Wisconsin is Currently Going Through a Great Era in Pro Sports

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2019 was a pretty good year for the state of Wisconsin in terms of professional sports.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who had a 60-22 record, made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before they were beaten by the eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who were 89-73, made it to the MLB postseason for the second consecutive year, before they were beaten by the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals in the National League Wild Card round.

The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North with a 13-3 record in 2019, plus made it all the way to the 2019 NFC Championship Game before they were beaten by the San Francisco 49ers, who then lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

All in all, I would say that pro sports in Wisconsin was pretty, pretty good in 2019.

In fact, only once before in the history of professional sports in Wisconsin, have the Bucks, Brewers and Packers all played in the postseason at the same time. That was in 1982.

Sidney Moncrief

In the 1981-82 season, the Bucks won the NBA Central Division under head coach Don Nelson with a 55-27 record. The Bucks later lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks were a very balanced team that had seven players average double digits in points per game. They were Sidney Moncrief (19.8 ppg), Marques Johnson (16.5 ppg), Brian Winters (15.9 ppg), Bob Lanier (13.5 ppg), Mickey Johnson (12.9 ppg), Quinn Buckner (12.9 ppg) and Junior Bridgeman (12.5 ppg).

The Brewers made it to the postseason for the second year in a row after narrowly winning the AL East with a 95-67 record behind the leadership of manager Harvey Kuenn. Not to mention the play of MVP shortstop Robin Yount and Cy Young award winner Pete Vuckovich.

Seeing as I was covering the Brewers back in those days, really made this is fantastic experience for me personally.

In the final series of the 1982 season, Milwaukee went into Baltimore with a three-game lead with four games to play.

Milwaukee made Brewer Nation very nervous, as the Brewers lost the first three games of the series. That meant the winner on Sunday would win the AL East. That game pitted Jim Palmer versus Don Sutton, who the Brewers had traded for late in the 1982 season.

Once again it was No. 19 who led the way. Yount was three for four, scored four runs and had two homers, as the Brew Crew won 10-2.

Robin Yount in 1982 postseason

That meant the Brewers would be facing the California Angels in the ALCS. Just to be even more dramatic, the Brewers lost the first two games of a best-of-five series in Anaheim. But the Brewers stormed back to win the next three in Milwaukee to earn a trip to their first World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Brewers dominated Game 1 in St. Louis, as they blew away the Cards 10-0. Paul Molitor had five hits, while Yount had four. Mike Caldwell pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout.

The season-ending arm injury that Rollie Fingers suffered in September hurt the Brewers in the rest of the series. If the Brewers had the services of No. 34, the Brewers probably win the series. Milwaukee lost late leads in both Game 2 and Game 7. Bottom line, the Cardinals won it all, with ex-Brewer Darrell Porter winning the series MVP.

The Packers made it to the postseason in 1982 for the first time since 1972, when the team finished 5-3-1 in a strike-shortened season behind head coach Bart Starr.

Green Bay was ranked sixth in the NFL in total offense. Quarterback Lynn Dickey had a dynamic wide receiver tandem to work with in James Lofton and John Jefferson, plus had a very productive tight end to pass to as well in Paul Coffman.

The Packers also had two talented running backs in Eddie Lee Ivory and Gerry Ellis.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers were ranked 11th in total defense. Linebacker John Anderson led the Packers in interceptions with three, while Ezra Johnson led the team in sacks (5.5).

James Lofton and John Jefferson

In the 1982 NFC playoffs, the Packers won their first postseason game at Lambeau Field since the “Ice Bowl” game in 1967 by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 41-16, as Jefferson caught two touchdown passes, while Lofton had one.

The following week the Packers lost to the Dallas Cowboys 37-26 at Texas Stadium.

In 2020, things look promising again for the Bucks, Brewers and Packers.

The Bucks are having a record-setting year and now have a 47-8 record. Milwaukee has a chance to better the record of the 1970-71 team which had a 66-16 record and won the NBA title.

The current Bucks team is led by 2018-19 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who looks like he will win his second straight MVP. The “Greek Freak” is averaging 30 points per game and has had 40 double-doubles (points and rebounds) this year. In addition to that, No. 34 has also had four triple-doubles (points, rebounds and assists).

The Bucks have a very balanced team under head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks lead the NBA in scoring by averaging 119.7 points per game, plus lead the NBA in rebounding as well, as Milwaukee averages 51.8 rebounds per game.

There is plenty of talent on the Bucks even when Antetokounmpo is on the bench or doesn’t play. I’m talking about players such as Kris Middleton (20.9 ppg), Eric Bledsoe (15.7 ppg), Brook Lopez (10.8 ppg), George Hill (9.6 ppg), Donte DiVincenzo (9.2), Wesley Matthews (7.5 ppg) and Ersan IIyasova (7.3 ppg).

The Bucks also have a very deep bench and can play the matchup game with players like Kyle Korver (6.4 ppg), Robin Lopez (5.3 ppg), Sterling Brown (5.2 ppg), Pat Connaughton (4.8 ppg) and have recently added Marvin Williams (4.5 ppg) to their roster.

Giannis II

I like the chances of the Bucks to bring back their second NBA title to Milwaukee in 49 years.

The Brewers have had a number of roster changes going into the 2020 season, but the team still will be led by Christian Yelich, who narrowly missed winning his second straight NL MVP award in 2019. No. 22 probably would have won it if not for a knee injury which ended his season in early September.

The Brewers also have one of the best managers in the game in Craig Counsell, plus have a general manager in David Stearns who has one of the sharpest eyes in searching for talent in MLB.

While the Brewers saw players like Mike Moustaskas, Yasmani Grandal, Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz. Jordan Lyles, Eric Thames, Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra and Travis Shaw all leave the team via trade or free agency, the Brew Crew has added some very intriguing talent to the team the same way.

The starting rotation of the Brewers has three new additions going into the 2020 season, as LHP Brett Anderson (free agency), LHP Eric Lauer (trade) and RHP Josh Lindblom (free agency) will get every opportunity to hold down a starting role for the pitching staff.

