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Bulk of Crew’s nucleus to return in 2012

October 17, 2011 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — After winning their first division title in nearly 30 years, the Brewers are getting the band back together for the 2012 season.

There’s a chance Prince Fielder might have played his last game in a Brewers uniform, but the good news for Milwaukee is that much of the team that made up the 2011 National League Central champs will be around at least one more year.

NL MVP Award candidate Ryan Braun will be back. Rickie Weeks will be back at second base, and his ankle should once again be 100 percent. And joining them will be Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, to name a few.

Most important is the fact the Brewers’ entire five-man starting rotation is set to return, barring the club making a trade involving one of them. That alone gives the Crew a shot at reaching back-to-back postseasons for the first time since 1981-82.

“We wouldn’t have been there if we didn’t have the pitching we had,” Hart said. “We have almost 95 percent of our team back next year. And I’m sure [GM Doug Melvin] and them will go do what they always do, they’ll go get guys to fit in. I don’t expect us to be anything less than we were this year. Hopefully we can add this experience to next year and be even better.”

Six players on the Brewers’ roster are eligible for free agency, with Fielder representing the biggest potential loss. Also on that list are relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito, veterans Craig Counsell and Mark Kotsay, and utility man Jerry Hairston Jr.

Counsell said he wanted to get away from everything for a couple weeks before sitting down with Melvin and “deciding what’s best.” Kotsay said he didn’t know what he might do next season.

Setup man Francisco Rodriguez, who has a mutual option, and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt (club option) also could join that list. The buyout on K-Rod’s contract is $4 million, while Betancourt’s is $2 million.

Even if the Brewers do not re-sign any of those eight players, it would leave them with most of their starting lineup intact. The bullpen and bench could have a lot of new faces, but aside from Fielder, the key components should remain in place.

“We had a special group coming in this year. We knew that from Day 1,” Brewers closer John Axford said. “With the group of people that we have coming back next year, and as far as we got this year and as well as we did, I think we’re definitely going to be hungry for more.”

A number of Brewers will be arbitration-eligible in the offseason, including four who will go through the process for the first time. Marcum, Carlos Gomez and Kameron Loe all are in their third arbitration years, while Manny Parra and Josh Wilson are each in their second.

Third baseman Casey McGehee, center fielder Nyjer Morgan, catcher George Kottaras and lefty reliever Mitch Stetter all are arbitration-eligible for the first time.

In the event of Fielder’s departure, the biggest hole the Brewers will have to fill certainly is at first base. There are a handful of in-house options that the club could pursue, though each would involve some degree of risk.

Hart could be a candidate; he was drafted as a first baseman before moving to third and then right field. While it’s uncertain how he would transition defensively, Hart provides the type of power expected of a first baseman, and he could slide down to bat fourth or fifth in the order, as well, if needed.

Other options could include McGehee, who played some first base in the Cubs’ system, or Mat Gamel, who spent much of the season at first base for Triple-A Nashville. Outside of that, the Brewers would likely have to fill the spot through trades or free agency.

Beyond first base, other positional needs will likely include the bullpen, bench, right side of the infield and potentially an outfield spot. In particular, many of the positions could stand to be upgraded defensively as errors plagued the Brewers throughout the NLCS.

But once they fill their biggest holes, the 2012 Brewers should look a lot like the club that finished two wins shy of the second World Series appearance in franchise history.

“The other teams have question marks, too. The guys who just beat us have a question mark at first base,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said. “Our responsibility is to win here. So we have to figure out how to do that.

“We have to figure out how to do it, and [we have to] do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Brewers tip cap to division-rival Cardinals

October 17, 2011 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — There were no excuses to be made in the home clubhouse Sunday night at Miller Park. Simply put, the Cardinals were the better team, and the Brewers knew it.

After a 12-6 loss to St. Louis in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, the Brewers’ postseason run is over. This 2011 club will still go down as perhaps the second-best team in franchise history, but it fell short of its goal.

A lot of that had to do with Milwaukee’s opponent in the series.

“You get in these series and you’ve got to earn it,” veteran infielder Craig Counsell said. “I don’t know if it’s a missed opportunity. I think we got outplayed this series. It’s always a missed opportunity, but I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads about. They beat us.”

