Ron Roenicke’s firing was out of convenience

MLB

It’s not Ron Roenicke’s fault that the Milwaukee Brewers are 7-18, but if he’s absolved of the blame when the team plays poorly, nor does he deserve credit for the division title the team won in his first year as manager. In examining the circumstances that resulted in his ouster, Roenicke was fired out of convenience.

In defense of Roenicke, the manager’s job is smack in the center of the spotlight when things go poorly; when players underperform; when injuries happen and it’s mostly in a negative light. The Brewers have good players whose numbers have been consistent year-in/year-out. They’ve gotten off to a terrible start and it cost Roenicke his job. What he could have done about it is a mystery. Veteran players have their own pace and are, generally, left alone by the manager. If they don’t perform, what’s the manager to do?

Validating the decision to make a change, the Brewers can still save the season making it reasonable to jettison him now before the deficit is too deep to overcome. It’s early enough that there’s a lesser chance of the veterans pulling the “screw this” card, going through the motions to get the season over with.

Roenicke’s replacement, Craig Counsell, was a grinder as a player and has made the rounds as a front office executive, potential hitting coach and manager. He’s on the same page with general manager Doug Melvin and will evaluate what’s currently on the roster from inside the clubhouse to determine whether this can be salvaged or it’s time to clean house. They have players other teams would want including Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kyle Lohse. Or they could look at the parity-laden state of baseball today and wait to see if the change ignites the team and they can jump back into the race. It’s happened before.

Bob Nightengale said on Twitter that owner Mark Attanasio lost patience. In truth, Attanasio, while an engaged owner, is not an overt meddler on a level with Jeffrey Loria. He spurred the mid-September firing of Ned Yost in 2008 when it was clear that the Brewers’ season was spiraling out of control. Dale Sveum calmed the ship, ended the swirling speculation regarding Yost, and screeched to a halt the panic that was engulfing the team to get them to the playoffs. While it might have been unfair not to let Yost complete the rebuild he oversaw, those Brewers had traded for CC Sabathia and were in pure go-for-it mode. They made a decision to save the season and in spite of losing in the NLDS to the Philadelphia Phillies, it worked.

The Brewers knew what they were getting when they hired Roenicke. Managers tend to mimic those they’ve worked for and with. As a branch of the Mike Scioscia/Tom Lasorda managing tree, Roenicke ran the club in a strategically similar fashion to Scioscia and Lasorda. He wanted innings from his starters; had a defined manner in which he used his relievers; and he favored an inside baseball, old-school National League-style of play.

Unfortunately for him, he’s missing fundamental aspects of those two mentors and it contributed to his downfall. Without the foul mouth and outgoing personality of Lasorda and the stoic, fatherly intimidation of Scioscia, when the club began to unravel, there wasn’t much for Roenicke to do other than hope that his players’ talent would revert to normal.

Roenicke wasn’t the in-your-face type. If he ran in and flipped the food table, ripped players in the media, or cussed out reporters like Bryan Price, it would have been a transparent attempt to do something different. It might have been perceived as the unhinged, “the pressure is getting to me” response of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time. Roenicke didn’t do any of that. He stayed the same when they were winning and losing and it’s an admirable, honorable way to go down – one that might get him another managing job, eventually.

While Roenicke made strange maneuvers as a manager and was more of an empty uniform sitting at the end of the dugout than an inspirational leader, he still had a mid-market club with payroll limitations finish over .500 in three of his four full seasons including that one playoff appearance. He was in trouble last season after the Brewers’ fast start and collapse down the stretch. They brought him back. Like this horrid first month, there’s an ongoing, mirror-image exaggeration as to what the team was in 2014 and is in 2015. They weren’t that good a year ago when, at this time, they were 21-11 and they’re not as bad as 7-18 today. Roenicke was replaceable, so they replaced him. In part, it was Roenicke’s lack of pretense that did him in.

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MLB managers starting 2015 on the hotseat

MLB

It’s never too early to speculate on managers that might be in trouble sooner rather than later. Let’s look at who’s going to open the season on the hotseat.

