Your 2011 Milwaukee Brewers

Writing this from my sickbed, but here goes —

The Brewers picked the wrong year to get so good. They’ll fall to the Phillies, probably 4-1, in the NLCS. Gallardo would get a win, but they’ll start him against Halladay or Lee, which is a waste (why do teams do that? It seems it would be far smarter to start your ace against the opposition’s less-good starters than potentially waste a start against their ace. At the worst, that would come out 1-1. Never understood that logic. Nate Silver, Jonah Keri, Rob Neyer, tell me why I’m horribly mistaken.) And no Cardinals fans, you aren’t going to beat the Brew Crew — even with their upcoming series against Philly. I had the pleasure of attending a recent Brewers-Cubs game, and the home crowd at Miller Park (one of the loveliest fields I’ve had the joy of attending) literally wills the team to win. The atmosphere is just electric — the fans believe and the players know they do. Reminded me of the Bulls crowd this past NBA season. Even with a 30% Cubs crowd, the noise was deafening. In a small-market city with the likely probability of losing Prince Fielder this off-season, the fans know this might just be their best shot at the first Brewers World Series title ever and first pennant since 1982.
So let’s start with the starting pitching.
Zach Greinke has been on and off this year, but still has posted a 14-6, 3.93 ERA, 172 K in an injury-limited 148.2 IP with a 1.17 WHIP and a .245 BAA. Many folks (myself among them) expected better coming to the NL Central, but that 10.71 K/9 is best in the bigs and a solid 0.7 ahead of Clayton Kershaw (who is the most dominant pitcher in the league that seemingly no one is talking about. Why is this? He plays for a franchise, though troubled with the McCourt saga, that has a legacy in the league and in a huge market. Don’t feed me lies about Stephen Strasburg’s idealistic future — yes that’s a Postal Service reference — when Kershaw is completely dominating the NL. I’ve harped about this on Twitter often, and Halladay, as my favorite athlete and completely owning just about every hitter he faces, has been anointed the NL Cy Young winner already, some buzz about Kershaw is highly overdue.) Back to Greinke — he still has that overpowering fastball, good change, and devastating slider. Slot him into the two hole in a postseason series.
Yovani Gallardo is the staff ace, and the fine gent I had the pleasure of watching at Miller. His line that night (against an admittedly feeble Cubs lineup): a 7.0 IP, 6H, 1 R, 0 ER, BB, 10K effort. St. Louis has not been kind to him in his two most recent starts, which has sent him to 15-10, 3.71 ERA, 56 BB, 171K in 187.0 IP. 254 BAA land. His biggest problem: giving up home runs, with 24 thus far. That’s too many for 187.0 IP. Like so many power pitches, he also runs his pitch count high early in the game. At 25 (shit, that’s older than me), he has plenty of time to learn to throw grounders and rely less on the strikeout. For the postseason though, Milwaukee rises or falls on Gallardo and Greinke being solid.
Then there’s Shawn Marcum — perhaps the most underrated pitcher in baseball, and sporting a 12-5, 3.11 ERA, 49 BB, 143 K in 176.1 record with a 1.09 WHIP and a sterling .211 BAA. The Brewers trade for him from Toronto was one of the best recent deals. As a No. 3 starter, he’s probably among the best in the league. Only concern: no playoff experience. True of Greinke as well and Gallardo has only one playoff start, so blame my preference for strikeout pitchers, but I just have more faith in them come the postseason. I just think of Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, and Pedro, though all three are Hall of Famers, not just strikeout pitchers. Anyway, against Hamels, Marcum will be overmatched.
Randy Wolf is your standard journeyman with okay stuff, yet able to eat innings: Oswalt can match him easily.
That leaves Narveson in the pen, about whom I know very little. His numbers aren’t impressive.
Speaking of the bullpen: LaTroy Hawkins gave every Cubs fan a heart attack when he briefly closed. At that game at Miller, he gave up 4 H in 0.1 IP with a 3-run Alfonso Soriano double, though has since been solid though rarely-used. K-Rod has been decent since coming over from the Mets, and is a fairly reliable setup man. Takashi Saito has been brilliant since coming off the DL. Kameron Loe has been decent, nothing special. Frankie De La Cruz has been outstanding since being called up on 10 August: 1.86 ERA, 0.83 WHIP. Then there’s John Axford closing, he of the 41/43 save/save opp. record and of the Eckersley-level ‘stache. Utterly dominant this year, throwing 96-97 every night. All in all, the Brewers pen is pretty damn good, and good bullpens make for good playoff teams.
So to the offense: obviously starting with Mr. Braun, who’s having an MVP-level season. .332, 27 HR, 95 RBI, 31 SB (only 6 CS) with a .988 OPS. Those are some staggering numbers, and Braun isn’t a waste of space defensively either. He’s become one of the best-hitting outfielders in the game (and my Brewers fan friend’s heartthrob). He’s only slightly overshadowing his first-base teammate Prince Fielder. How does .293, 31 HR, 108 RBI, .946 OPS sound in a pitcher-dominant season? Pretty good. Those two alone can win a game. Around the diamond, Casey McGehee is a liability — a .293 OBP/.653 OPS just doesn’t cut it. Yunieski Betancourt is even worse at short, sporting a .271 OBP and .644 OPS. Jerry Hairston at second is, well, Jerry Hairston .341 OBP/.713 OPS. Essentially average.
Nyjer Morgan in center is decent with an .801 OPS but also nothing special. His anger at the Cards was refreshing though. This seems to be a theme. Seriously YouTube “Nyjer Morgan fight” and there are many examples. Now, I’m a fan of baseball hotheads and bench-clearing brawls. Carlos Zambrano’s tirade at Derrek Lee completely galvanized the 2009 Cubs and made for good theater as well. Yet Morgan isn’t good enough (Zambrano isn’t either anymore) to run his mouth off. That kind of thing can hamstring a club with World Series designs. We’ll see if he can hold it together. Honestly I’ve been impressed with the 2011 Corey Hart — 23 HR, .849 OPS and solid defense in left.
Basically the Brewers rise and fall with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder abusing opposing pitchers. Solid defense, which is more important than ESPN thinks outside of Top Ten Plays (which, in a minor complaint didn’t include Victor Martinez’s go-ahead grand slam last night).
In any other year, the Brewers would be a definite pick to represent the NL in the World Series. Yet this year, the Phillies just have the look of a legendary team. The Brewers will own the NL Central over the Cards (not to even mention my feckless Cubs). Whether they can make it to the top will depend on Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum and the non-Braun/Fielder batsmen.
Next up: the New York Yankees.
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~ by Benji on 8 September 2011.

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