Acquired from the Nationals in late July, Jerry Hairston Jr. was a bright spot for much of the series, performing beyond expectations — both offensively and defensively — in becoming Milwaukee’s everyday third baseman.

But as the Crew struggled through the final two games of the postseason, so, too, did Hairston. In Game 5, he committed a pivotal error, as a bad hop led to a ball getting under his glove, resulting in the Cardinals scoring a pair of runs on the play to go up 3-0 early.

Hairston was not at his best defensively again Sunday, committing two errors on one fifth-inning play that helped the Redbirds put the game out of reach with their 11th and 12th runs of the night.

Even so, Hairston was not about to discount what the Cardinals had done in winning the NLCS and advancing to face the Rangers in the World Series.

“Let’s keep it real now. They beat us. Flat out,” Hairston said. “I’m not going to take anything away from them. They beat us. Period.”

After waiting until the final day of the regular season to clinch a trip to the playoffs, the Cardinals have been riding momentum through October, beating the Phillies in five games and now the Brewers in six.

For two teams that were so evenly matched throughout the year — they split 18 games — the Cardinals made it clear that, at least for this series, they were the better team.

St. Louis did not just win four out of six games and advance. The Cards dominated the Brewers in three of their four wins, two of which came at Miller Park against the best home team in baseball this season. St. Louis scored first in every contest, put runs up in the first inning four times, and outscored the Brewers, 43-26.

“They played great, obviously, from Aug. 25 on,” said Brewers starter Shaun Marcum, who was hit hard in a pair of NLCS losses. “They were probably the hottest team in baseball, and they came in and played a great series.”

Said right fielder Corey Hart: “They were going to be a hard team to beat with as well as they were playing. They were a better team than us this year.”

As Marcum pointed out, the Cardinals’ run began over the final week of August, as they won six of seven from Aug. 25-Sept. 1. The last three came in Milwaukee, where they handed the Brewers their first home sweep of the season.

Had the Crew won even one or two of those games, it could have changed everything. Instead, the Cards went 23-9 to close out the season, including 15 wins in a 20-game stretch.

St. Louis has added seven postseason wins in that stretch, as well, giving it a 30-13 record over a nearly two-month stretch.

The Brewers, on the other hand, finished the season going 15-12 over the final month of the season, beginning with the sweep by the Cardinals. Including the postseason, Milwaukee was only 20-18 over the last seven weeks.

As the playoffs tend to go, and as was the case in the NL Division Series, the hottest team in the playoffs — the Cardinals — was the team that won.

“St. Louis is hot. Did they do anything wrong during the series?” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “That’s incredible to go through a series and have everything you do go right.

“That’s what you have to have happen in playoffs. You have to have breaks that you create because you’re playing good, which they did. But they outplayed us. They’re a good team, and they outplayed us.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Brewers notes, 10/16

October 16, 2011 Comments off

Selectivity the reason for Prince’s mini slump

MILWAUKEE — Prince Fielder went 3-for-6 with two home runs, three RBIs and no strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park. He went 1-for-10 with no RBIs and four strikeouts in three games after the series shifted to Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

It’s not because the Cardinals pitched him dramatically different, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

“No, I don’t think they’ve changed the approach, I think Prince is getting a little bit big on his strike zone,” Roenicke said. “Prince is a guy that can carry a team. Prince feels like he needs to carry this team. He can. But what happens sometimes with that is you start to expand, and when you expand your zone, usually things don’t go well when you do that.”

Fielder’s worst night in the series came in the Brewers’ Game 5 loss on Friday night, when he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and did not walk for the first time in the NLCS.

“He’s been a guy — he walked [107 times] this year. That’s when Prince is good,” Roenicke said. “When Prince is up there and he’s taking a pitch that’s an inch off the plate, that’s when he’s really good. And I expect him to be doing that again. He may have a game or two that’s off, but I expect him to be right back on it again, and like I said, he can carry us.”

Roenicke: Starting Marcum the right decision

MILWAUKEE — Whatever the outcome of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was confident he had made “the right decision” in choosing Shaun Marcum to start.

Marcum, 0-2 with a 12.46 ERA in his first two postseason starts, got the nod in an elimination game over alternatives like right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who would have had to pitch on three days’ rest, and left-hander Chris Narveson, who has not started a game in the postseason.