RHP Brandon Woodruff is the No. 1 starter on the staff, while RHP Adrian Hauser or RHP Freddie Peralta look to be the fifth starter.

In terms of the relief pitching, LHP Josh Hader will welcome the addition of RHP Corey Knebel, who missed all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. When he is right, Knebel is sometimes unhittable and he and Hader would be a great one-two combination late in the game.

The rest of the bullpen will have LHP Brent Suter, LHP Alex Claudio, RHP Ray Black, RHP David Phelps, RHP Devin Williams and RHP Corbin Burnes, who is hoping for a season like he had in 2018 and not the nightmare year he had in 2019.

The catching corp lost Grandal, but the Brewers did sign slugger Omar Narvaez (22 homers in 2019 for Seattle) to team with Manny Piña.

The infield in 2020 will have unbelievable depth and very versatile players manning down the positions. The only everyday starter looks to be 2B Keston Hiura.

At 1B, Ryan Braun looks to get some time playing there along with Justin Smoak, who is a switch-hitter.

At the SS position, Counsell has a number of options. Orlando Arcia will have to beat off the competition if he wants to remain a starter, as the Brewers traded for a young talented player in Luis Urias, plus have veterans like Eric Sogard and Brock Holt who they signed in free agency to play there as well.

At 3B, Holt, Sogard and Urias can all play the hot corner, plus the Brewers also have Jedd Gyorko and Ryan Healy to get some opportunity there as well.

In terms of playing the matchup game, both Holt and Sogard hit from the left side of the plate.

Christian Yelich II

The outfield situation will change up somewhat in 2020, as Braun will not get as much playing time out there, as the Brewers signed Avisail Garcia in free agency to get the majority of time in the outfield, along with Yelich and CF Lorenzo Cain.

Ben Gamel will come off the bench like he did in 2019, plus Holt can also play the corner outfield positions. Corey Ray will get an opportunity to make the roster, plus the Brewers brought back Keon Broxton, who can play any outfield position with defensive prowess, plus has some nice pop in his bat.

The NL Central looks to be the best division in the National league this year, as the Cincinnati Reds look much improved, plus the St. Louis Cardinals are always tough. One can’t sleep on the Chicago Cubs either, even without manager Joe Madden.

Time will tell what the Brewers will do in 2020 with all their new additions, but I wouldn’t put it past Counsell and Stearns to go to the postseason for a third consecutive year.

The Packers have some holes to fill, even with the 13-3 record they had in 2019. We will find out what moves the team will make this offseason, as free agency begins in March, plus the NFL draft will take place starting on April 23.

Speaking of the NFL draft, I’ll be doing my first mock draft after the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is over.

Currently, the Packers have almost $24 million in cap space going into free agency. General manager Brian Gutekunst will have a number of options available to him, but he wants to hold off on any decisions until the combine is over and the CBA situation is settled.

On offense, the Packers need to add another bookend to Davante Adams at wide receiver, plus need to shore up the situation at right tackle. Both Bryan Bulaga and Jared Veldheer are free agents. The Packers would be very happy to re-sign both of them if at all possible, plus add another RT in the draft.

Even with the great season running back Aaron Jones had in 2019 (1,558 total yards and 19 touchdowns), both he and Jamaal Williams will be free agents after the 2020 season. The Packers are aware of that heading into the draft, which is why they will most likely select another RB, perhaps early in the draft.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

And even with Aaron Rodgers having another nice season in 2019 (26 TD passes, four interceptions and 4,002 passing yards), the Packers are aware of No. 12’s injury history, plus they know he is 36 and not getting any younger.

The Packers like backup QB Tim Boyle, but if the right QB is there for the taking in the draft, I could see Gutekunst selecting that player early in the draft. Plus, I would not be shocked if the Packers took at look at free agent QB Marcus Mariota, who played under head coach Matt LaFleur in Tennessee when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator there in 2018.

On defense, the Packers have to get the Front 7 of their defense better in playing the run, plus the linebacker speed has to improve in pass coverage. Which is why I would not be surprised if the Packers do not re-sign Blake Martinez. No. 50 has been a tackling machine, there is no doubt about that, but his lack of speed has hurt him, both in stopping the run and covering receivers.

I could see Gutekunst adding a faster free agent linebacker to play on the inside to replace Martinez, plus add another linebacker or two in the draft.

The addition of the “Smith Brothers” was huge for the defense of the Packers in 2019, as both La’Darius and Preston had big years. Gutekunst will try and add some more talent like that to the D via free agency, although it depends on the player and his price tag.

The Packers also know the cornerback Kevin King will also be a free agent after the 2020 season, plus are aware of his shoulder issues since he came into the NFL, so I would expect the Packers to draft a CB in the draft for sure.

One never knows what will occur for a NFL team in terms of injuries, but if the Packers stay as injury-free as they were for most of the 2019 season, I like LaFleur’s team to get to the postseason again in 2020.

Bottom line, no matter what, 2020 will be an exciting year for professional sports teams in Wisconsin and if it’s anywhere near what happened in 2019 and 1982, fans from the Badger state will be quite pleased.

Plus, in addition to that, the professional teams in Wisconsin all have fabulous venues to play in front of their fans. The Bucks have Fiserv Forum, the Brewers have Miller Park (American Family Field in 2021) and the Packers have Lambeau Field.

All the better for viewing sports in the postseason.

Milwaukee Brewers: Another September to Remember in 2019

Ryan Braun GS homer vs. Cards II

Well, the Milwaukee Brewers are doing it again. After going 20-7 during the month of September in 2018 which led to the Brew Crew winning the National League Central Division title, Milwaukee is having another September to remember in 2019.

Going into their weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park, the Brewers have so far gone 14-4 this month which as catapulted them to the No. 2 Wildcard position.

In addition to that, the Brewers are just one game out of the No. 1 Wildcard spot held by the Washington Nationals and just three games out of the NL Central lead, held by the St. Louis Cardinals, with nine games to play.

