For Opening Day of a season that increasing feels like the beginning of a 3- or 4-year period that will take the Brewers to ...uh, contention or something, today was great.
Sheets was great (though I would've been happier with more K's), Brady was everything we could've hoped for, and the Pirates finally started acting like the doorstop that they are. Even when they're playing the Brewers.
And of course, there was starting third baseman Jeff Cirillo. Or, as he is affectionately known on a few chat boards I frequent, "Jeff f'in Cirillo," or some variant thereof. Nice ring to it, eh? 'Rillo, as Brewers radio announcer Jim Powell calls him, had a stellar day: 2 for 3 with a walk, 2 ribbies, a home run, and a great play in the field. Well...I was listening on the radio, but it sounded great.
I rode the wave of happiness for about 4 hours. And then it hit me.
If Cirillo starts hot, and Branyan starts cold, we could be seeing a lot of the old guy. No more 500 ABs for 3TO. Worst case--but not unimaginable--scenario, Branyan gets no more than the 150 ABs he got last year in Milwaukee. And you gotta admit--if somebody like him starts out cold, it looks really cold. A 2-for-28 slump isn't just painful, it's ugly to watch when 21 of those ABs are strikeouts.
Here's my point. (I know, you doubted I had one. Maybe you'll continue to doubt. If so, we might need to take this outside.) No matter how hot Jeff f'in Cirillo gets, he is--at best--a platoon partner. That was his role today, and while I wish him nothing but the best pinch-hitting for the Crew in the 6th inning, that's all he ought to ever be.
As I always do in cases like this, let's turn to the numbers. Russell Branyan had an OPS+ of 120 last year. Pretty darn good, and I think it's reasonable to expect, given his past numbers, his age, and the fact he's finally had a chance to get settled in one place, that he'll repeat that if given the chance. Jeff Cirillo, super-Brewer of years past, last topped that in 1998, and approached in 1999. Good for him--he certainly made lots of money on those numbers. But that was 6 years ago!
Cirillo hasn't been so much as average since 1999. Branyan has been at or above average just about every time he's been given the chance to play, regardless of level, regardless of role. Cirillo is 35, Branyan is 29. If the Brewers need veteran presence that bad, Dave Burba may be available again soon.
Here's a thought: measured by OPS+, you know which Brewers were better than Cirillo in his last good year, 1999?
Jeromy Burnitz, Geoff Jenkins, (here's where it gets funky) Dave Nilsson, and--coming in a notch above the Rillo--ALEX OCHOA.
And you know what? Alex Ochoa held up better after his excellent '99 season! I don't know what Alex has done with himself since he ripped up the Japanese Central League in 2003, but I would rather have Alex f'in Ochoa come off my bench than Jeff f'in Cirillo. HR, RBI, sparkling defensive play and all...I'll take Ochoa.
Just give me a team with Jeff Cirillo on it, and I'll give Ochoa a call.
Oh, you weren't going to call my bluff? I thought I had set that up nicely.
So thank you, Jeff, for helping the Crew win the opener. We, too, remember the glory days back when you saw the sunny side of .250, could put up double-digit home run totals, and didn't have to demonstrate that you could play second base just to make the team. It was fun watching you rip it up in Spring Training...you might even have trade value at this point! Speaking of which, Jeff, be sure to vote in my poll to help determine where you should be playing in May.
Now go away.