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Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011

The Brewers' Horrible Season

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What a disappointing season for the Milwaukee Brewers. If that sentence makes no sense to you, you obviously have no future in sports talk radio.

Maybe it's a Milwaukee thing. Some of the grumbling over the past few weeks sounded vaguely familiar to those of us who were around in 1982, when the Brewers went to the World Series.

That spectacular season went down to the final day of the regular season in Baltimore before the Brewers won the American League East to move on to win the pennant.

As a result, it was not uncommon to hear talk that because our 95-game winner had barely made it into the postseason, we didn't really belong there.

Of course, all the Brewers ended up doing that year was taking the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series.

Many believe all that prevented the Brewers from becoming champions was an injury to their Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers (not fully disclosed at the time) that kept him from pitching in the World Series.

That team didn't have the current Brewers' luxury of two terrific closers—Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford—who routinely shut down opponents in the eighth and ninth innings.

So what's all the negativity about this year's Brewers, whose 94 wins as of Monday rank as third best in all of baseball?

Well, what took them so long to clinch the division?

Actually, there's a pretty simple answer to that. It was a terrific run by the second-place St. Louis Cardinals over the last few weeks.

It was too little, too late for the division, but the Cardinals are battling Atlanta to make the postseason as the wild-card team.

We shouldn't begrudge any other team an incredible run, since the current Brewers have had their share. The Brewers' almost inhuman 27-5 run resulted in a 10 1/2 game division lead on Aug. 28.

In fact, that terrific play is probably to blame for the recent bad-mouthing because the Brewers are no longer playing superhuman baseball, just great baseball.

The Chicken or the Egg?

The staple of sports talk radio is to dissect every game, every player and every move by a manager with an eye toward finding something to snipe about to stir up callers.

So why didn't the Brewers crush every team at the end of the season by continuing to win 85% of their games? Was this the beginning of a monumental collapse? No, but it sure made for a lot of blather.

Generally, sportswriters are a lot more reliable. But they sometimes go to extremes to prove they can be critical professionals and not just homers.

Tom Haudricourt, longtime Milwaukee Journal Sentinel baseball writer, is generally recognized as being among the best, most knowledgeable sports reporters covering the Brewers.

But he wrote a curious story recently—let's assume it was ordered by an editor—postulating that the Brewers' success this season has been built on defeating teams with losing records.

The last part of that sentence should alert anyone to the problem with the analysis. Teams that get beat a lot become losing teams.

So there's this chicken and egg thing. The losing records of many of those teams could just as easily be considered the result of the Brewers beating them.

In fact, take away the wins by the Brewers and six of the 11 so-called losing teams would have winning records.

Three of the teams identified as losers were Pittsburgh, which led the division at midseason; Cincinnati, which battled both the Brewers and St. Louis for the division lead part of the season, and the Florida Marlins, who were 31-23 until the Brewers swept them four straight, starting the Marlins' collapse.

Instead of adopting the negative default attitude of sports talk radio toward the Brewers' chances in the postseason, fans have lots of reasons to feel extremely positive about the Brewers' prospects for winning their first World Series.

First would be the Brewers' terrific starting pitching, which may not be as heralded as that of the Philadelphia Phillies, but has performed just as spectacularly all season.

In addition to two aces—Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke—Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf can pitch just as effectively on any given night.

Those starters are backed up by what easily could be the best bullpen in baseball, capped by Rodriguez and Axford.

Add a heating-up offense with two legitimate league MVP candidates—Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, one dueling for the National League batting crown and the other chasing the lead in home runs and RBI.

Chuckle a little too, remembering how for years sports talk radio advocated trading Fielder as the only possible way to bring championship-quality pitching to Milwaukee to create the postseason victories Brewers fans are eagerly anticipating right now.