In a battle of two teams mired in mediocrity for the better part of the last decade and a half, it was the newer-comer to the party whose run ended early. When the Philadelphia Phillies won the first game of their NLDS matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers, it was their first playoff victory since the 1993 run to the World Series.
After the Phils beat the Brewers 6-2 at Miller Park Sunday afternoon, it was their first playoff series victory since that same year. Sure, 15 years is a long time, but how about 26?
Brewers fans could sulk, and pout, talking about how close they were to winning this series, despite what the 1-3 final record might indicate. Management could overreact and feel the need to go out and spend millions on “playoff tested” veterans. What? Like Jeff Suppan, Mike Cameron, and Eric Gagne?
This Philadelphia Phillies team will likely go to the World Series and could really give the AL representative (like the Red Sox?) a great series. The Phils have a complete team, and this looks like it could be their year. With contracts coming up, it could be a very different team next year and in the coming seasons.
The same cannot be said for Milwaukee. The core of this Brewers team is locked up for the foreseeable future. If Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio believe this set of young players can win in the playoffs, which it appears they do, then all they need is patience. After all, patience got them this far.
The Brewers minor-league system produced just about every key contributor to this 2008 Brewers team, including the handful of All-Stars who battled back after giving away the Wild Card lead in early September.
Even with Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia likely headed out the door this offseason, the Brewer’s future remains bright, with one of the most-stocked farm systems in ball. This team just has to find a way to play consistently.
Firing Ned Yost didn’t change anything but the lineup. It was the same players taking poor approaches at the plate, not making pitches, and not playing solid defense. If you pay tens of millions of dollars to a playoff pitcher, he can’t give up three home runs at home in an elimination game.
If you pay a former Cy Young closer $10 million, he can’t blow seven of his 17 save opportunities, post a 5.44 ERA, and not close games for you after May.
But it wasn’t Jeff Suppan or Eric Gagne that cost the Brewers the Central this season, or who lost this playoff series. In fact, Gagne was stellar against the Phils.
The problem was the struggling young hitters on this team. Two 24-year-old sluggers make the Brewer offense run. Prince didn’t show up in the playoffs until the seventh inning in Game Four, when he hit an absolute monster blast off Joe Blanton to pull the Brewers within three. Inexplicably, that was Fielder’s first hit of the series.
Ryan Braun went 4-15 with just one RBI in his first trip to the postseason. Corey Hart, an All-Star this year and the Brewers' most reliable hitter with runners in scoring position was a mess with a 2-11 series, no extra base hits, and three K’s.
Only shortstop JJ Hardy showed up for the Crew, finishing the NLDS 6-13 with two RBI and two walks.
It will have to be Braun, Hardy, Hart, and Fielder who play Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Burrell for the Brewers next season if Milwaukee wants to emulate the success of this Phillies team.
Prince Fielder, your cleanup hitter can’t start slow again next year; the Central is just too good. The Cubs are going to be just as good next season, and the Astros will be more like the team we saw at the beginning and end of the year than the mediocre team we saw in the middle. And apparently the Cardinals will always be in the race as long as they have Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols.
The Brewers' rotation will look entirely different, but most of the potential key cogs acquitted themselves quite well this postseason. Yovani Gallardo, despite his Game One struggles, will likely be the stopper for this team next season. Manny Parra will join him at the top of the rotation and was very effective out of the 'pen in the playoffs, despite his late-season struggles as a starter (he wore down considerably).
Dave Bush has been outstanding in the second half, and if he can pitch with confidence, he could even be a 15 or more game winner next season. If Bush doesn’t pitch a gem in Game Three, the Brewers go home a day sooner.
Beyond that, it looks hard to predict. Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva probably both deserve a chance to start, but that significantly diminishes a bullpen that already stands to lose Guillermo Mota, Eric Gagne, and perhaps Salomon Torres. Both McClung and Villa were outstanding late in the year; in fact, statistically speaking, Villanueva was the best Brewers reliever in the second half.
What to do with Jeff Suppan will be a big question heading into the offseason. If you pay a pitcher to get you to and win for you in the postseason, and he wets the bed in September and October, he better be great the rest of the year. Suppan was nothing short of mediocre and inconsistent in 2008, seemingly leaving little room of him in the rotation.
No, the season did not end the way the Brewers had hoped. However, the players, fans, organization, and city of Milwaukee should hold their heads high, knowing they did something truly special for this team and this city.
You can bet Brewers fans, this one included, will never forget the kind of effort CC Sabathia gave to a team that he knew he wouldn’t be playing for coming next April. Watching him throw gem after gem was a pleasure and a privilege.
Seeing the resolve of this team was truly incredible. They underachieved offensively and yet won some 28 games in the final at-bat. Even late in the year, the Brewers didn’t score many runs, but they got them when the needed them off the bats of Braun, Fielder, and Hardy.
The 2008 playoffs were a struggle, even painful for this team and its fans. But I urge the aforementioned parties not to forget the run in the regular season, the late game heroics, the 11th-hour playoff push, and the guts of a team trying to shirk more than 25 years in the cellar.
The season officially ended for the Brewers on Sunday, Oct. 5. An October ending, a 90-win season, and a surplus of young talent have fans in Milwaukee more excited than they’ve been ever been about “next season.” For the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, “next season” could be “the season” in Milwaukee.