Milwaukee Brewers: 5 Reasons They're Destined for the Fall Classic
The 2011 version of the Brewers is deeper, more experienced, more talented and frankly better than it was in 2008, the last time the team made the postseason. That squad was raw and largely unprepared to make a deep postseason run and it showed when the Brew Crew bowed out in four games in the NLDS to the Philadelphia Phillies, the eventual champions that year.
This time around, the Brewers are ready to meet the challenge. They have a healthy lead in the NL Central division and are playing their best ball of the year. They're not limping to the postseason and should be at full strength once Rickie Weeks returns from the disabled list. There is no manager controversy and and the players feel they can win every game. It's a winning atmosphere in Milwaukee right now, from management to established clubhouse leaders to newcomers like Nyjer Morgan.
Here are five reasons the Brewers will make it to the World Series for only the second time in club history.
Strength of Lineup Top to Bottom
Everyone knows the Brewers have the power to hit the long ball, and the team's slugging percentage of .417 ranks sixth in the majors. Five Brewers currently have double-digit home runs, including four with 19 or more.
Casey McGehee and Jonathan Lucroy each have nine homers, meaning the team will feature at least seven hitters with double-digit dingers before long. Few teams can boast that type of power up and down the lineup.
The Brewers pitchers have even gotten into the act. Shaun Marcum hit a grand slam in his first year as a National League. Yovani Gallardo and Zach Greinke have gone yard in 2011 as well, and reliever Francisco Rodriguez sports a perfect batting average of 1.000 (admittedly, he has just one plate appearance).
But the Brewers hitters are good at more than simply hitting for power. The team ranks 11th or better in runs, batting average and on base percentage. Six starters are hitting at least .270, with Prince Fielder, Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Braun at .300 or better.
This lineup is capable of scoring via the long ball or playing small ball, and that bodes well as the team gears up for a deep postseason run.
If confidence is contagious, the Brewers have a serious case of it on their hands. Right now, the players feel that they should be winning every game, which is just about what they've been doing. Before dropping the second game of Monday's doubleheader to the Pirates, the Brewers had won 23 of their previous 26 games.
For a team to be successful in October the players need to believe in themselves. There is no doubt that the Brewers believe in themselves and are having a great time as they keep on winning. They are confident but not cocky, optimistic but not naive.
Perhaps no player better exemplifies this than Nyjer Morgan, aka "Tony Plush." Morgan's screwball antics seemed to get him into trouble while playing for the Washington Nationals. However, now that he's on a winning team, Morgan's teammates have embraced his role as an enthusiastic and infectious presence in the clubhouse.
The biggest and most puzzling challenge for the Brewers this year has been winning on the road. Not too long ago, their road record stood at a dismal 16-31. But since just after the All-Star break the Crew has gone 14-6 away from home. The players have erased their most serious question mark as a team, and are now confident in their ability to win, whether at Miller Park or on the road.
The 1-2 Punch of K-Rod and John Axford
By trading for a top-flight reliever after the All-Star break, Milwaukee shored up the back end of its bullpen, one of the few weak spots on the team.
John Axford has been absolutely lights-out as the closer in 2011, with 37 saves and an ERA of 2.28. After a rocky start to the season, he's gone 31 consecutive opportunities without a blown save.
Francisco Rodriguez has been dependable in his eighth-inning setup role, holding opposing batters to a .217 batting average and posting a 3.52 ERA since joining the Brewers.
Those two aren't the only solid relievers in Milwaukee's 'pen. LaTroy Hawkins has been exceptional in 2011, posting a stellar 1.59 ERA in 39.2 innings. When healthy, Takashi Saito has been excellent as well, with an ERA of 2.50 in 18.0 innings.
Yovani Gallardo, Zach Greinke, Randy Wolf, and Shaun Marcum are all capable of going seven innings deep into most of their starts. That quartet of pitchers is likely to make up the Brewers' postseason rotation. If they can last deep into games and hand the ball over directly to Rodriguez or Axford, you can bet the Brewers will be celebrating a win that night.
The Brewers struggled to find an effective manager in recent years.
Ned Yost was sacked during the 2008 playoff run with just 12 games left in the regular season. Interim manager Dale Sveum led the Brewers to their first postseason appearance in 26 years but was not offered the full-time job after a playoff loss to the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Ken Macha took over at the helm from 2009-2010 but finished below .500 and despite having a talented roster at his disposal, the team was nowhere near a playoff berth in his two seasons. Owner Mark Attanasio fired Macha following the 2010 season and hired former Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke as Macha's replacement.
In his first year with the Brew Crew, Roenicke has shown that he can lead the young and talented Brewers roster back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. He brought in three new members to the coaching staff, has connected with his players and the overall team chemistry is great.
Unlike in 2008 with Ned Yost, there is no talk of firing Roenicke. That year the Brewers limped to the playoffs after clinching the wild card on the last day of the regular season, reeling from injuries and a managerial change in the last two weeks of the year.
With Roenicke in charge, 2011 is going to be nothing like that. His steady hand is guiding Milwaukee to a playoff berth and the team's significant division lead is likely to get wider, allowing Roenicke to set up the rotation and allow key contributors to be 100% ready to go when the playoffs begin.
The final reason the Brewers are destined for the World Series is experience. Many key Brewers were with the 2008 playoff team, including Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks.
The team is thriving as summer leads to autumn and the playoff race heats up, and this Brewers team is clearly not going to fade out of the pennant race as has been the case in recent seasons.
The collective experience of the 2008 playoff run is helping the team as a whole. Players who have never before played for a playoff contender can draw on the experience of the veterans who know the pressures and dangers the team will face during the stretch run.
It will be essential for the players to keep their emotions under control, not pay too much attention to the daily changes in the standings and not allow the disappointment of individual losses to linger. Of course, the team has been on such a tear lately that there haven't been that many losses to be upset over.
The players recognize they can only control their individual actions from day to day. Experience will allow the Brewers coaching staff and players to take each game as it comes and maintain their focus on the fundamentals of the game.
With that in mind, the Brewers will be celebrating this fall as winners of the NL Central division, a World Series berth and possibly much more.