“Believe me, you guys aren’t the only ones that are wondering about Marcum starting,” Roenicke said in a media briefing about three hours before game time. I’ve had questions from everybody, it seems like.

“I feel really good about this decision. Whether he pitches well tonight or whether he gets hit a little bit, this is the right decision. For this ballclub, it’s the right decision. And I’ve had many conversations with a lot of people in this organization that have been with us all year. This is definitely the right decision.

“It doesn’t mean that he’s going to go out and have a great game. I expect him to. I think he’s definitely capable of doing it. He has not liked the way he’s pitched the last couple of games, and I think he’s going to have a good game today.”

Marcum was one of the Brewers’ best pitchers during the regular season, going 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA. He delivered 20 quality starts, and his .232 opponents’ batting average was eighth best in the NL.

Marcum allowed four runs in the first inning and was replaced by left-hander Chris Narveson to start the second.

Morgan keeping quiet during NLCS struggles

MILWAUKEE — Tony Hush is back.

Despite delivering one of the biggest hits in Brewers history in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the D-backs, center fielder Nyjer Morgan has been struggling throughout the postseason. Along with the struggles has come Morgan’s quiet, reserved alter ego, Hush.

Over four days and three games in St. Louis, the usually extroverted Morgan declined interviews with reporters on several occasions. Even upon returning to Milwaukee on Saturday, he was not willing to talk during the Brewers’ workout day.

The question Sunday was whether Morgan made the decision to stay quiet during the NL Championship Series, or if his manager talked to him about it.

“I didn’t tell him that,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “We talked about it after we got into the series just a little bit. He needs to stay focused on what he is doing and not worry about all the outside stuff that goes on once in a while with him. But no, I didn’t have to have that conversation.”

Morgan’s struggles forced Roenicke’s hand in St. Louis, as he started veteran Mark Kotsay in center field in Game 3 and Carlos Gomez there in Game 5.

Roenicke also had a talk with Morgan, who is batting just .192 (5-for-26) with two runs scored and three RBIs in the postseason entering Sunday.

“He’s been pressing a little bit. He’s trying to do too much,” Roenicke said. “And I try to remind him that what he’s done for us all year is what we need. We don’t need him to be more than what he’s been. We need him to be what he’s done for us.”

NLCS has been all about play on the field

MILWAUKEE — Heading into the National League Championship Series, a lot of talk centered around the apparent dislike between the Brewers and Cardinals. Despite the high stakes, the potential for that dislike to overshadow the play on the field was there.

Add in comments from Zack Greinke about how the Brewers “don’t like” Chris Carpenter, and warnings issued to the benches in the first inning of Game 1, tensions seemed to be high.

But as the series reaches its final games, the NLCS has been all about the play on the field, as it should be, considering a trip to the World Series is on the line.

“I think there are some fans, or media, that are going to be disappointed if there isn’t some crap flying this series, and that’s a shame,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after Game 1. “I don’t want our players and their players to be egged on, and I don’t think they will [react]. We’re going to play as hard and good against each other as we can.”

Until he was asked about it Sunday afternoon, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had not even thought about the lack of extracurricular issues.

But the lack of them has certainly made his job better and more enjoyable.

“That’s been great,” Roenicke said. “And I haven’t thought about it, and that’s because it hasn’t been going on.

“I enjoy playing baseball, I don’t enjoy all the little stuff that goes on outside. For me to have to address those things, it takes away from what I enjoy doing.”

Last call

• Manager Ron Roenicke said he was never tempted to move third baseman Jerry Hairston into the five-hole in place of second baseman Rickie Weeks, who batted .135 in the Brewers’ first 10 postseason games, including .211 in the first five games of the NLCS. Hairston entered Game 6 on Sunday hitting .371 this postseason.

“He’s not obviously a typical fifth hitter, but he’s done such a great job, I feel like I could put him anywhere in this lineup and he would hit,” Roenicke said. “But I also know that the way it’s structured, if everybody is swinging right, the way it’s structured is really good. I know I’m counting on guys to swing it.”

• Carlos Gomez made a change to turn the club’s fortunes after the Brewers’ Game 5 loss on Friday. He arrived at Miller Park for a workout on Saturday with a clean-shaven head.

