NLDS Preview: 10 Reasons the Milwaukee Brewers Can Win the World Series
For just the second time in my lifetime, the Milwaukee Brewers are in the postseason.
Three years ago, the Brewers' lack of experience cost them in a first-round loss to the Phillies, the eventual world champions.
But this year, the Brew Crew is locked and loaded for a deep postseason run. They could potentially have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and expectations in Milwaukee are sky-high for this free-spirited group of players.
Here are 10 reasons to believe the Brewers can bring home the first World Series title in franchise history.
Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum might not be Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but they're none too shabby.
Doug Melvin vastly improved the Brewers starting rotation in the offseason by picking up Greinke and Marcum, and the moves have payed off in a big way.
The combined record of the top three Brewers starters in 2011 is 46-23 with ERAs of 3.52 (Gallardo), 3.54 (Marcum) and 3.83 (Greinke). Randy Wolf has been dependable as well, with a record of 13-10 and a 3.69 ERA.
If the Brewers rotation is at the top of their game, there's no reason they can't shut down any lineup. No doubt the offenses the Brewers face will be potent, but the Crew's starting pitching should be up to the task.
Ryan Braun, MVP
I predict that the N.L. Most Valuable Player award isn't the only MVP award Ryan Braun will collect over the next few weeks.
Braun is likely to add an MVP award for one of the three postseason series the Brewers will play in October.
The Brewers left fielder does it all: he hits for both average and power, plays above-average defense, is an efficient base thief and routinely comes up big in clutch situations, as evidenced by his playoff-clinching home runs in both the 2008 and 2011 seasons.
I think of Ryan Braun as the Brewers version of Green Bay Packers quarterback (and Super Bowl MVP) Aaron Rodgers, and I expect him to provide Wisconsinites with their second world championship celebration in 10 months.
The Brewers won 57 games at home this season. No other MLB team won more than 52 contests at their home park.
With home-field advantage against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS and in World Series (should they make it that far), the Brewers have to be feeling good about playing at home. If the Cardinals can somehow knock off the Phillies in the other NLDS matchup, the Crew would play with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Of course, they'd better win every game they play at Miller Park. The Brewers are the only playoff team with a losing record on the road.
I was afraid that John Axford would struggle in his sophomore campaign as the Brewers closer.
I was even more afraid after he blew a save on Opening Day and another within his first few save opportunities.
Thankfully, Axford has been lights out the rest of the season. He tied for the National League lead in saves with 46 and had an ERA of 1.95. Axford has successfully converted his last 43 save opportunities.
If the Brewers can make it to the ninth inning with a lead, they're just about guaranteed the victory, and having that assurance will be a huge advantage in their playoff run.
The Long Ball
The Brewers led the National League in home runs this season with 185.
Miller Park is hitter's ballpark, and the Brewers are built to score runs in bunches, specifically via the long ball.
Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun led the way with 38 and 33 dingers, respectively. Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks added 26 and 20, while three other players had at least a dozen bombs on the year.
If the Brewers win the World Series, I have no doubt that home runs will play a large part in their success.
Optimism, Thy Name Is Tony Plush
Nyjer Morgan, aka "Tony Plush," has provided the Brewers with a crazy and charismatic personality all year long.
Love him or hate him (and Milwaukee fans love him), the fun-loving yet controversial Morgan has provided energy and excitement to the Brewers clubhouse all season long.
He's been good at the plate as well, batting .304 and posting the team's fifth-highest OPS among regulars. T-Plush also has some pop in his bat, with 20 doubles, six triples and four round-trippers in just 378 at-bats.
If the Brewers win the World Series, I'm betting that Nyjer Morgan will be a major reason for the team's success, both through direct contributions on the field and the intangibles he brings to team chemistry.
Lack of experience sent the Brewers home early in the 2008 playoffs. But in 2011, experience will be on the Brewers side in their quest to become World Champions.
Many key Brewers were with the 2008 playoff team, including Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, while veterans such as Craig Counsell and Mark Kotsay have playoff experience as well.
The collective experience of the 2008 playoff run has helped the team throughout the stretch run and will continue to do so in the playoffs. Players who have never before been in the playoffs can draw on the experience of the veterans who know the pressures and dangers the team will face during playoffs.
This Brewers unit got stronger as the season progressed and their depth of experience will prevent them from falling apart in the playoffs as the 2008 team did in a four-game loss to the Phillies.
Prince Fielder's Impending Free Agency
The postseason is the last chance for Prince Fielder to pad the obscene contract agent Scott Boras is sure to arrange for him this offseason.
Fielder is already one of the top N.L. MVP candidates and nearly hit .300 for the first time in his career, but every hit and every home run he can hit throughout the playoffs will probably add a million dollars or so to the bottom line of a multi-year deal this offseason.
For Milwaukee fans it's a double-edged sword, as any potential heroics will make him even more unlikely to accept any proposal from owner Mark Attanasio. For my part, I'll just enjoy having Prince Fielder and his Beast Mode on our side while it lasts.
All-Star second baseman Rickie Weeks gives Prince Fielder much-needed protection, batting after the burly Brewers slugger in the fifth slot in the batting order.
Recently returned from the DL, Weeks has already had an impact on Fielder's production and ability to get good pitches to hit. In the final 15 games of the regular season, Fielder got on base at a .492 clip while hitting .360 and slugging an insane .860. He homered seven times as the Brewers won 11 of those games.
Oh, and Weeks isn't too shabby a hitter himself—with 20 homers, 26 doubles and an OPS of .818 on the year, despite missing several weeks with an ankle injury.
The Brewers have one of the best fanbases in all of baseball. Despite over a decade of losing seasons which ended just a few years ago, the fans have come out to support the Brew Crew in impressive numbers in one of baseball's smallest markets.
Milwaukee set a team record with 3.07 million fans in 2011, averaging nearly 38,000 per home game. Miller Park was filled to 90.5 percent capacity on average, fifth-best in the majors.
Brewers fans are thrilled to see their club back in the playoffs and with each round of success the cries of "Go Brewers Go!" will grow more strong. Milwaukee fans are supportive without being obnoxious (hello, Phillies fans) and their enthusiasm will support the team throughout its postseason run.