The Milwaukee Brewers have been gaining in both popularity and recognition on a national level due to their superb play as of late. This popularity led the FOX broadcasting network to option games on consecutive Saturdays to become a part of their national broadcasts.
During a pre-taped segment at Miller Park (the game today is part of a three-game series at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y.) FOX broadcaster Chris Rose discussed various topics with several Brewers players, including Nyjer Morgan.
The story of Tony Plush is one that has not really been tackled by this blog despite my extensive discussion about it on Twitter. I won’t rehash anything here but suffice it to say that Morgan is more than a bit unique. In fact, in the taped segment, Prince Fielder agrees with Rose’s assessment of Morgan as “a little crazy.”
The reason for this post is not, however, due to any of Morgan’s actions, hand-gestures, yelling or otherwise. Instead it is being written to expound on something Morgan uttered when he was in the midst of being quizzed on Milwaukee Brewers trivia by Rose.
Rose asked Morgan if he knew what the nickname of the 1982 Brewers offense was. As any Brewers fan with knowledge of the team prior to 2008 would know, it was “Harvey’s Wallbangers.”
Morgan didn’t know this, admitted as much, but said that he knows that this group is calling themselves the “SWAT team.”
This could have a simple reference to swatting baseballs with baseball bats but I like to think of it in another way whether Morgan meant it as such or not.
S.W.A.T. is an acronym for specialized police forces around country and elsewhere. S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons And Tactics. This a moniker that, quite simply in my estimation, personifies the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers perfectly.
Let’s take that in halves and I’ll show you what I mean.
Special Weapons: The Milwaukee Brewers have plenty of players that can be categorized as “Special Weapons.” Here’s an incomplete list.
Ryan Braun: Former Rookie of the Year. Four-time elected All-Star Game starting outfielder. Currently second in the National League in batting average. Leading the NL in runs scored and slugging percentage.
Prince Fielder: Youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs in a single season. Two-time elected All-Star Game starting first baseman. Recipient of MVP votes several times. Batting over .300, with 28 HR, 96 RBI. Leading the NL in RBI. Second in the NL in OBP and OPS.
Nyjer Morgan: Spark plug who always seems to be in the middle of game-winning situations and game-turning plays. Recently had a double-digit game hitting streak. Getting on base multiple ways. Keeps the clubhouse loose and keeps everybody relaxed during the grind of the season.
John Axford: Second in the National League (and all of MLB) in Saves. Current owner of a 34 consecutive Saves streak. Three pitch arsenal which can all be thrown for strikes. 97-98 mph heat. Outstanding control. Came out of nowhere to take over the closer role from future member of the Hall of Fame Trevor Hoffman and has converted saves since then at a 92.4% clip.
Take your pick of the Starting Pitchers. They are currently on a spectacular run of efficiency and dominance. The only recent hiccup was Randy Wolf’s start on Aug. 20 in New York, but otherwise it’s been a tremendous past few weeks.
Getting stronger at the right time. Here are a couple of highlights from the new members this year to the Brewers’ rotation.
Zack Greinke: 12-4 record. Former AL Cy Young Award winner. Currently 9-0 at Miller Park this season (the team is 11-0 in his home starts). 151-29 K-BB ratio.
Shaun Marcum: 11-3 record. 2.47 ERA on the road. .227 opponent batting average. Has played stopper more than a couple of times this year.
Again, that’s an incomplete list because several others could be on it but let’s move ahead to…
Tactics: Under first-year manager Ron Roenicke, the Brewers have employed several tactics that have helped them defeat opponents on a consistent (and lately near-constant) basis. Here are a handful of examples.
Over-Shifting: The Brewers have shifted a lot this season as a way to help make up for a lack of range amongst three-quarters of their infield. Not only have they shifted against the biggest left-handed hitters by having the shortstop play up the middle or even on the first-base side of second-base, but they’ve also flipped the script and done the opposite against right-handed hitters by having the second baseman play up the middle on several occasions. This has led to many batted balls that would normally be easy hits against a standard defensive alignment to wind up as outs in Fielder’s glove at first.
Squeeze Plays: When Roenicke took over he warned everyone that this team would be much more aggressive on the base paths. The result has been mixed at times with the baserunners running into several outs as they tested their own limits or simply miscalculated their odds for success.
However one base running tactic that Roenicke has used several times this year with good success has been the suicide squeeze (with its less exciting cousin, the safety squeeze, sprinkled in as well). There have been a couple of bad examples lately due to missed signs, but they are still employing the tactic.
Five-man Infield: Late in games when the opponents have the winning or tying run at third base with less than two outs, Roenicke has made it a habit to head to the mound to talk to his pitcher and infield, and to beckon left fielder Ryan Braun in from his normal spot to fill space on the dirt instead. This has worked more often than it has failed but just the radical idea of trying it makes it a specialized tactic indeed.
Strict Platoons: Most contending teams don’t have strict platoons at any position. The Milwaukee Brewers have two. First is the fact that Randy Wolf and starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy haven’t ever been able to get on the same page when it comes to the way Wolf likes to pitch a game.
Therefore, Lucroy does not catch Wolf at all. Backup catcher George Kottaras does instead. Wolf feels more comfortable so it makes sense.
The other strict platoon is in center field. After the plan to begin the season wasn’t effective, Nyjer Morgan began starting against all right-handed pitchers with Carlos Gomez starting against lefties. Once Gomez got hurt coupled with Morgan’s stellar play, many fans were calling for Morgan to start every game.
This wouldn’t have been the best option and it wasn’t the option Roenicke went with. Other players have filled the role against lefty starting pitchers and Morgan has continued playing at a high level due to being put in the best position to succeed.
With all of these examples of tactics and weapons, I think it’s pretty clear that whether “T-Dot” intended it or not (and let’s be honest, he probably did), S.W.A.T. is an absolute personification of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers.
Simply stated it’s another dynamite drop from the silver-tongued Tony Plush, aka Mr. Eezzy Breezzy, aka Mr.Gotta B Startin Somthin, aka Mr. Professional Tony Gumble, aka T-Dot…Nyjer Morgan.
This S.W.A.T. team is highly talented, highly trained, and will take down an opponent with skilled precision and remarkable play.
The National League has been on notice for a while. The nation itself is taking notice as well.
It’s about time.