John Gibbons – Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have a weird contract structure in which Gibbons’s contract rolls over with an option kicking on on January 1st each year, therefore he’s never a lame duck.

Gibbons is a good tactical manager, but he’s never had any notable success. It can’t be said that he hasn’t had the talent in his second go-round as Blue Jays manager either as they’ve spent and brought in big names and All-Stars. Some aspects of the teamwide failure – such as injuries to the likes of Josh Johnson in 2013 – are not his fault. In fact, it’s hard to blame him for the failures of the team. Even with that, someone has to take the fall if the Blue Jays stumble again with the American League East as wide open as it’s been since the mid-1990s.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to blame Gibbons or anyone else for the team’s struggles since they became aggressive with their spending. After an extended flirtation amid questionable tactics and circumstances with Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette their first choice to replace Paul Beeston as CEO and Beeston remaining as team CEO for 2015, Anthopoulos might be swept up in a housecleaning of the front office and on-field staff if this season is another mediocre one in Toronto. It’s easier to change the front office and manager than it is to clear out veteran players with onerous contracts. If the Blue Jays are faltering early in the season, Anthopoulos will have to take steps to fix it with a new manager.

A.J. Hinch – Houston Astros

No, Hinch isn’t on the hotseat because the current front office might fire him if the Astros get off to a bad start, but he’s on the hotseat because the front office might be on the hotseat if the Astros get off to a bad start.

Owner Jim Crane has high – you could even say ludicrous – expectations for this season believing they’re going to make a playoff run. He’s shown unwavering support to GM Jeff Luhnow and his blueprint, but the weight of Luhnow’s gaffes are becoming too heavy to ignore. If it’s late August and the Astros are again mired in last place in a very difficult AL West and the young players upon whom they’re banking their collective futures experience the often inevitable struggles young players experience, then the groundswell for wholesale changes will be too much for Crane to ignore. If Crane fires everyone in favor of Nolan Ryan, then no one, including the new manager, stat guy darling Hinch, will be safe.

Terry Collins – New York Mets

The Mets are expecting to contend this season and Collins is on the last year of his contract. The argument could be made that he’s served his purpose of steering the ship as best he could while the team rebuilt and waited for long-term contracts of useless veterans to expire. It’s not unusual for teams to have a competent, veteran caretaker manager who runs the club through the tough years and then bring in someone else when the front office believes they’re ready to win.

Collins will get the beginning of the season to see if they win under his stewardship. He’s earned that after playing the good soldier and keeping things in line for four years. However, if the team is off to a 9-15 start and there are calls for someone’s head before the season spirals out of control, Collins will be gone.

Mike Redmond – Miami Marlins

Just looking at owner Jeffrey Loria’s Steinbrennerean history with his managers is enough to say that even a successful manager shouldn’t feel too comfortable with his job status. He’s had seven different managers since he took over the team in 2002 and hired Jack McKeon twice. He fires people for a multitude of reasons and won’t hesitate before doing it again. When his teams have expectations, he’s got an even quicker trigger finger. Some believe that the Marlins are set to be legitimate contenders in 2015 putting Redmond in the position of being the obvious target if they get off to a poor start.

At the end of the 2014 season, Redmond signed an extension through 2017, but so what? Loria is still paying Ozzie Guillen for 2015. He’ll fire anyone regardless of contract status. Presumably, he won’t hire the 84-year-old McKeon to replace Redmond, but he’ll find someone to take the job and perhaps fire him at the end of the season too.

Ron Roenicke – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers thought long and hard about it before deciding to bring Roenicke back for the 2015 season. They essentially collapsed over the second half of the 2014 season after a first half in which they were a surprise contender. That the team wasn’t particularly good to begin with and were playing over their heads when they achieved their heights in the first few months doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that the team faltered under Roenicke that could lead to a change. He’s got a contract option for 2016 and with the team set to struggle in 2015, he’ll be the scapegoat. He’s not a particularly good manager to begin with, so whomever they hire won’t have a tough act to follow.

