Class in Session for Young Brewers: Tough Lessons in NLDS

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IOctober 2, 2008

As if Milwaukee Brewers fans hadn’t suffered enough. After 26 years of perpetual ineptitude, they now are in the postseason. However, the Brew Crew find themselves down 0-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies after an excruciating 5-2 loss Thursday night. 

Fans in Milwaukee will drive themselves crazy with “what ifs” after this series. What if Mike Cameron catches Chase Utley’s lined shot to center yesterday, which turned into two unearned runs for the Phils, the difference in the ball game?

What if Corey Hart takes a pitch against Myers in the first inning with the bases loaded when Myers hadn’t thrown a strike practically all game. What if CC Sabathia throws a decent pitch to Brett Myers and got him out and wouldn’t have to pitch to Shane Victorino with the bases loaded?

You could even ask what if Prince Fielder would have taken a pitch against J.C. Romero with two men on and two outs in the eighth?

The bottom line is the Brewers just weren’t able to close. Four of the five runs scored by the Phillies came with two outs tonight, and all three of the runs yesterday. The grand slam to Victorino was an 0-2 pitch that Sabathia left over the plate.

Sabathia nibbled against Myers, blowing him away with two fastballs to start and then throwing breaking ball after breaking ball until Myers coerced a nine-pitch walk to load the bases, giving Victorino the shot.

The Brewers have actually scored in more innings (3) than the Phillies in this series (2), yet have only three total runs. The Brewers aren’t getting on base and giving their hitters a chance to drive in runs. Too often, Milwaukee hitters go up swinging away and put the pressure on themselves rather than making the pitchers make their pitches.

Perhaps the Brewers want to win too badly. This young team has looked young through two games, with impatience and poor fundamentals. Hitters are taking atrocious approaches, swinging at garbage, and missing mistakes to drive.

Without doubt, this was the most difficult two games to watch for Brewers fans since the 1982 World Series. Despite the two losses, the Brewers had a chance to win every game. In Game One, the defense was sloppy, the hitting awful, and yet one hit by Corey Hart in the top of the ninth ties the ball game.

Despite Sabathia’s uncharacteristically wild start, Prince Fielder came to the plate in the eighth inning with a chance to tie the game with one swing.

All the questions about the Brewers' bullpen have gone by the wayside. It has been the starters that couldn’t go deep, and the hitters which couldn’t put the Crew’s 'pen in a position to hold a lead. 

Ultimately, it looks as though this Milwaukee Brewers team’s run in the playoff is not long for this world. The 1982 Brewers were the first team in the history of the league to come back from down 0-2 to win a series like this.

Certainly, the Brewers hitters can get hot and turn this series around, but the odds are ominously against it happening.

More importantly though, this core group of players has the opportunity to face adversity. Players like Ryan Braun, who have lead this team, will face elimination and it will be telling to see how they react in Game Three.

If owner Mark Attanasio and General Manager Doug Melvin are truly committed to making Milwaukee a viable franchise in the National League, this young group will have to be the group to lead the Brewers there.

CC Sabathia will likely walk, along with Ben Sheets after this season. Mike Cameron probably moves on after this season, and Jason Kendall isn’t getting any younger. Craig Counsell certainly cannot play every day anymore, despite his propensity to play well in big games and against top-level pitching.

That means this group, guys like Braun, Fielder, Hardy, and Hart, along with the young minor-league prospects Gwynn, Escobar, Gamel, Salome, Dillard, and Pena will lead the rebuilding effort.

The Milwaukee Brewers' 2008 season now comes down to one game. Less than a week ago, the Brewers had to beat the Cubs on a Sunday afternoon to extend their season. It was Ryan Braun who came up with the big two-run home run to catapult the Brewers into the postseason.

On Saturday, there will be no CC Sabathia on the mound—no Ben Sheets, either. Veterans like Jason Kendall, and the aforementioned Counsell and Cameron, can’t put this team on their backs.

It will have to be group of homegrown, if green, talent thanks to Gord Ash and the scouting department at Brewers HQ. Just getting a win under their belt could mean the difference between another playoff struggle and a deep run in the coming seasons.