The Cards and the Chicago Cubs (who are one game behind the Brewers) are currently battling in a series at Wrigley Field which has three games to go, plus play each other again next week for three more games in St. Louis.

And a lot of this has happened without the help of 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, who was lost for the season due to a fractured kneecap on September 10 in Miami. The Brewers have gone 8-2 since that devastating injury took place.

Yelich was having another MVP type season in 2019, as he had hit 44 homers and had 97 RBIs, plus was hitting .329. No. 22 had also stolen 30 bases.

Still, the Brewers are getting the job done this September. In the 18 games that they have played so far, the Brew Crew has scored 81 runs (4.5 runs-per-game) and given up just 59 (3.27 runs-per-game).

In terms of leading the Brewers in the absence of Yelich in terms of clutch hitting, three players come to mind in the month of September. 3B Mike Moustakas (35/85/.258), C Yasmani Grandal (27/73/.248, plus 100 walks) and LF Ryan Braun (20/67/.277) are all having solid seasons, but have really heated up recently.

Braun put an exclamation point regarding his legacy in clutch moments, when he hit a grand slam homer with two outs and two strikes against the Cardinals in St. Louis to win the game last Sunday.

Plus, role players like OF Ben Gamel and IF Corey Spangenberg have both come through when it counted as of late. With rookie sensation 2B Kestin Hiuri (17/44/.301) back in the lineup after a hamstring issue, the Brewers have really added strength to their lineup.

Speaking of strength, 1B Eric Thames (21/56/.248) has been solid as well this season overall.

Add to that, CF Lorenzo Cain (10/45/.251) looks like he has some pop in his bat now after going through some injury woes. In his absence, rookie Trent Grisham (5/16/.246) has been a good replacement, not only in center, but in playing all outfield positions. The same holds true with Gamel.

SS Orlando Arcia (14/51/.217) has been struggling at the plate, but Hernan Perez (7/17/.230) has helped out at SS since his return from the minors.

Nobody has struggled more this year than IF Travis Shaw (7/15/.154), but even he hit a home run recently. If Shaw ever returns to the form of the last two seasons in the near future, the Brewers would be exuberant.

Still, you don’t go 14-4 in September without good pitching. And this is where manager Craig Counsell is utilizing his bullpen to the maximum. More times than not a starter won’t last through the fifth inning, but still the formula has worked as the pen has been excellent for the most part.

Now with starter Brandon Woodruff (11-3/3.69 ERA) back in the mix after an oblique injury, the pitching staff now has even more options.

Josh Hader

The other starters have done their job overall. Jordan Lyles (6-1/2.35 ERA) has been outstanding after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Zack Davies (10-7, 3.70 ERA), Gio Gonzalez (2-2/3.86 ERA) and Chase Anderson (6-4/4.50 ERA) have all been fairly consistent, although each has had a few bumps in the road.

Adrian Hauser (6-7/3.83 ERA) has also started as of late, but with Woodruff back, he might go back into a bullpen role in which he was very effective.

Speaking of the pen, four pitchers have really looked good recently. I’m talking about Drew Pomeranz (0-1/2.42 ERA), Freddie Peralta (7-3/5.36 ERA), Junior Guerra (9-5/3.60 ERA) and Alex Claudio (2-2/3.75 ERA). Pomeranz looks to be the closer when Josh Hader isn’t available, as his high fastball has been striking out hitters at a high rate recently. The same goes for Peralta and his high heat.

Hader (3-5/2.66 ERA) looks like he is back on track again now, after having a bit of a rough stretch. But because he is now mixing in his slider along with his tough to see fastball, Hader has been very good. No. 71 has struck out 130 hitters in just 71 innings.

Counsell still seems to trust Matt Albers (8-5), but his ERA has been steadily climbing and is up to 5.01. Jay Jackson (1-0/4.50) has had his moments, but has overall done a good job.

The bottom line is the Brewers are doing something that almost no one saw the club doing when the month of September started. I mean, the team was just three games over .500 and hadn’t really had a real hot streak all season long. Then on top of that, the team loses it’s best player 10 days into the month for the season.

As someone who covered the Brewers during a time when the Brewers made it to the postseason for two consecutive seasons in 1981 and 1982, this team has an energy that I saw on those teams, as well as the one who made it one game from the World Series last year.

The players certainly deserve credit for overcoming so much this season, but so does Counsell and his coaching staff.

Kudos also need to go to GM David Stearns for adding players like Lyles and Pomeranz.

Time will tell what will happen in these last nine games of the season, but what the Brewers are doing sure looks good from my perspective.

Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader is a Throwback to Rollie Fingers

Josh Hader II

In terms of throwing the baseball, Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers is quite different from former Brewers great Rollie Fingers as a relief pitcher.

Hader is a lefty and he throws primarily fastballs in the mid-to-high 90s. The right handed Fingers used an assortment of pitches, but the slider was his number one pitch, as his fastball topped off in the low 90s.

Fingers also threw the change up effectively, plus later in his career utilized the forkball as a very useful pitch, especially when I was covering the Brewers during his time in Milwaukee.

Hader, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on bringing the gas. His pitching motion to the plate also hides the ball really well to hitters. In one of his five saves thus far in 2019, Hader pitched a perfect inning, when he threw nine pitches and recorded three strikeouts. Only one of those nine pitches hit a bat, while the other eight were swing and misses.

But there is definitely one area in which Hader does resemble how Fingers used to finish ball games when he was considered one of the top closers in MLB. That is going multiple innings in getting a save. Like going two-plus innings to record one.

Just to illustrate at how good Fingers was at getting saves over multiple innings, just check out how many times No. 34 did that in his career. Fingers had 114 wins and 341 saves over his career with the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers on his way to Cooperstown. Fingers also posted a career ERA of 2.90.

But of those 341 saves, Fingers posted 74 of them by getting at least seven outs. That mark is second all-time in MLB history, only behind Hoyt Wilhelm, who recorded that feat 76 times.

