Now that the Milwaukee Brewers have officially clinched a playoff spot as the top Wild Card team in the National League, with aspirations of still winning the NL Central, I see some similarities to the 1982 Milwaukee club.
I covered Harvey’s Wallbangers back then and I would love to have that same opportunity now with this team.
Like that ’82 team, this Milwaukee club is having a lot of fun, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
I believe that all stems the type of manager the team had 36 years ago and also the type of manager the club has today. There is no doubt Craig Counsell is very similar to Harvey Kuenn in the way he manages the Brewers.
Both Kuenn (15 years) and Counsell (16 years) were former players who had long careers in the Big Show and they utilized the lessons learned from the various clubs they played with to become a player’s manager, which is apropos based on their lifespan as players in MLB.
Like Kuenn’s team in ’82, the Brewers in 2018 are a loose and frolicking group when they go out on the diamond. But also like that AL pennant winning team, this year’s Brewers play extremely hard.
Let’s look at some of the similarities.
The 1982 Brewers had a record of 95-67. The 2018 Brewers have a record of 92-67 and with a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers (31 games under .500) over the weekend at Miller Park, they will end up with the same record.
And like in 1982, this year makes the last weekend of the year very important in terms of the postseason. In 1982, the Brewers had to win just one game against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore to clinch the American League East title.
The Brew Crew lost the first three games of that series before winning on the last day of the season on a Sunday. That pivotal game had Jim Palmer of the Orioles going against Don Sutton, who the Brewers had traded for late August.
The eventual AL MVP, shortstop Robin Yount, led the way in that game, as he was three for four, scored four runs and had two homers, as the Brew Crew won 10-2.
Speaking of Sutton and Yount, that leads to two more similarities to that 1982 Milwaukee team compared to the 2018 version.
Like they did with Sutton, when then general manager Harry Dalton acquired the future Hall of Famer via trade with the Houston Astros on August 31st, current Milwaukee GM David Stearns traded for pitcher Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals, also on August 31.
In both cases, the trades paid off down the stretch in the regular season. Sutton was 4-1 in the regular season in September with an ERA of 3.29. Gonzalez thus far is 2-0 with an ERA of just 2.66.
Yount was the AL MVP in 1982, as he hit 29 homers, drove in 114 runs and hit .331, which narrowly missed him winning the AL batting title by just one point. No. 19 also had 46 doubles, 12 triples and stole 14 bases. Yount also won a Gold Glove for his outstanding defense at SS.
This year, the odds on favorite to win the NL MVP award is outfielder Christian Yelich of the Brewers. With three games to go in the season, Yelich has hit 33 homers and driven in 104 runs and leads the NL with a .321 batting average. Yelich also has 34 doubles, seven triples and has stolen 21 bases.
Yelich has already won a Gold Glove when he was a Miami Marlin and has a chance to win another one this year, as he has played all three outfield positions this season and is an outstanding defender.
Now back to the pennant race with three games to go. The Chicago Cubs have a one game lead on Milwaukee. And unlike the Brewers who are playing a team (the Tigers) that will end the season with close to 100 losses, the Cubbies are facing the desperate St. Louis Cardinals, who need to close strong to have any chance at a Wild Card berth in the NL.
The Brewers need to concentrate on getting a three-game sweep vs. the Tigers, and do no worse than winning the series by getting two wins. If the Brewers sweep and the Cubs lose two of three to the Cards, the Brewers are the NL Central champs and can avoid the one-game Wild Card round.
Even if the Cubs lose just one game against St. Louis (and the Brewers sweep the Tigers), that would force a one game playoff for the NL Central title between the Brew Crew and Cubbies. That game would be played in Wrigley Field because the Cubs won the season series between the two teams.
Before they were called Harvey’s Wallbangers, the Brewers were called Bambi’s Bombers. That was because of their prowess in hitting home runs.
With that being said, you could call the 2018 Brewers, Craig’s Crushers, as the team has hit 211 homers so far this season, which is very close in matching the season total of 216 by Harvey’s Wallbangers in 1982.
That ’82 team had three players who hit over 30 round-trippers that season. They were Gorman Thomas (39), Ben Oglivie (34) and Cecil Cooper (32).
The 2018 version of the Brewers also has three players with over 30 homers. They are Jesús Aguilar (34), Yelich (33) and Travis Shaw with 31.