• Both general manager Doug Melvin and Roenicke offered congratulations to the Rangers, who routed their way to the World Series with an American League Championship Series win over Detroit. Melvin was the Texas GM from 1994-2001 and drafted pitchers C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis (though Lewis bounced around in subsequent years, including a stint in Japan). Melvin also traded with then-Blue Jays GM Gord Ash for Michael Young, who has developed into one of the best players in Rangers history. Ash, of course, is now Melvin’s top assistant in Milwaukee.

The Rangers are in the World Series for the second straight year thanks to a 15-5 win over the Tigers on Saturday that swung in a nine-run third inning.

“I watched when they had that big one inning, and that’s all I probably needed to see,” Roenicke said. “Amazing.”

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at@AdamMcCalvyJordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Brewers looking to get on the scoreboard first

October 15, 2011 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — If the Brewers can score first on Sunday, it would go a long way toward winning Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

Through five games this series, the Cardinals have gotten on the board first in each of them, including scoring in the first inning of the first three games and the second inning of the last two. Both of the Brewers’ wins came from behind.

“I think that’s always important for our team,” manager Ron Roenicke said of scoring early. “I think when we’re really good, we put a lot of pressure on them early. We haven’t been able to do that, but it is important.”

During the regular season, the Brewers went 65-28 when scoring first, and 31-38 when their opponent is the first to put a run across. In the postseason, Milwaukee has won two of three games when scoring first, while going 3-4 when the opponent scores first.

With the way the Cardinals’ bullpen has performed through five games — working four or more innings in each game and limiting the Brewers to four earned runs in 21 2/3 innings — early runs have been key for both sides.

“It’s always better if we come out and bust out early,” Roenicke said. “I think the crowd gets involved then, I think our players feed off that. So hopefully, we will do that.”

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Roenicke sticks by struggling Weeks, Hart

October 15, 2011 Comments off
MILWAUKEE — Even as Rickie Weeks continues to struggle both offensively and defensively in the postseason, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has no plans to change what he is doing at second base.That is largely due to the fact that Roenicke knows just how valuable Weeks can be to his offense when he is swinging the bat well, especially in the No. 5 spot behind sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

“I think you stick with him,” Roenicke said. “Rickie’s a guy that — our lineup depends on Rickie. We depend on him swinging the bat well. He protects Prince. He’s got the ability to, if you get a couple guys on base, drive a ball out of the ballpark.”

Weeks has batted just .135 in 10 postseason games, picking up five hits in 37 at-bats. His defense also has been an issue, with Weeks committing his fourth error of the postseason in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, tying him for the fifth-most errors by a second baseman in a single postseason.

When he has gotten hits, though, they’ve come in big moments for the Brewers. Weeks is tied for sixth on the team with three RBIs this postseason, and he’s also sixth with four runs scored. Of his five hits, three have gone for extra bases, as Weeks has a double, a triple and a home run to his credit.

Weeks clearly has not gotten back to 100 percent after severely spraining his left ankle in late July, and he likely won’t be through the rest of the postseason.

“We felt like coming into the playoffs that we needed Rickie. We need his presence in there behind Prince,” Roenicke said. “And I know his swings have gotten better, but I know there’s still some things that he’s not locked in on, both offensively and defensively.”

Along with Weeks, leadoff hitter Corey Hart is another Brewers regular that Roenicke has been sticking with — for the most part — as he tries to fight through some postseason struggles.

After batting .238 (5-for-21) in the NL Division Series against the D-backs, Hart has just four hits in 16 at-bats for a .250 average over four games in the NLCS against the Cardinals. Hart, like Weeks, also has had some issues defensively, misplaying a few balls in right field that have cost the Brewers runs.

A positive sign for the Brewers is Hart’s three-hit night in Game 5, which came one day after he sat out Game 4 in favor of veteran outfielder Mark Kotsay.

Although it’s possible a day off may be similarly beneficial for Weeks, it does not appear to fit into Roenicke’s plans.

“We’ve talked about it,” Roenicke said. “We talked about it before the series started about some of those things, and you always talk about them, because you’re always trying to figure out what’s the best thing to do. It would be like — if Prince is struggling, do we take Prince out of there? Braun’s struggling, do you take him out? No.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Hairston’s big error ‘just one of those things’

October 14, 2011 Comments off

ST. LOUIS — On consecutive pitches in the second inning Friday, Brewers third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. made one of the best defensive plays of the series and one of the worst.