Rollie Fingers

Hader has done that a number of times already over his short time in the big leagues. This past Sunday, Hader went 2.2 innings to get his fifth save of the season against the Chicago Cubs, as the Brewers upped their season record to 8-2, which is tops in the NL Central.

Besides going multiple innings at times to record saves, Hader and Fingers have a couple of other similarities. Both were acquired by the Brewers in trades and both were originally starting pitchers.

Fingers was acquired in a blockbuster 1980 offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals which also brought catcher Ted Simmons and starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich to Milwaukee. GM Harry Dalton had to give up starting pitcher Lary Sorenson, outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitcher Dave LaPoint and outfielder David Green to get the talented trio.

The trade was well worth it, as the Brewers made to to the postseason for two consecutive years, plus Fingers was named the MVP of the American League in 1981, plus won the Cy Young Award that year.

Vuckovich won that same award in 1982 when Harvey’s Wallbangers went to the World Series. Unfortunately, Fingers was not able to pitch in the 1982 postseason. More on that later.

Fingers was also an All-Star in 1981 and 1982, while Simmons had the honor in 1981 and 1983.

Hader was also brought to Milwaukee in a blockbuster trade. Midway through the 2015 season, the Brewers sent outfielder Carlos Gómez and pitcher Mike Fiers to the Houston Astros for Hader, outfielder Domingo Santana, pitcher Adrian Houser and outfielder Brett Phillips.

In terms of being starting pitchers early in their careers, Fingers actually made 37 starts for the A’s before becoming a full-time relief pitcher. Hader was also a starter in the minors, including his time in the Milwaukee system, before he got the call up to the big club. At that point, manager Craig Counsell decided it was best to utilize Hader in the pen.

And that is where he has excelled, although this season is the first time that Hader is considered the closer.

In 2017, Hader did not have any saves, but had a sparkling ERA of 2.08, while compiling a 2-3 record. No. 71 also had 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

But it was in 2018 when Hader really broke out on the MLB scene. Hader was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.43, plus struck out an amazing 143 hitters in just 81.1 innings. Hader also had 12 saves, as he split closer duties with Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.

Besides that, Hader was named as an All-Star, plus won the 2018 National League Trevor Hoffman Reliever award.

This year, with Knebel out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and with Jeffress currently out with shoulder woes, Hader has been almost unhittable. In five appearances in which he has five saves, Hader has given up just one hit in 7.2 innings. No. 71 also has 13 strikeouts and has just one walk, plus has a perfect ERA of 0.00.

Hader has also shown a similarity to Fingers in terms of being clutch in leading up to the playoffs, as well as the postseason itself, although he has just been in the big spotlight just one year.

No one will ever forget Fingers pitching the Brewers into the 1981 postseason by beating the Detroit Tigers at County Stadium in early October, nor will anyone ever forget Hader saving Game No. 163 for the Brewers at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs and winning the NL Central last season.

Josh Hader vs. the Cubs in Game No. 163

Besides being a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Rolaids Reliever of the Year, Fingers was also a World Series MVP, plus was a three-time World Series champion. In my opinion, he would have made that four times in 1982 when the Brewers played the Cardinals had he been able to pitch.

Fingers suffered an elbow injury in September of 1982 which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and postseason. The Brewers lost the World Series to the Cards by a 4-3 margin, but had Fingers been available, they probably don’t blow late leads like they did in both Game 2 and Game 7 of that series.

But when he was healthy, Fingers was about as good as it gets in the postseason. From 1971 through 1975, Fingers was 4-4 with an ERA of 2.35, plus had nine saves. In the three World Series matchups that he pitched in, Fingers had a combined ERA of 1.35.

Hader was incredible last postseason for the Brewers, as he posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in 10 innings, plus had 16 strikeouts compared to just one walk.

That bodes well for the future.

The thing that separates Hader from other closers in today’s MLB, is his ability to go multiple innings. Yes, sometimes a closer will be put in the game in the eighth inning once in a while, but it almost never happens that a manager will put a closer in during the seventh inning like Counsell does with Hader.

Fingers knew how to close games out that way too.

Milwaukee Brewers: Deja Vu, Just Like in ’82?

Brewers Celebrate Winning the 1982 ALCS

It’s been 36 years, but the Milwaukee Brewers are hoping it will be a case of deja vu when they take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Miller Park to close out the 2018 NLCS. The Brew Crew lost two of three games at Dodger Stadium to go down three games to two in their seven-game series.

The Brewers of 1982, better known as Harvey’s Wallbangers, lost the first two games of a five-game series in Anaheim to the California Angels in the ALCS before returning home to Milwaukee County Stadium and winning three straight and punching a ticket to the World Series.

The 2018 Brewers have the same task as the ’82 Brewers. Just win, baby!

Otherwise it’s lose and pack up the cars and go home.

Unlike the ’82 Brewers who had to win three straight games to advance to their first ever Fall Classic, this year’s Milwaukee team needs to win just two.

Call it a California closeout.

In 1982, when the Brewers traveled to Anaheim to take on the Angels after winning the AL East on the last game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles, things did not go well for Milwaukee in SoCal.

The Brew Crew lost Game 1 by a score of 8-3 and then lost Game 2 by a score of 4-2. That meant that the Brewers could not lose at County Stadium. They had to win all three games at home to get to the World Series.

In Game 3, on a Friday afternoon, behind a great pitching effort by veteran Don Sutton, the Brewers beat the Angels 5-3, as Pete Ladd closed out the game to get a save.

In Game 4, the Brewers beat the Angels 9-5, as the star of the game was Mark Brouhard, as he had three hits (including a homer), scored four runs and had three RBIs. Moose Haas got the win and Jim Slaton got the save in another afternoon contest.

That set up Game 5 on Sunday.

But before I get to that game, I want to point out an encounter I had with Rod Carew earlier in the year when I was in the Angel clubhouse. I saw Carew and I went up to him and introduced myself politely and asked him for a quick interview.

At that point, Carew did not utter a word and just stared at me. The stare probably lasted about a half of a minute, although it seemed a hell of a lot longer to me. Then Carew just walked away. I was shocked and I’m sure it showed.