The biggest difference between both clubs, is that in 1982, Kuenn very rarely changed the lineup, except at DH when Don Money and Roy Howell would interchange. Harvey usually had the same guys in the lineup everyday, except for giving guys a day off now and then.
Counsell is more liberal in changing lineups, as he has a much deeper bench.
The 2018 squad also steals a base more often, as the team has 121 swipes so far this season, while the 1982 Brewers had 84 stolen bases.
Another similarity that I see is that the starting pitching staff of both teams were both classified in a Rodney Dangerfield type of way. As in, no respect.
Sutton certainly helped the staff in 1982, as he joined Pete Vuckovich (18-6, 3.34 ERA and the AL Cy Young award winner), Mike Caldwell (17-13, 3.91 ERA), Moose Haas (11-8, 4.47 ERA) and Bob McClure (12-7, 4.22 ERA). McClure was used in the bullpen in the postseason.
Like Sutton did in 1982, Gonzalez has helped the starters down the stretch in 2018, as he has joined Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.56 ERA), Chase Anderson (9-8, 3.93 ERA), Wade Miley (5-2, 2.32 ERA) and Zach Davies (2-7, 4.65 ERA) as the current starters on the staff.
Finally, like in 1982, the strength of the pitching staff was the bullpen. But unlike that World Series year for the Brewers, the 2018 team is healthy and much deeper in the pen.
Bullpens were used differently in the ’70s and ’80s compared to today’s game. Case in point, Rollie Fingers. In 1981, Fingers was the AL MVP and the AL Cy Young award winner as he was fantastic.
No. 34 was 6-3 with 28 saves, plus had a phenomenal 1.04 ERA. That helped lead the Brewers to the second-half AL East title in 1981.
Fingers was brilliant again in 1982, as he had five wins and 29 saves. But an arm injury ended his season in early September. That injury cost the Brewers dearly in the World Series, as the Milwaukee lost two games in the later innings to the Cardinals because of issues with their bullpen.
Back in 1981 and 1982, it wasn’t rare to see Fingers come into a game in the seventh inning to finish out a game. Today, it is very abnormal to see a closer come into the game for more than one inning, although Josh Hader of the Brewers has done that on occasion this year.
Speaking of Hader and the current Milwaukee bullpen, that is without a doubt that strength of the pitching staff. You want to see an eye-opening stat? Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corbin Burnes are a combined 21-2 in the bullpen and have a combined ERA of 2.04. Plus the trio has combined for 25 saves, with Hader having 11 and Jeffress having 13.
Add to that, it looks like Corey Knebel is back to being his old self as closer, as he has been dominant lately. Although Knebel is just 3-3, with an ERA of 3.78 with just 16 saves, he is looking more and more like the Knebel of 2017, when he saved 48 games and had an ERA of 1.78.
The Brewers can also utilize a couple of other late-season additions to help out in the pen, as Stearns also acquired right-hander Joakim Soria and left-hander Xavier Cedeno from the Chicago White Sox. The Brew Crew also can utilize lefty Dan Jennings in the pen.
Bottom line, the Milwaukee bullpen is one of the best in baseball and has incredible depth. That was not the case in 1982 when the team wasn’t able to use Fingers in the postseason. The team had to rely on young Pete Ladd, who gave it his best shot and did save Game 5 in the ALCS against the California Angels, when he retired Rod Carew and put the Brewers in the 1982 World Series.
But Ladd was not Fingers and his lack of experience cost the Brewers in the World Series, as he walked two batters in less than an inning in a key situation during Game 2 of the series, as the Brewers blew a 4-2 lead and lost 5-4.
The bullpen should not be a problem for the Brewers this upcoming postseason and it’s abundance of depth gives Counsell the option of winning a game by utilizing a number of pitchers to get a win, like he did in the recent series against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
The Brewers obviously would prefer winning the NL Central as opposed to playing in a one-game Wild Card game, which would be at Miller Park by the way. Still, the team is in the postseason for only the fifth time in the history of the team.
And if the Brewers do win the NL Central, they would have the home field advantage throughout the NL postseason.
Finally, like that 1982 squad managed by Harvey Kuenn, this team managed by Craig Counsell has the ingredients to get to the World Series.
Perhaps even winning it.