Posted by Steve
Well, that’s a wrap. I was at the game Sunday, and seeing them get eliminated wasn’t as bad as I feared. It was great to be at a Brewer playoff game. The atmosphere was awesome, even after the Brewers fell behind. The Brewers’ first playoff appearance in 26 years sure didn’t last long, but considering it was a season full of gut-punches, I really appreciate them not being eliminated in a similar fashion. Everyone was 95% sure the game was over after about the fourth inning, so that made it less heartbreaking.
I’m finding it difficult to assess the season overall. I prefer to break it into three sections.
The first is the vast majority of the season, up until September. That section was definitely a success. The Brewers finished August with a record of 80-56 and looked to be cruising to at least a 92-win season and an easy playoff berth.
The second is the first three weeks of September, which was an abject nightmare. The offense collectively fell apart—it was the worst team plate discipline I’ve ever seen for that long of a stretch. Ben Sheets got injured. Jeff Suppan was terrible. Sal Torress melted down. Philadelphia swept a four-game series to tie the Brewers for the wildcard. This stretch got Ned Yost fired, and it looked like the Brewers were going to choke away a playoff appearance. The absolute low was losing game three of the Cubs series in Wrigley by blowing a four run lead in the ninth with two outs. This stretch had me and many Brewer fans cursing the fact that they cared about this team. If it weren’t for the Mets choking even more, this stretch would have cost the Brewers a playoff spot.
I’ll label the third section as only the final week of the season. The Brewers won six of their last seven games; four were in dramatic fashion. Prince Fielder hit a walk-off homer. Ryan Braun hit a walk-off grand slam. And it all culminated with the greatest day to be a Brewer fan since I’ve been alive: Sunday, September 28. Even though in reality the Brewers choked in September, this day erased all of that easily. It made the Sabathia trade worth giving up some very good players for a rental. For me personally, anyway, it made all the awful seasons of the last 10-15 years worth sticking around for that day.
Because of that day, you have to consider the season a success. I had the Brewers pegged at 90 wins, and in a roundabout way, they accomplished that goal. I won’t call it an outstanding season though. It’s a shame the Brewers played poorly down the stretch and in the playoffs. It’s also a shame we received one last parting gift from an unemployed Ned Yost: an injured Ben Sheets. Ned worked Sheets like a dog this season and in the last few. Letting a guy who hadn’t pitched a full season since 2004 finish eighth in Pitcher Abuse is insanity (not as much as the Giants letting Lincecum finish number one, but still insanity), and it helped to eliminate Sheets from a playoff rotation. With Sheets, the series against the Phillies is completely different, and the Brewers would have had a great shot to make the World Series
As for next year, the Brewers will likely look a lot different. I have all offseason to get into that, but for now I’ll say I am not interested in bringing back Dale Sveum. No manager can prove anything in 15 games except that he’s not incompetent, and I’ll admit he isn’t incompetent. However, sitting in the stands on Sunday made up my mind that he should be gone. I can understand not starting Yovani Gallardo if you feel you’ve pushed him as much as you should; in fact, I endorse it. But when Yo came into the game in relief I was irate. Why on Earth would you start Jeff Suppan if Gallardo was able to pitch? Even if Gallardo could have only gone three innings, you still have to start him and keep the team in the game. Starting Suppan was a recipe for disaster, and he should have only been used as the last option.
Secondly, the game would have had a better result if Ned Yost was the manager, because Yost used the intentional walk on the rarest of occasions. Intentionally walking Ryan Howard was without a doubt a terrible move. To prove this isn’t just in hindsight, I still have the text message saved on my phone that I sent at 12:59 p.m. before the Burrell home run: “Why IBB Howard to pitch to Burrell? Burrell could easily go deep and we’ll give them an extra run.” And I didn’t even know Burrell was 10-22 lifetime against Suppan—Sveum surely did, and walked Howard anyway. To do this in a playoff game when you aren’t even the manager who got them there should be a fatal mistake. Like I said, this wouldn’t have happened if Yost was the manager, and it was one of just a few things I liked about Ned.
Of course, the sad reality is that it really doesn’t matter if Sveum is brought back, because I won’t like him anyway. Watching the Angels-Red Sox last night, I was appalled by the way Mike Scioscia handled the ninth inning. The Angels led off the inning with a double in a tie game. Rather than give his team three chances to hit in the go-ahead run, he immediately gave away an out by sac bunting. That’s bad, but at least they still had two chances to hit the runner in from third. Infomercial voice: But wait! There’s more! He brought it down to one chance by calling a suicide squeeze. If the hitter cannot get the bunt down, your go-ahead runner is dead, and that’s exactly what happened. He turned three chances to get the leading run home (runner on second, nobody out) into one chance to get him home (successful squeeze). Scioscia’s defense for it was that a 2-0 count “was a good count for a squeeze.” Well ya know what, Mike? A 2-0 count is also a great count for hitting!
That was just terrible, but it gets better. In the bottom of the ninth, when any sort of run from the Red Sox ends your season, he sent out Scot Shields for a second inning of work. Let me repeat. The Angels were ELIMINATED FROM THE PLAYOFFS without using K-Rod, their best relief pitcher, because it WASN’T A SAVE SITUATION. And Mike Scioscia is widely considered one of the best managers in baseball.
This is why I say I won’t like whoever they bring in, because I want a manager who is not archaic in baseball strategy and married to “the book.” That is, I want a manager who will not use a closer only if the team has a 1-3 run lead in the ninth inning, but rather as a relief ace who will pitch in high-leverage situations. I want a manager who will sac bunt, hit and run and issue intentional walks in the rarest of occasions. By now you’ve probably reached the same conclusion I have: The Brewers ain’t hiring a manager like this. They’ll either rehire Sveum or, more likely, bring in some rehashed manager who’s been fired from a couple previous jobs because he has “experience,” even if that’s just experience in bad strategy.
There are hardly any managers in baseball who don’t go by the book. This is how the game was played years ago, and since pretty much all managers are former players, they manage the way they played. It’s a vicious cycle that may never end.
If you can’t tell, I have a lot of thoughts on this season. This post was supposed to just gloss over Sveum’s performance Sunday, and it turned into a long rant. I’ll cut it off here, but in the coming weeks I have a lot to go over to illustrate why this season could have been so much better and why many changes must be made to get back to the playoffs next year.