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Brewers notes 10/11

October 11, 2011

Shifting infield has its advantages for Brewers

ST. LOUIS — Only one team shifted its infield defense more often than the Brewers in the regular season, and no team did so more often against right-handed hitters.

Trailing only Tampa Bay, Milwaukee shifted on 157 balls in play during the regular season, according to Baseball Info Solutions.

For the Brewers, shifting their infield has to do with more than just overloading one side against pull-hitting sluggers. It’s a key element of their defensive strategy.

“We don’t want to cover areas where the guy rarely hits the ball. We want to take away as many hits with ground ball outs as we can,” said Brewers infield coach Garth Iorg. “There’s a lot of balls we take away [with the shift] that nobody even realizes.”

An excellent example of that came in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, as a perfectly positioned infield helped reliever Takashi Saito get a crucial double play on a grounder by Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols.

But like any strategy, it does not always work out as planned.

Even if a player hits the ball to one side 90 percent of the time when it’s on the ground, that still leaves the 10 percent of balls that can get through an exaggerated shift. The first two games of the NLCS also have provided examples of that.

As second baseman Rickie Weeks shifted up the middle Sunday in the first inning, Matt Holliday delivered an RBI single through the right side of the infield that likely would have been an out had Weeks been in his usual position.

With three Brewers infielders playing on the right side of second base, Lance Berkman led off the fourth inning of Game 1 with a single on a hanging curveball, slapping a soft grounder to where the shortstop normally would be — just past third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr.

“When you do that, some days you’re going to look bad,” Iorg said. “That was a little hanger that [Berkman] swung, hit off the end of the bat and cued it over there. And that’s going to happen. Sometimes you’re going to look silly, but we’re willing to risk that.

“I hope that [Berkman] hits the ball to left field all series. That would be fine with us.”

Hairston, who was acquired from the Nationals in late July, said he has not noticed the Brewers shifting any more than other clubs he’s been on.

But he certainly thinks the strategy works.

“If he wants to pepper it the other way for a hit, that’s better than him driving it for a double or a home run,” Hairston said. “We want to take their advantages away. If Lance hits a ground ball toward the left side, that’s a plus for us because he’s not driving the baseball. We’d probably prefer that than him hitting a double somewhere.”

La Russa: Brewers, Cards are like twins

MILWAUKEE — A lot has been made of the rivalry between the Brewers and Cardinals this week, especially the perception that the teams do not like each other.

But even if they do not always get along, the two teams have proven to be evenly matched, splitting their 20 games this season, including the first two of the National League Championship Series.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa even went so far on Tuesday to say the two clubs were nearly identical.

“I think we are so similar — like twins,” La Russa said.

“And the Brewers, they have grown up. Every year, they are a year older, and now they are as good as anybody. They are very dangerous to play against, they have a lot of weapons. … So I think they are a lot like us. I think it’s a very even series.”

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