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Milwaukee Brewers Week Three: Braun Is the Spark

Odibe YoungContributor IApril 27, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 19:  Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers at bat against the New York Mets at Citi Field on April 19, 2009 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

All statistics as of Sunday, April 26

Brewers record: 8-10

Team OPS: .755

Opponents OPS: .767

Prince Fielder is the king of the Milwaukee Brewer clubhouse, the undisputed leader of a young team looking for an identity.  While not the best player, his energy and everyday exuberance keep things light throughout the 162-game grind.

But every once in a while, the best player on the roster makes his voice heard. 

Flash back to last May, at the conclusion of an embarrassing sweep to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.  The team was 20-24, and the weight of expectations seemed to be overwhelming the upstart Brewers. 

It was then that Ryan Braun became the face of the franchise. 

Having just signed a long-term contract to stay in Milwaukee into the next decade, his comments in the media about the team's play was not only necessary, it was responsible and it was mature. 

It was like a tension had been lifted and the team was allowed to play free, knowing that Braun was there for them, willing to push them when needed.  The team won 32 of their next 50 games, eventually making the playoffs behind Braun's MVP-caliber season.

I bring this up because this entire scenario happened again on Tuesday night, following another mind-boggling loss to the Phillies, in which starter Manny Parra gave up four runs in the first inning and the Baseball Tonight highlights took on the appearance of a three-ring circus. 

Following the game, Braun had this gem of a quote to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

"I don't think it has as much to do with this place as their team. They play well here. They're a good team. They're very well-rounded. They have great starting pitching, a great bullpen. They swing the bats well, they play good defense.

"Right now, we're not doing any of those things well. You combine the fact that they're good at everything and we're good at nothing, it's not going to be a very pretty outcome."

And this was following a game in which he went 5-for-5 with two homers.  The guy is a winner and I am proud to have him on this team.

And just like last season, his words sent his team to another level, as they continued the strong pitching (with the exception of Game One against Philly) that has stretched back to the Mets series. 

The Brewers won four in a row and despite a loss to Houston on Sunday, finished the week 4-2.  The OPS difference shown above has dwindled to nearly a break-even, as the opponents' number declined from .811 to .767 during the week. 

The three stars took over, as Braun went 13-23 for the week, Fielder hit two homers against Houston on Saturday and tallied 7 RBI since Tuesday. Ace Yovanni Gallardo pitched a complete game on Friday against Houston, giving the bullpen some much needed rest. 

Closer Trevor Hoffman returned to the lineup yesterday after spending the first 17 games on the DL, placing the pecking order of the bullpen in line with what was expected at the start of the season.  It will be interesting to see what his presence does on the back-end of the pitching staff.  

Mark DeFelice and Todd Coffey continue to provide stability in the late innings and manager Ken Macha has some decisions to make regarding how he wants to use the seventh and eighth innings in front of Hoffman.  I like Coffey in that eighth inning role, with DeFelice and Stetter as the situational righty-lefty combo in the seventh.  

It is important for the Brewers to shorten the game if they want to remain effective throughout the season.  Finding a reliable seven-eight-nine inning bullpen rotation will go a long way towards keeping my heartburn under control.   

No days off this week on a seven-game homestand, with three against Pittsburgh and four against the Diamondbacks

At the start of the Phillies series, I told my buddy Steve that I would take 10-7 over these next 17 games. 

With a 4-2 start, it looks like Braun's Brewers are well on their way. 

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