Don Mattingly – Los Angeles Dodgers

It would look pretty stupid for the Dodgers to fire Mattingly after new team president Andrew Friedman ran from the idea of Joe Maddon taking over after Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and went to the Chicago Cubs. Mattingly isn’t a particularly good manager, but the Dodgers failings in his tenure haven’t been his fault. They’re altering the way the team is put together and need a manager who will follow the stat-centered template they’re trying to implement. Having trained under Joe Torre and played under the likes of Billy Martin and Buck Showalter, it’s hard to see Mattingly willingly and blindly doing whatever the front office says in terms of strategy.

The Dodgers made some odd moves this winter and got worse instead of better. If they get off to a bad start, Mattingly could finally be shown the door for someone who’s more amenable to what Friedman was hired to create.

Bud Black – San Diego Padres

Amid ownership changes, general manager changes and constant flux in the way the ballclub has been constructed, the one constant with the Padres over the past eight years has been manager Bud Black. Black is lauded for his handling of pitchers and running the clubhouse. The media likes him. He’s terrible when it comes to formulating an offensive game plan and this Padres team, reconstructed under new GM A.J. Preller, will be as reliant on its offense as it will be on pitching. He has to actually manage the team this year and his strategies will be imperative to whether the team is an 80 win disappointment or an 86-90 win contender for a playoff spot. That’s not a small thing. Black has overseen two separate late-season collapses in 2007 and 2010 in which mistakes he made were significant influences to the Padres missing the playoffs.

Preller has been aggressive and unrepentant in getting rid of players that were present when he arrived and in whom he had no investment. Black falls into that category. Black is in the final year of his contract and in spite of his likability is hindered by his predecessor, lifelong Padres player and manager Bruce Bochy, having won three World Series titles with the rival San Francisco Giants.

He won’t have much time to show that he can run this sort of team and will be fired quickly if he can’t.

Analysis of the Kyle Lohse Signing

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The Brewers have signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract making Scott Boras look like a genius again. In this market, at this late date and with the draft pick compensation attached to Lohse, to somehow convince the Brewers (and probably the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio) that they needed Lohse when they didn’t need Lohse is worthy of a bow.

Let’s look at the signing.

For Lohse

We’ll know soon enough whether Lohse was a creation of the Dr. Frankenstein-like corpse rejuvenation of former Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan or if he has become a different pitcher whose new mentality, mechanics, approach and stuff that can translate the knowledge everywhere. But here are the facts:

  • Lohse gives up more fly balls than ground balls and is going from a home ballpark that allowed 140 homers to a ballpark that allowed 230 homers
  • The Cardinals’ infield defense was average; the Brewers’ was bad
  • He’ll be working with a catcher that’s not Yadier Molina

Because Lohse learned to pound the strike zone, trust his catcher and defense, and not worry about the outcome as long as he made his pitches—Duncan trademarks—he reached a level of success with the Cardinals that he never did in any of his prior stops. That he’s leaving the Cardinals isn’t as much of a factor as where he’s going and going to Milwaukee to join a pockmarked team with multiple holes and is floating halfway between a rebuild and clinging to the tendrils of contention, his margin for error is gone and what worked with the Cardinals is unlikely to work with the Brewers.

In short, he can do the exact same things with the Brewers he did with the Cardinals and have drastically different—and worse—results.

For the Brewers

Anything they did was bound to make a gutted starting rotation better. They were beginning the season with Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation and a series of question marks behind him. There’s some ability with Wily Peralta and perhaps useful mid-rotation arms with Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers. Their bullpen isn’t particularly good and manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t distinguished himself as a field boss who can inspire overachievement in his players. It’s a bad sign when a pitcher signs with a club a week before the season starts and he’s automatically their number 2. Of course it has to be footnoted why Lohse was sitting out for so long as teams didn’t want to surrender the draft pick compensation, but they were also concerned about what I alluded to earlier: that he’s not going to be as good away from the Cardinals and not worth the money he wanted and, by all rights considering his performance, deserved.