The first, a diving grab that robbed Nick Punto of a hit, saved at least one run from scoring. The second, an error on a hard-hit grounder by Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia that went under his glove and through his legs, cost Milwaukee a pair of runs in a 7-1 loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

“You want me to be completely honest with you? I really didn’t see both balls that well,” Hairston said. “Even when I caught it, I was a little surprised. … It may have caught me a little bit. I saw the one Garcia hit better than the one I caught; it just hit the lip [of the grass]. There’s nothing you can do. That’s baseball, man.”

As a third-generation Major Leaguer with his grandfather Sam, father Jerry Sr., uncle Johnny and brother Scott all having played in the big leagues, Hairston learned at a young age that sometimes the ball catches you.

He also learned that the game of baseball certainly is not always fair.

“First of all, life’s not fair. I mean, goodness,” Hairston said. “All you can do is prepare yourself and put yourself in position to be ready. I was ready, I was in position — it just didn’t happen. It’s tough.”

Hairston has started every game of the postseason for the Brewers at third base, and he’s performed better than anyone could have expected. With both his offense and defense, he has made manager Ron Roenicke’s decision to start him over Casey McGehee look brilliant.

In nine of 10 postseason games, Hairston has hit safely. He is batting .371 (13-for-35) with five doubles, four RBIs and six runs scored.

But in the biggest game yet of the NLCS, it was Hairston who seemingly started the trend of poor Brewers defense. His error was the first of four on the night for Milwaukee, the most in an LCS game since the Braves had as many in Game 4 of the 2001 NLCS.

“There was nothing I could’ve done any different,” Hairston said. “He hits a rocket, and it hits the lip and just stays down.

“It’s just one of those things where, sometimes at the hot corner at third base, you’re kind of at the mercy when a guy hits a bullet. Once it hit the lip, it just stayed down.

“If it doesn’t hit the lip, it comes right up to me and I play it well. But it did and … five hole.”

Adding insult to injury, Hairston got in the way of Yadier Molina as the Cards’ catcher approached third base, drawing an obstruction call from third-base umpire Tim Timmons.

The call allowed Molina to advance freely to home to make the score 3-0 Cardinals, though Brewers starter Zack Greinke still made an attempt to tag the runner as he cut off the throw home.

“It happened so fast. I was shocked the ball just stayed down,” Hairston said. “And then Yadi, I guess, tried to get by me. But he would’ve scored anyway. It’s not even a big deal.”

Said Molina of Timmons’ obstruction call: “He caught it. That’s good.”

While it was a play that certainly seemed to shift the momentum of Game 5, Hairston was not worried about the error. He remained positive after the loss, focusing on what he and Milwaukee needs to do going forward in Game 6.

As for the error, he quoted a Hall of Famer and former teammate, who also happened to be in attendance Friday night at Busch Stadium.

“It’s not the first error I’ve made. Hopefully, it won’t be my last,” Hairston said. “That’s just something Cal Ripken used to say. Because if you play a long time, things are going to happen in this game.

“Third base is not easy. I always say third base is the toughest position I’ve ever played, by far. You have a split-second to react, and the ball didn’t bounce my way.”

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Performer of the Game: Brewers lefty Wolf

October 14, 2011 Comments off

ST. LOUIS — As the Brewers battled the D-backs in the pivotal Game 5 of the National League Division Series last week, all Randy Wolf could do was sit and watch. And hope that his disastrous start in Game 4 — seven earned runs over three innings in a 10-6 loss — hadn’t cost them the series.

In the end, it didn’t, as Milwaukee won Game 5, 3-2, to advance to the NL Championship Series.

“You know, I’ll be honest with you, the day after the Diamondbacks start, I didn’t eat or shower that day,” Wolf said Thursday night. “I don’t know if they call that depression, but it was tough to swallow.”

He’ll be eating well — and be clean — Friday after cashing in on his shot at redemption.

In what the left-hander called the biggest start of his career, Wolf pitched seven stellar innings Thursday night in a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium that knotted the NLCS at two games apiece and regained home-field advantage for the Brewers.

“Regardless of how the game went, I was satisfied with the fact that I was going to have that opportunity,” Wolf said. “You know, you don’t want to have just one opportunity and have it to be like it was.

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