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Milwaukee Brewers: How The Brewers Won a Division in 2011 And Similarities with The Milwaukee 1982 AL Team
A Lifetime Milwaukee Brewers Fan
The Brewers Are Finally Division Champs
The Milwaukee Brewers are finally NL Central Division champs! It had been almost 30 years since the Brewers were a division champ. Although Milwaukee was an NL wild-card winner in 2008, a division championship had been out of its reach since 1982 when the Brewers were playing in the American League. This article will examine how the Brewers won the Central Division in 2011 and then compare the 2011 team with the 1982 division champs.
Brewers In the Early 2000s
In the early 2000s shortly after Milwaukee moved from the American to the National League, the Brewers were the doormat of the Central Division. In fact, the Brewers lost more than 100 games in 2002 and were annually losing at least 90 games. During that time two significant policy changes reversed the fortunes of Milwaukee. One was the decision to draft and develop players in the minors instead of just trading minor league prospects for established star players like Richie Sexton. Another was the sale of the club to stockbroker Attanasio who was not hesitant to raise the club's payroll. In the early 2000s, players like Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo, and Ryan Braun were drafted and developed in Milwaukee's minor league system.
Brewers in The Mid And Late 2000
By 2006 when prospects like Corey Hart, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks first put on Brewers uniforms, Milwaukee became more competitive and moved up in the standings. In 2005 the club actually had an 81-81 season record. In 2007-2008 Milwaukee was a division contender after Ryan Braun came up and joined Fielder, Hart, and Weeks who rapidly were establishing themselves as stars. Milwaukee even won the wild card in 2008 thanks to the midseason acquisition of C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians and final day heroics of Ryan Braun's winning homer against the Cubs.
During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Brewers took steps backward. This was due to the hiring of a manager who was out of touch with players, and the lack of quality pitching, especially starting pitching. At the end of the 2010 season, the Brewers addressed both problems by first hiring Ron Roenicke to replace Ken Macha as manager, and then by trading top minor league prospects for quality starting pitching in the likes of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.
Milwaukee's 2011 Season
Right before the beginning of the 2011 season, Milwaukee made a trade with the Washington Nationals to acquire center fielder Nyjer Morgan aka Tony Plush in a move which would pay big dividends during the season. Although Morgan had a reputation as a troublemaker with the Nationals, he gave the Brewers a hard-nosed, energetic, highly competitive player who fit in well with his teammates by the example he set on the field. All he did was hit around .300 and play an exceptionally good center field.
During the first two months of the season, Milwaukee started out slowly behind the Cincinnati Reds and Saint Louis Cardinals. This was due to shaky starting pitching, Zach Greinke being on the disabled list, and the slow start of closer John Axford. After the starting pitching was stabilized, Kameron Loe broke down due to overuse as a setup man for Axford. At this point, the Brewers traded for Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets to take the pressure off Loe as a setup man. In fact, Rodriguez functioned as Axford's 8th inning setup man during the last two months of the season. Strong performances by Takashi Saito and Latrell Hawkins also lifted the bullpen.
Milwaukee finally took control of the Central Division at the end of July by going on a surge which would see them win 27 out of 32 games and take a 10 and 1/2 game lead over the Saint Louis Cardinals. During this period, the pitching was outstanding and the defense played exceptionally well, even turning a triple play in a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the Cardinals eventually cut the lead to 4 and 1/2 games, the Brewers clinched the NL Central with consistently good pitching from Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum, and the clutch hitting of Ryan Braun whose late inning heroics won many games, most notable of which was the three-run homer in the 8th inning which gave the Brew Crew a 4-1 victory over the Florida Marlins on September 23.
Comparing the 1982 and 2011 Brewers
In comparing the 1982 and 2011 Milwaukee Brewer division champs, there are striking similarities.
1. MVP Candidates:
In 1982 Robin Yount was American League MVP. I will always remember his two homers against Baltimore on the last day of the season which clinched the division for the Brewers. Ryan Braun should be NL MVP this reason not only based on his personal stats of hitting around .330, with 30 steals, 32 home runs, and 107 runs batted in, but mainly for his late heroics in winning games for the Brewers.
2. Strong Pitching:
In 1982 the Brewers had a formidable starting staff which included Pete Vuckovic, Mike Caldwell, Moose Haas, and Don Sutton, a late-season acquisition who helped defeat the Orioles on the last day of the season. The closer, of course, was Rollie Fingers. In 2011 the Brewers have five bonafide starters in Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, Randy Wolfe, and Chris Narveson who have averaged 14 victories with an era under 4.00. The closer is John Axford who is having a better year than what Fingers had in 1982.
3. Come From Behind Victories:
Both the 1982 and 2011 Brewers could score runs in the 8th, 9th, and extra innings to turn impending defeats into exciting victories.
4. High Energy Players:
In 1982 The Brewers had Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, and Gorman Thomas who set the tone for the team with their energetic and hard-nosed play. The Brewers are very fortunate this year to have Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder who have led the team by leaving everything out on the field.
Milwaukee Brewers 1982 Starting Lineup
Nothing Comes Easy For the Brewers
The end of the 1982 and 2011 seasons were both nail-biters for me. The Brewers had a three-game lead on the Orioles with 4 games to play, only to see Baltimore win the first three games of the series and be tied with Milwaukee on the last day of the season. I remember listening to all of those games and dying a little bit more with each loss. Then, the Brewers finally won the finale with Sutton and Yount as heroes. it wasn't quite as bad in 2011. The Brewers were in danger of imploding as I agonized seeing the Cardinals cut a 10 and 1/2 lead to 4 and 1/2 games. Then, as a gift from heaven, the Cardinals self-destructed in blowing a four-run lead to the Mets and then by losing to the Cubs 4-1, so that Milwaukee could clinch with Braun's heroic home run.
I definitely enjoyed the divisional championship and postseason play in 2011, because it might be the last I experience during my lifetime. Prince Fielder tested free-agency and was gone in 2012 to the Tigers who could afford to pay him more than the Brewers. Every team will be stronger next year, and there is absolutely no certainty for small market teams like the Brewers.
2011 Milwaukee Brewers Highlights
Brewers Wins for 2018
How many games do you think the Brewers will win in 2018?
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn