I lived in Milwaukee in 2008. That year, a baseball team took over a football city. The Brewers were 52-44 at the All-Star break and making a run at their first postseason appearance in 26 years. Up until that point, the city was still relatively quiet on the Brew Crew. There was idle chatter at the bars and the occasional Ryan Braun jersey, but for the most part, only the diehard fans were excited.
On July 7, however, GM Doug Melvin made a move that got the whole city talking. He sent four prospects to the Indians for starter CC Sabathia and made the Brewers instant legitimate contenders. They went 20-7 in August, you couldn’t walk five feet without spotting a jersey, Braun was holding parties on North Ave. and CC was absolutely dominating the National League. Even the Packers were put on hold. CC finished 11-2 with the Brewers, with a 1.65 ERA 1.00 WHIP and completed seven of the 17 games he started while averaging 7.7 innings per start. They worked him like a rented player, which he ended up being.
The Brewers clinched the NL Wild Card on the final day of the season by beating the Cubs 3-1, as CC went the distance, allowing one unearned run on four hits. When he tried to take on the Phillies in the NLDS on three days rest, fatigue finally caught up at the worst possible time. He gave up five runs on six hits and four walks in 3.2 innings, and the Brewers lost game two 5-2. The Brewers were a one-man wrecking crew, and when CC was knocked out, the season was over. With starters Yovanni Gallardo and Ben Sheets injured, they didn’t stand a chance against the eventual World Series champions, as the Phillies won the series 3-1.
This year’s version of the Brew Crew is different. Long gone is CC, who took the money and ran to the Yankees. The Dave Bush’s and Jeff Suppan’s are gone, too. Prince Fielder and Braun are still there, however. And so is Melvin, who pulled off another genius trade in the offseason to form a rotation that can hang with the Phillies this year. He had to give up some exceptional talent along the way, but with Fielder possibly leaving town after this season, he had to go all-in.
First, he got former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from the Royals. The Brewers gave up defensive whiz Alcides Escobar, who is hitting .242 with 19 SB playing stellar shortstop for the Royals this season. They also included 21-year-old Jake Odorizzi, a right-handed pitcher who is 9-6, with a 3.68 ERA at double-A for the Royals, while averaging 9.6 K/9.
Next, he sent 2008 1st-round pick Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for starter Shaun Marcum. The 6’2″ Lawrie was hitting .347/18 HR/62 RBI with a 1.060 OPS in the minors before being called up this season. Over 21 games, he is hitting .329 with an impressive line of 4 2B/4 3B/5 HR/15 RBI/1.071 OPS. He may end up being a future All-Star for the Jays, but the Brewers needed pitching in the worst way.
Greinke has gone 12-5, with a 4.21 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, and is averaging 10.9 K/9 for the Brewers this year. Marcum is 11-4, with a 3.38 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Both have bolstered a staff that includes ace Yovanni Gallardo (15-8 3.37 ERA), veteran Randy Wolf (11-8 3.37 ERA) and one of the better fifth men in the game, Chris Narveson (9-6 4.31 ERA).
The bullpen is led by closer John Axford, he with one of the better mustaches in the game. Axford has been brilliant on the year, saving 39/41 games while sporting a 2.19 ERA. Apart from him however, the pen falls off and could be the demise in a short series. The Brewers will need Greinke, Gallardo and Marcum to go deep into games for any kind of success in the post season.
Braun and Fielder are arguably the best 1-2 punch in baseball this year, and both are MVP candidates. Braun is hitting .332 with 25 HR, 87 RBI and 30 SB, while leading the league with a .997 OPS. Fielder is hitting .298 with 29 HR and a league-leading 102 RBI. They also get power from Corey Hart (20 HR, 48 RBI), Casey McGehee (11 HR, 63 RBI) and Rickie Weeks (19 HR, 43 RBI), while Nyjer Morgan, AKA Tony Plush, provides the comic relief.
The Brewers also seem to enjoy their home cooking of butter burgers, cheese curds, PBR and Friday night fish frys. At 49-16, they have the best home record in baseball, and the starting five have been even better, combining to go 36-6 at Miller Park.
Like 2008, the Brewers dominated the month of August. They went 20-5 and separated themselves from the NL Central. With a 10.5 game lead over the Cardinals, they won’t need a last-game, do-or-die effort to squeak into the playoffs. They are the hottest team in the majors, and in baseball, the best team on paper doesn’t always win. Just ask the 2008 Cubs that won a season best 97 games just to get swept in three games by the Dodgers in the NLDS — another thing I remember quite well about the 2008 baseball season.
If all goes right, the Brewers could face the Phillies again this post season. Except, this time, it would be in the NLCS for a shot at playing in the World Series. The Phillies have the best record in baseball at 83-46 and are headed by one of the best rotations of all time. On paper, they are the best team in baseball. The story line could get even better if they were to face Sabathia and the Yankees in the World Series as they could extract all demons from that 2008 season and serve revenge as cold as they serve their Spotted Cow.
This team has the swagger of a champion, their fans are rocking the park every game, jerseys are everywhere again, and finally, they are more than a one-man show on the mound. It’s looking like the Packers might have to wait again.