Thankfully Bobby Grich of the Angels quickly came up to me and told me that Carew never talks to the media and that it wasn’t personal. When Grich told me that, he put his arm around my shoulder and was just as nice as he could be. Not only that, but he also did an interview with me. Anyway, I never forgot that great gesture by Grich.

Which takes me to Peter Ladd. I formed a pretty nice relationship with Ladd after he was brought up late in the season to help the bullpen. Pete always had time for me. He also became the closer for the Brewers after Rollie Fingers suffered a season-ending arm injury in September.

Ladd saved three games down the stretch for the Brewers in 1982. He would go on to save 25 games in 1983, as Fingers missed the entire ’83 season due to his arm injury (Tommy John surgery).

I wanted to bring up those circumstances before I set up the ending to Game 5. The Brewers started Pete Vuckovich (1982 Cy Young award winner), but he scuffled like he did towards the end of the season and into the postseason. Vuckovich was pitching through a shoulder injury we would find out later.

The Brewers fell behind 3-2 in the game before they scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh, as Cecil Cooper singled home Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner. The Brewers had a precarious 4-3 lead.

Which brings up the drama in the ninth inning between Ladd and Carew. The Angels were able to get the tying run on second base, when Ladd needed to get two outs. No. 27 first got Brian Downing to ground out to 3B Paul Molitor and then enticed Carew to hit a one-hopper to SS Robin Yount to end the game.

I thought the ending was very apropos based on my interactions with both Carew and Ladd.

It should also be noted that Yount only hit .250 in the series against the Angels. No. 19 would later win the AL MVP honor, as he hit .331 with 29 homers and 114 RBIs.

Yount played up to his MVP status in the World Series however, as he hit .414, with one homer and six RBIs.

Dodgers vs. Brewers in 2018 NLCS

Which brings me to the NLCS, where now the 2018 Brewers can not lose another game in this series. They need to win both Game 6 and Game 7 to get to their second ever World Series.

Milwaukee needs another SoCal shutdown, just like the 1982 Brewers accomplished.

I believe it can happen as well.

It’s going to come down to good pitching and clutch hitting. The pitching has been very good for the Brewers for the most part in their matchup against the Dodgers. But the clutch hitting failed the team in both Game 4 and Game 5.

That has to change in Game 6 and Game 7.

The Brewers, who are about $90 million dollars below the payroll of the Dodgers, need to hit better at the top and middle of the lineup.

Clean up hitter Jesús Aguilar has been really struggling this postseason, although he got a hit in the ninth inning of Game 5. All in all, Aguilar is hitting just .172 this postseason, which includes 10 strikeouts. The big guy does have two homers though.

You might see manager Craig Counsell move Aguilar to the fifth spot in the order and hit Travis Shaw at clean up. Shaw is hitting .307 this postseason, with one homer and two RBIs. Shaw at least is seeing the ball better, even against lefthanders, as his home run came against Alex Wood.

The soon to be NL MVP, Christian Yelich, is hitting just .200 in the postseason, but I believe that will change. Still, No. 22 has been able to get 10 walks, which has allowed him to score five runs this postseason.

The guy who sets the table in the Milwaukee order, Lorenzo Cain, is starting to get into a groove. Cain hit only .083 in the Colorado series, but is hitting .250 in the series with the Dodgers. I see him continuing to hit the ball hard.

So if Cain (10-38-.308) and Yelich (36-110-.326) can basically do what they did in the regular season and get on base and be difference makers, that sets things up quite well.

The No. 3 hitter, Ryan Braun, is continuing to do what he did in the last week or two of the regular season, as he’s hitting .312 in the postseason.

If the top of the lineup can start making noise like it did did in the regular season, the Brewers will be in great shape in Game 6 and Game 7.

The middle of the order has had it’s issues, specifically Aguilar. 3B Mike Moustakas had a great series against the Rockies (.364), but is only hitting .095 against the Dodgers. That has to change. I believe it will.

The bottom of the order has been fabulous. Both catchers are hitting the ball well. Manny Piña is hitting .429 this postseason with five walks, while Erik Kratz is hitting .316 this postseason, but has struggled a bit in the series against LA, after hitting .625 versus the Rockies.

SS Orlando Arcia has had a stellar postseason, as he has three homers and is hitting .296.

The pitchers are getting their share of knocks as well. Brandon Woodruff hit a monster homer off of Clayton Kershaw, while Wade Miley had two hits in Game 2.

The Brew Crew just needs to get more consistent at the plate and drive in runs when the situation arises. I see that happening.

The Brewers are also in good shape pitching in Game 6 and Game 7. Miley gets the start in Game 6 and he has really pitched well against Los Angeles in 2018, both in the regular season and postseason (see Game 2).

If the Brewers can win Game 6, then they can put out staff ace Jhoulys Chacin, who is 2-0 this postseason, with an ERA of 0.00. No. 45 pitched 5.1 innings against the Dodgers in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, as the Brewers won 4-0.

Things are also setting up well for the bullpen, as both Josh Hader and Corey Knebel will be well rested going into Game 6. Jeremy Jeffress is struggling a bit, but Counsell will not hesitate to use him if it is warranted.

The best case scenario is for the Brewers to get a relatively easy win against lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 6 and rest the main guys in the bullpen.

That way, Hader and and Knebel can finish out Game 7 when the Brewers will be most likely facing rookie Walker Buehler.

Josh Hader

Hader has been absolutely fabulous this postseason, as he has pitched seven innings and given up just four hits and struck out 12. Did I mention his ERA is 0.00?

Knebel has been almost as good, as he has pitched 7.2 innings this postseason, allowed only two hits, has 11 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.17.

Bottom line, I can see the Brewers of 2018 duplicating what the Brewers of 1982 did. That would be recovering from a tough trip to the west coast and coming home and taking care of business.

It would be really apropos if Manny Machado made the final out. If not him, David Freese would be appropriate as well.

Milwaukee Brewers: It will be David vs. Goliath in the NLCS

Craig Counsell and David Stearns

On Friday night at Miller Park, the Milwaukee Brewers will be hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

It will be like David battling Goliath. Almost literally.

