Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Return To October?

I know the Brewers gave up a ton to get Zach Greinke.

I know the Brewers gave up a potential all-star in Brett Lawrie to get Shaun Marcum.

It’s okay. I understand. The last two nights, both of the Brewers prized arms got battered around by the best team in the American League (if not all of baseball) and panic is starting to set in.

            “But it’s now or NEVER, Doug! This team will never win anything!”

I understand. Believe me, I get it. But this is our lot in life, Brewers fans. Until baseball fixes what truly ails them, small market teams will only have a small window to actually do something special.

I still think this is their year…whatever your definition of that is. Will they win the World Series? Probably not, but right now the goal is to just get to October. After that, as we have seen time and time again, anything can happen.

Is that a defeatist attitude? Perhaps, but this year’s edition of the Milwaukee Brewers is better than the one that made the playoffs in 2008, and came within an eyelash of doing so in 2007. Does that guarantee a return to October baseball at Miller Park? Of course not, but as we all know, there are no guarantees in life. How is this team better? Well, if you take a look at it position by position, you’ll see what I mean.

First Base: 2008: Prince Fielder, 2011: Prince Fielder
Prince is making his final season with the Brewers his best. At 21 HR and 69 RBI, he is easily outpacing his 2008 output of 34/102.
                        Verdict: 2011

Second Base: 2008: Rickie Weeks, Ray Durham, 2011: Rickie Weeks
            Not even close. Rickie is easily having the finest year of his career this season.
                        Verdict: 2011

Shortstop: 2008: J.J. Hardy, 2011, Yuniesky Betancourt
            Ugh. Betancourt has been nothing short of brutal.
                        Verdict: 2008, in a landslide

Third Base: 2008: Bill Hall, 2011: Casey McGehee
Hall was so bad he got replaced by the great Russell Branyan for spells in 2008. McGehee has been terrible this year as well. How the Brewers can have such a weak link at this position year after year and still contend is baffling.
            Verdict: Draw. And that’s not a good thing.

Left Field: 2008: Ryan Braun, 2011, Ryan Braun
Braun is on pace this season to eclipse his numbers of 2008 in batting average, hits, and RBI, but hit slightly fewer home runs. I’ll take this year’s production. 18 more RBI’s on 5 fewer home runs (again, projecting out for the entire season).
            Verdict: 2011, slightly.

Center Field: 2008: Mike Cameron, 2011: Nyjer Morgan / Carlos Gomez
Cameron was a “glue player” in the clubhouse, so he gets points for that beyond his .243/25/70. However, Morgan has been nothing short of a Godsend this season with his goofy demeanor, speed, clutch hits and .328 average. Cameron was a Gold Glove winner, but his best days were clearly behind him once he got to Milwaukee. Carlos Gomez is clueless at the plate, but a virtuoso with the leather. Tough, tough call.
Verdict: 2011…by a nose. And by the 85 points Morgan’s batting average is higher than Cameron’s

Right Field: 2008: Corey Hart, 2011: Corey Hart
Does anyone else remember cringing anytime Hart came up in the second half of 2008? Tough to forget, even after a spectacular first half how Hart nearly killed the Brewers down the stretch.
            Verdict: 2011

Catcher: 2008: Jason Kendall, 2011: Jonathan Lucroy
Just look at the numbers. Kendall was finished by the time he got to Milwaukee, and yet he still plays on as a Kansas City Royal. Lucroy slipped into a funk in late-May, but I’d still take him in a heartbeat over the aging Kendall.
            Verdict: 2011 

So, by my (purely subjective) calculations, the Brewers of 2011 are better at 1B, 2B, LF, CF, RF, and C, while the 2008 Brewers were only better at one position, SS.

Let’s move on.

Starting Pitching:

2008: Sabathia (1/2 a season), Sheets, Bush, Suppan, Parra, McClung (12 starts), and Villanueva (9 starts), 2011: Marcum, Greinke, Gallardo, Wolf, Narveson
Sabathia was unbelievable in the second half of 2008. He took us all on a big October ride. Even as good as Marcum and Wolf have been, they can’t touch what CC did. However, the depth of the Brewers rotation in 2011 is far superior, with three starters with an ERA under 4.00 (as opposed to just Sabathia in 2008). The disappointment this season has been Greinke, who needs to turn it around quickly if the Brewers will contend in September.      
            Verdict: 2008…but not by as wide a margin as you might think.

Bullpen: 2008: Mota, Shouse, Villanueva, Gagne, et al., 2011: Estrada, Hawkins, Dillard, McClendon, et al.
A wash. Neither bullpen is spectacular, nor will win you many games. The numbers slightly favor 2011, but not enough to make a difference.
            Verdict: Draw

Closer: 2008: Solomon Torres, 2011: John Axford
            Torres: 3.49 ERA, 28 saves, 1.350 WHIP, 1.55 K/BB
            Axford: 2.55 ERA, 20 saves, 1.330 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB
Verdict: 2011, although Torres bailed the Brewers out when Gagne went belly-up.

So, as you can see, this year’s edition of the Brewers IS better than the 2008 playoff team, the interleague fiasco notwithstanding.

Feel any better?

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