Remember the Little Guys

The regular season has come to an end and the Milwaukee Brewers have won a franchise record 96 games.  Doug Melvin's all in play has paid off and has set the stage for home field advantage in the National League Division Series.  We know the names that played the biggest role in Milwaukee getting here, the Ryan Brauns and Prince Fielders of the world, but what about the forgotten, um, stars.

Okay so maybe 'stars' is too strong of a word but, as we hear so often, the baseball season is a marathon - not a  sprint.  At some point this season a cadre of players who won't have fans buying their jersey, won't be making a playoff appearance or may not be on the team anymore helped the Crew win games. Here are the forgotten players in Milwaukee's first ever National League Central Division title.

Mike McClendon - RP - Sure McClendon made only nine appearances for the Brewers in 2011, sure those appearances added up to only 13.2 innings but he also managed to win three games.  Yes, the garbage time righty managed to win one-third of the games he pitched in this year.

McClendon gave the Brewers innings when they needed them.  Maybe he was on the receiving end of some big comebacks but he pitched scoreless innings and finished his big league season with an ERA of 2.63.  When the division is won by six games a reliever with three wins is not to be discarded.

Brandon Boggs - OF - Yea, that was this season that Boggs was a Milwaukee Brewer.  It may seem like a long time ago but that's because his last appearance at the big league level was on May 24, over four months ago.  Boggs' contributions this year were limited, he had only 19 at-bats and hit just .158.  So how, you ask, could a player with such little time on the big league roster have helped them make the postseason?

Well I'm glad you asked.  Boggs made two starts for Milwaukee this year.  In both starts he homered and in both starts the Crew won.  Two games, two wins, just ask Boston and Atlanta if one game matters.

Wil Nieves - C - This one could be preceded by a deep sigh.  Nieves was expected to be the backup catcher, not just for a couple months but for the whole season, a better defender than George Kottaras.  His defense was fine, but his offense was absolutely horrendous.  Only two of his seven hits went for extra bases, both of which were doubles and neither of which came after April 15.

But what Nieves did provide was a body.  A filler and spot holder to cover catching duties while starter Jonathan Lucroy recovered from injury.  Once Lucroy returned it marked the beginning of the end for Nieves, but he kept the seat warm and filled a need when Milwaukee needed it.

Felipe Lopez - 2B - I will admit that I was hoping for big things from Felipe Lopez, maybe a repeat of 2009 with a chance to win the starting shortstop role away from the dreadful Yuniesky Betancourt.  That Milwaukee didn't receive that was not all that surprising but what they did get was an acceptable temporary replacement for the injured Rickie Weeks.

One stat stands out from his time with the Brewers this season, in the 16 games Lopez appeared in Milwaukee went 13-3.  Coincidence? Well, yes, almost certainly.  But hey, who knows what would have happened had the Brewers not been able to add Lopez as an option.

Brandon Kinzler - RP - Here is an example of a player whose contributions were cut short not by lack of production but by injury.  Kinzler seemed poised to play a big role in the Crew's bullpen after striking out 15 against only three walks in 14.2 innings.  But 2011 was not to be for the surprisingly hard throwing right-hander.

An arm injury resulted in screws being placed in his right forearm and he was lost for the season.  Kinzler did earn a win for the NL Central champs and his stabilizing influence, albeit fleeting, was important when it happened.

Honorable Mentions (aren't they all really?) - Mitch Stetter - RP, Mike Rivera - C, Erick Almonte - UTIL, Sergio Mitre - RP.


Q&A - Actual Questions From Actual Followers


Brew City Spotlight

With success comes scrutiny and as baseball's pennant races wind down members of the national media have cast their sight on the Milwaukee Brewers.  In most cases I read the articles I come across with a degree of curiosity, always interested to see a different viewpoint from the ones we can consistently hear in the Wisconsin market.

But once in a long while I will read a statement that imparts on me such a strong measure of disagreement that I have to respond.  That happened today while reading a piece on the Sports Illustrated website.  The article was written by Tom Verducci (who seems to be becoming increasingly irrelevant since he doesn't break news or use twitter) about the year-to-year occurrence of turnaround teams, the main subject being the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

You can read the article here, it contains some interesting points about Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke as well as some equally interesting numbers on past wildcard teams. An alright read, nothing to write home about but with some creative stats. What draws my ire is a statement made at the end that, well, wreaks of laziness.

Verducci finishes the article with this statement:

9. So what does the future hold for the Brewers and Diamondbacks?
Not much. Both teams are likely to be underdogs in the National League Division Series -- Arizona against a Philadelphia team that hasn't lost three out of five games since July 29, and Milwaukee against an Atlanta team against which it is 3-5 while scoring only 17 runs in eight games.

So what is wrong with this thought? Where to begin. First, the 3-5 record that Milwaukee had against the Braves this season.  If you remember, the Brewers played their second series of 2011 as a four game set against the Atlanta (Milwaukee's likely first round opponent) on April 4-7 at home.  The second time these two teams played was a four game set starting on May 2 in Atlanta.

Let's say, for a moment, that reading into what happened in the first month and a half of the season is a good idea.  Ok then.  Call it a five game series since that is what the two teams would play in the divisional series.  In the first five games these teams played the Brewers were 3-2.  Except it wouldn't have gone to a fifth game because Milwaukee won three of the first four.

But why wouldn't we consider these two teams early season match-ups as a good post-season primer?  I mean it's not like they've changed at all since then, they're basically the same two teams right? That's a big negatory.  Both teams have added parts, Milwaukee bolstered their bench with the addition of Jerry Hairston Jr. and their bullpen with Francisco Rodriguez while the Braves have brought in Michael Bourn to patrol center field at Turner Field.  Yea, that 3-5 is really holding water now.

Zack Greinke had rounded into form by then right?  Try again, the former Cy Young winner didn't pitch in the series the teams played at Miller Park and was making his season debut in Atlanta.  Suffice it to say that he is pitching a little bit better than he did those first couple months.

Corey Hart?  He had only 14 at-bats coming into that series in Atlanta.  He had yet to tally an extra-base hit or draw a walk.  Hart has 23 home runs now, third on the team.

Milwaukee's first half record? 49-43.  Their second half record? 36-14 (Atlanta's are 54-38 and 28-20 respectively).

Milwaukee's first half ERA? 4.07.  Second half? 2.89 (Atlanta: 3.12 and 3.90).

When these two teams wrapped on their season series neither team was in a playoff position, the Braves were in third and the Brewers were in fifth.  St. Louis, Cleveland, Colorado and Los Angeles were all leading their divisions - not one of those teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

The moral of the story is that a 3-5 record earned in what amounts to the first month and a week of the baseball season is only slightly more reflective than a 3-5 record earned in the last week of spring training.  To make a statement about a team's chances to win in the postseason based on a week's worth of games in April and May is just lacking reason.

But let's wait and see, if Verducci is picking his winner's based on match-ups in the first two months of the season the New York Yankees did go 3-4 against the Detroit Tigers.  So by that logic we should see him picking against the Yanks, right?

Somehow I doubt that.