The Brewers behind the great work of general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell, won the NL Central with a fabulous run in the month of September and also had the best record in all of the National League (96-67).

This with a payroll of just under $109 million, based on the great data that Spotrac provides. That puts the Brew Crew at No. 22 in payroll in all of MLB (30 teams).

Meanwhile, the Goliaths…er…Dodgers, have a payroll of close to $200 million, which place them third on the MLB totem pole, only behind the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants.

Now the Dodgers did win the NL West in a one-game playoff against the Colorado Rockies, just like the Brewers had to do with the Chicago Cubs. All in all, the Dodgers finished with a record of 92-71.

Of the four teams still remaining in the postseason, three of those teams are in the Top 10 in payroll. The Red Sox are No. 1, the Dodgers are No. 3 and the Houston Astros are No. 9.

In fact, if the Brewers doubled their payroll, they still wouldn’t match the payroll of the Red Sox ($228 million-plus).

That’s what the Brewers are up against in the NLCS and perhaps the World Series, if Milwaukee is fortunate enough to get there again for the first time since 1982, when they were called Harvey’s Wallbangers.

The irony in all of this for the Dodgers is that their president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, used to be the GM of the Tampa Bay Rays, who almost always had the lowest payroll in baseball, even when the club was making the postseason a habit under manager Joe Madden.

Friedman was assisted by Matt Arnold in Tampa Bay, when Arnold was the director of pro scouting. Arnold is now the assistant GM of the Brewers and was the first hire by Stearns three years ago.

I wrote about how much the Brewers and Rays had in common last year.

Getting back to the Brewers and Dodgers, just before the trade deadline, both teams were interested in trading for SS/3B Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles. In the end, it was the Dodgers who were able to acquire Machado.

But Stearns did not sit on his hands at the actual trade deadline (July 31), as well the waiver trade deadline which ends on August 31. Stearns added 3B Mike Moustakas, pitchers Joakim Soria, Gio Gonzalez and Xavier Cedeno, 2B Jonathan Schoop and OF Curtis Granderson.

When the Dodgers, who are managed by Dave Roberts, and Brewers start going at it on Friday night in Game 1, the payrolls of each team will go out the window. The only thing that matters is winning baseball games.

That being said, this should be one hell of a series, based on that talent of each team.

The Brewers are riding an 11 game winning streak. A win on Friday night and people will be heading in masses to George Webb for some free hamburgers. Getting free burgers will be great for the fans of the Brewers, but getting a win on Friday night will be even more important.

George Webb

And winning is something that the Brewers have done a lot of lately. The Brew Crew went 20-7 in September which allowed them to catch the Cubs and tie for the NL Central lead.

Then in game No. 163, the Brewers beat the Cubs 3-1 at Wrigley Field which gave the team home field advantage for the rest of the National League playoffs.

The Brewers just totally dominated the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, outscoring the Rockies by a 13-2 margin. Colorado scored those two runs in one inning, which means the team went scoreless in 27 of the 28 innings played in the series.

The major reason? The bullpen. That dynamic of the team has been fairly consistent throughout the season, although there have been a few glitches from time to time. The relief corps posted a 3.47 earned run average during the regular season, which was second to the Cubs (3.35) in the NL.

Plus, the bullpen knows how to close the door. The Brewers are 82-3 (including the postseason) when leading after seven innings. And when the Crew takes a lead to the ninth, they are 86-3.

I mentioned how dominant the pen has been in my most recent story about the Brewers, especially when you take a look at the job Corbin Burnes, lefty Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress did in the regular season. Their combined stats were unbelievable.

The trio were a combined 21-2 in the bullpen and had a combined ERA of 2.04. Plus the three combined for 25 saves, with Hader having 11 and Jeffress having 13.

Jeffress had a minor malfunction in Game 1 of the NDCS, but bounced right back in Game 2. Hader has been lights out, both in Game No. 163 vs. the Cubs and the postseason thus far. Burnes has continued to be effective in the middle innings for the Brewers and he notched a win in Game 3 of the NLDS.

Besides those three, the Brewers also have a guy who saved 46 games last year. I’m talking about Corey Knebel. The hard-throwing righty had a rough start in the first half of the season due to a hamstring injury and some ineffectiveness due to his inability to throw the curve ball. But after being sent down to the minors and working some kinks out, he has been almost flawless.

Knebel finished the season with 16 consecutive scoreless outings, striking out 33 hitters in 16 1/3 innings. Nothing changed in the NLDS for Knebel either, as he pitched three innings without giving up a run and struck out four.

In fact, the ERA of the Brewers in the NLDS was a sparking 0.64. Jeffress was the only pitcher on the Brewers who allowed a run (he allowed two). All the other pitchers had a perfect 0.00 ERA. That group includes starter Jhoulys Chacin who got a win in Game 2, as he went five innings.

Wade Miley also had a fine start in Game 3, as he he went 4 2/3 innings without giving up a run. Other than that it was bullpen by committee. That all started in Game 1 when Brandon Woodruff started the game and went three innings without giving up a run.

The rest of the bullpen did the job in the series, except for the hiccup by Jeffress in Game 1. Burnes, Knebel, Soria and Hader combined to pitch 12 innings and allowed only two hits and zero runs. They also struck out 18 batters.

The offense in the NLDS was led by catcher Erik Kratz, who hit .625 against the Rockies. Soon to be NL MVP Christian Yelich also had a nice series, as he seemed to be on the base all the time, as he had two hits (including a homer) and six walks.

Moustakas was clutch in the NLDS with his hitting, and he finished the series with a .364 average and two huge RBIs (including the game-winning walk off single in Game 1).

Ryan Braun, who is the only holdover from the 2011 Milwaukee team which also won the NL Central and advanced to the NLCS, also had a very solid series, as he hit .385.

Travis Shaw hit .364 and also walked three times.

The Brewers are going to need an effort like that and maybe more to beat the Dodgers.

Brewers vs. Dodgers 2018 NLCS

The Dodgers can really hit. They led the NL with 235 homers and also led the league with 804 runs scored. Los Angeles also had seven players hit over 20 homers this season. They are Max Muncy (35), Joc Pederson (25), Cody Bellinger (25), Yasmani Grandal (24), Yasiel Puig (23), Enrique Hernandez (21) and Matt Kemp (21).

The best hitter on the Dodgers is 3B Justin Turner, who hit 14 homers himself and hit .312. Machado hit 13 homers and drove in 42 runs after he was acquired from the Orioles.

The Dodgers also have Brewer-killer David Freese (2011 NLCS) on their bench.

So in a snapshot, one can see that the Dodgers will be tough to shut down offensively.

This where I could see the Brewers making some roster alterations to the pitching staff for this series. I could see the Brewers adding someone like Zach Davies, who has had good success against the Dodgers in his career.

Plus, with all the big power hitters that the Dodgers can bring up to the plate from the left side, I could see the Brewers adding someone like Cedeno to the pitching staff.

Speaking of having success against the Dodgers, the Brewers have two pitchers who throw from the left side and who have had their way with LA. I’m talking about Gonzalez and Miley.

Gonzalez is 4-1 lifetime vs. the Dodgers, with an ERA of 1.89. Miley has a career ERA of 3.55 against the Dodgers and was 1-0 in 2018 against them and had a 0.00 ERA. In 13 innings, Miley gave up just six hits.

Chacin is 11-9 lifetime against the Dodgers and has a career ERA of 4.41, which skyrocketed after his worst start of the season at Dodger Stadium, when LA thrashed Milwaukee 21-5.

In terms of the pitching for the Dodgers, it all starts with lefty Clayton Kershaw, who will start in Game 1. The three-time Cy Young award winner was 9-5 in 2018, with an ERA of 2.73.

Throughout his career, Kershaw has pitched well against the Brewers, as he has a career ERA average of 2.86. Still, he is only 6-5 against Milwaukee, including a loss to the Brewers at Miller Park earlier this year.

As good as Kershaw has been in the regular season in his career (153-69, 2.39 ERA), he hasn’t had the same success in the postseason. In that scenario, Kershaw is just 8-7, with an ERA of 4.08.

That could be a good omen for the Brewers.

The rest of the LA pitching staff is very good as well, as the Dodgers had a team ERA of 3.38. Next to Kershaw, the best starting pitcher on the Dodgers is Walker Buehler, who went 8-5 and had an ERA of 2.62.

The rest of the starting staff is rounded out by lefty Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66), Alex Wood (9-7, 3.68) and lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 1.97).

The closer for the Dodgers is still Kenley Jansen (1-5), who isn’t as imposing as he once was. Still, he saved 38 games and had an ERA of 3.01.

The Dodgers also have lefty Caleb Ferguson, who always seems to pitch well against the Brewers. In 2018, he was 7-2 with a 3.49 ERA.

The LA bullpen also can bring in pitchers like lefty Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, Ryan Madsen and Kenta Maeda.

Bottom line, this should be a very good series. The Brewers obviously want to get out of the gate quick by beating Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game 1.

Kershaw gives up homer to Yelich

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers gives up a solo home run to Christian Yelich of the Brewers.

At this stage of the game in the MLB postseason, it doesn’t matter who comes up with the clutch hit, as long as someone does. It could be Yelich, Braun, Moustakas or Kratz. Then again it might be Jesús Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, Orlando Arcia, Hernán Perez or Manny Piña.

The Brewers are playing their best baseball of 2018 at the very best time. I expect that to continue in the NLCS as well.

If that happens, the Brewers will be going to their second ever World Series and will be in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1982.

The Surprising Milwaukee Brewers Are Flying High Near the All-Star Break

Brewers Outfielders Flying High

About five weeks ago, I wrote a story about how both the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays are very similar in a number of ways. At the time, both teams were also off to surprisingly good starts in the 2017 MLB season.

That has continued for both clubs as we head towards the All-Star break. But especially the Brewers, under the leadership of manager Craig Counsell.

The Brew Crew has basically been in first place in the National League Central division since May 18. That divisional prominence has been going on for almost two months now. That is somewhat difficult to comprehend, especially since the team that won the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs, reside in the same division.

Plus there are other teams in the division who know how to win. As a matter of fact, both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates were participants in the MLB 2015 postseason, along with the Cubs.

Going into this season, most baseball experts figured that the Brewers would continue to stay with the rebuilding process that they have been undergoing since general manger David Stearns took over for Doug Melvin.

Stears has completely overhauled the farm system of the Brewers and it is now one of the best in baseball. He has also made a number of shrewd trades and waiver pickups, plus found a real gem in free agency.

Going into Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees, the Brewers have won five games in a row and have a 49-40 record, which has them leading the second-place Cubs by 4 1/2 games.

The success of the Brewers so far in 2017 has been led by a number of players who Stearns acquired prior to the current season.

One of these moves was the signing of free agent first baseman Eric Thames, who had been playing baseball in South Korea the past three seasons. Although his batting average (.245) has tailed off after a hot start, Thames has put together solid numbers as he has hit 23 homers and has 43 RBIs.

Another acquisition was trading for third baseman Travis Shaw, formerly of the Boston Red Sox. Shaw has put together as a season worthy enough for a spot in the All-Star game, as he is hitting .296, with 18 homers and 61 RBIs. Shaw has also been very solid with his glove.

Stearns has also made some excellent waiver wire acquisitions to help the team so far in 2017. One of whom is rookie first baseman Jesús Aguilar. The former Cleveland Indian has split some time with Thames at first base, especially when the team is facing a left-handed pitcher.

Aguilar had a monster game on Friday night versus the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, as hit hit two homers and had seven RBIs, as the Brewers won 9-4. For the season, Aguilar is hitting .299, with nine homers and 34 RBIs.

at Yankee Stadium on July 7, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

A couple weeks back, Stearns added another player to the Brewers via waivers, as he brought in two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt. The former Oakland Athletic has already paid dividends, as he is hitting .313, with three homers and seven RBIs.

