4.3 speedster with arguably the best hands in the draft. Dotson doesn’t drop passes while finding ways to magically appear behind the entire defensive secondary. He would be as explosive a weapon as the Packers have had in years.

Watson (6-4, 208) has exceptional body control and the explosiveness to high-point passes. He is similar to MVS except he’s bigger, just as fast (he runs 4.3 in the 40-yard dash) and a more polished route-runner out of college.

Watson also has more reliable hands.

Of course, Gutekunst could pair the 22nd and 28th picks, move up to the eighth overall pick, and select Ohio State’s Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson. Both are speedsters in the 4.3-second range with exceptional hands and instincts. Olave is the smaller, more polished of the two, while some project a higher upside for Wilson.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Packers selecting Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green with the 22nd pick and Arkansas’ receiver Treylon Burks with the 28th pick.

I suspect fans would initially scoff at using the 22nd pick on an O-linemen. While I see it as unlikely, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised, either. The Packers lost Billy Turner and Lucas Patrick in free agency. They also are awaiting the healthy return of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins.

“If we didn’t add anybody to our offensive line, I feel really good about the guys coming back,” Gutekunst said earlier this month. “Obviously, Elgton’s coming off a big injury, but if you’re saying, ‘Hey, he’s healthy, ready to go,’ I’d feel really good about our group coming back.”

Once the Packers add what’s likely to be two rookie receivers the challenge will be getting them up to speed as quickly as possible. It helps that LaFleur and Rodgers have been together for three seasons. The fact that they’re on the same page should accelerate the receivers’ growth.

LaFleur sounded like he’d prefer to have his receivers in-house yesterday.

He knows it’s going to take time.

“I’ve witnessed it,” he said. “It’s a process, like everything is. And the more time that we can get those guys out on the field and put ‘em in certain situations to allow them to kind of learn and grow, hopefully we can be creative in ways we can expedite that process. So, I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting.”

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