The Brewers appear set at catching for the season now with both Vogt and Manny Piña (.289/6/28) behind the plate.

Milwaukee is also set in both the infield and outfield.

Thames and Aguilar together have 32 homers and 77 RBIs at first base. Although Jonathan Villar has struggled at second base this season (.209/8/30), based on his excellent season in 2016, the Brewers have seen another player shine when given the opportunity to play at 2B. That would be Eric Sogard, who Stearns signed to a minor contract last fall. Although Sogard is currently on the DL with an ankle injury, he was hitting .313, with three homers and 14 RBIs.

The left side of the infield is very solid, both offensively and defensively. Shortstop Orlando Arcia has already made several sparkling plays in the field and is destined to bring home a number of Gold Gloves before his MLB career is over. But it is at the plate where Arcia has really improved over the past couple of months and is now hitting .290, with eight homers and 30 RBIs.

As I noted earlier, Shaw has been very productive at the 3B position. The jack of all trades in both the infield and outfield in terms of being an utility player has been Hernán Pérez. The former Detroit Tiger, who was also acquired via waivers, has played 3B, SS and 2B, plus has played every OF position. So far in 2017, Pérez is hitting .270, with 10 homers and 35 RBIs.

Under normal conditions, the Brewers will have veteran Ryan Braun (.266/10/23) in LF, Keon Broxton (.233/14/35) in CF and Domingo Santana (.291/14/47) in RF. Stearns acquired both Broxton and Santana via trades.

It is in the area of pitching where the Brewers might look to acquire some assistance before the trade deadline. In terms of how the starting pitchers of the Brewers have done for far in 2017, the production has been pretty good, but still could be better.

The top two starting pitchers have been Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. Nelson is 7-4 with a 3.20 ERA. Nelson has also struck out 112 batters in 104 innings. Anderson was off to a 6-2 start with a 2.89 ERA, before he was sidelined with an oblique injury in late June which will keep him out for several weeks. That is another reason why the Brewers may look to add another starting pitcher to their staff.

Veteran Matt Garza has been solid as of late and is now 4-4 with a 3.98 ERA. The starter with the most wins is Zach Davies, who is 10-4, but he also has been quite fortunate getting offensive support, as he has a 4.90 ERA.

Junior Guerra, who had a great 2016 season (9-3, 2.81 in 20 starts), but has had injury woes in 2017, is currently 1-3 with a 4.98 ERA as a starter. Filling in for Anderson while he is out has been Brent Suter, who had a great initial start and is currently 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

Stearns acquired both Anderson and Davies via trades, while Guerra was yet another waiver pickup.

The Milwaukee bullpen has been both great and exasperating. The pen has been much better over the past month, but as of early June the bullpen had absorbed 18 losses. But the Brewers have been more effective protecting leads recently, especially because of their All-Star closer, Corey Knebel, who is 0-1 with a sparkling 1.11 ERA, and who has a whopping 71 strikeouts in 40 innings.

As a matter of fact, Knebel now has the MLB record of getting at least one strikeout per inning in 41 straight games.

Corey Kneble getting congratulated

Knebel took over as the closer of the Brewers after Neftalí Feliz just couldn’t stop giving up gopher balls. Feliz was 1-5 with a 6.00 ERA and had given up eight homers. Stearns had signed Feliz via free agency this offseason before Feliz was released back in June.

The set up guys for Knebel include left-hander Josh Hader, who notched his first MLB victory on Friday night against the Yankees. For the season, Hader is 1-0 with .073 ERA with 13 Ks in 12 innings. Hader was acquired in the same trade in which the Brewers also added Santana from Houston, when Milwaukee dealt CF Carlos Gomez and P Mike Fiers to the Astros.

Joining Hader in set up roles are Jacob Barnes (1-1, 3.72), Jared Hughes (3-1, 3.09), Oliver Drake (3-2, 4.22), Carlos Torres (4-4, 4.43) and Rob Scahill (1-2, 3.54).

Recently there has been speculation that the Brewers are looking to add another starting pitcher, but only if he is controllable over the next couple of season in terms of his contract status.

The two names that have been mentioned are Sonny Gray of the Oakland As and José Quintana of the Chicago White Sox.

According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the Brewers are doing background work on Gray, Quintana and other impact starters.

Gray is currently 4-4 with a 4.00 ERA, but has been much better as of late. Gray has averaged almost nine strikeouts per nine innings and has a 3.45 ERA over his last seven starts.

Gray is earning $3.575 million in 2017 and will be eligible for arbitration in each of the next two winters before reaching free agency upon completion of the 2019 campaign.

Quintana is currently 4-8 with a 4.45 ERA, but he too has been better as of late. In his past six outings, Quintana has averaged 9.1 Ks per nine innings and has a 2.34 ERA.

Like Gray, Quintana is controllable.He will make $8.85 million salary next season and has a pair of club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, which are respectively valued at $10.5 million and $11 million.

Time will tell what Stearns will do in terms of additions to the Brewers for the second half of the season, but he will definitely be looking to buy, instead of looking to sell.

The Brewers have a chance to be just the fifth team in franchise history to make the MLB postseason. It has also happened for Milwaukee in 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011.

Like the Bambi’s Bombers/Harvey’s Wallbangers group which made the postseason a couple of times 30-plus years ago, Craig’s Crushers are also hitting the long ball. The Brewers lead the NL in homers (135) and only trail the Astros (142) of the AL in that category.

The Brewers also know how to steal bases. Milwaukee leads the NL with 74 stolen bases and only trail the Los Angeles Angels (78) and Texas Rangers (75) in that statistical department.

One area where the Brewers definitely need to get better is on defense, as Milwaukee has the third-worst fielding percentage in MLB with a mark of .980. The Brewers have also committed 67 errors, which is also the third-worst mark in baseball.

But all in all, the Brewers are playing inspired baseball and with some additional help down the stretch in terms of adding another starting pitcher, Milwaukee could be toasting the Brew Crew come October.