For the National League

Are teams looking at the Brewers and seeing how they can hit thinking, “Whoa!! They got Lohse!!! Watch them!!”?

No.

Lohse is a pitcher who’s a “Yeah, we can use him I guess” arm, but he’s not a difference-maker for a mediocre team. The Brewers have him for three years when they’re locked in the vacancy of a simultaneous rebuild/contend. History has proven that’s not only very hard to do, but can be destructive when a team surrenders a draft pick (the 17th overall) to get the player who: A) won’t help that much; and B) will cost them the draft slot where there can be a very good player available (Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels were taken at 17).

I wouldn’t have done this and I doubt the Brewers’ baseball people would’ve done it either if they weren’t forced to do so by the owner who’s the latest in a long line of smart men who were sold on a player they didn’t need by the mastermind named Scott Boras.

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Dale Sveum Didn’t Need A Second Interview; Albert Pujols’s Tax Haven

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Believe half of what you see in general and a quarter (at most) of what you see in the world of baseball rumors and innuendo.

Days ago, it was said that Brewers hitting coach (and former interim manager who ran the team in the 2008 playoffs) Dale Sveum would not receive a second interview to manage the Chicago Cubs; the natural inference would be that he’s not getting the job.

That’s what I thought.

But as it turns out, the Cubs didn’t give Sveum a second interview because he was their guy and is going to be the new manager.

It’s a good choice. Sveum handled a very difficult situation when he took over for Ned Yost in the last two weeks of the 2008 season as the Brewers were in the midst of a collapse; he cast a stoic and serious face and accepted that he wasn’t getting the full-time job after the season, went back to being the hitting coach under Ken Macha and Ron Roenicke and acted like a true professional.

The Cubs made a good choice.

The Marlins offer to Albert Pujols is reported to be for 9-years and for fewer dollars than the Cardinals offer.

Ordinarily the obvious response would be, “why would he want to leave the world champion Cardinals to go to the dysfunctional Marlins for less money?”, but if the Marlins are making an offer that’s somewhere close to the Cardinals offer and the state of Florida is offering the benefit of no state income tax, then the deal might end up putting more money in Pujols’s bank account.

It’s not going to work, but it’s not as ridiculous a concept as it seems on the surface. It might be done with a pretense on the part of the Marlins to make it look like they’re doing something when they have no intention of signing Pujols, but there’s a viability to the offer…if it’s close to what the Cardinals offer was.

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The Brewers Had Better Win This Year

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I’d scarcely remembered hearing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke talk before last night’s NLCS game 2 between the Cardinals and Brewers.

Now I know why.

During his in-game interview on TBS, it became crystal clear why the Brewers on-field behaviors are so out-of-control that they’ve become despised throughout the league.

Apart from Brewers (and presumably Cubs) fans, everyone wants to see them lose to a Cardinals team that, prior to this series, wasn’t exactly a contender for Miss Congeniality.

Tony LaRussa clubs aren’t well-liked because they play old-school and on the edge—they’re not out there to make friends; they’re out there to beat you. The Brewers are reviled because they think they’re better than they are; they behave as if they’ve won 5 championships; and are so overt in their celebrations that their arrogance is palpable.

On the Brewers roster are three players who have championship rings: Francisco Rodriguez, Craig Counsell and Jerry Hairston Jr.

One self-interested pitcher—whose reputation isn’t sterling in any context—and two utility players.

I doubt their voices carry much weight—literally or figuratively—in that clubhouse.

The player with the weight, Prince Fielder, is running things and he’s a sullen, mercurial individual who has come through for his club, but is also the one who has to be viewed as the catalyst for the Brewers act.

Nyjer Morgan can be referenced as the “attitude” behind the Brewers, but it all stems from Fielder. If he told Morgan to tone it down, Morgan would tone it down.

Roenicke is so soft-spoken and understated that the only way to judge him is the way his team behaves. There are managers who don’t say much in the Gil Hodges tradition, but players know not to muck with them and are aware that the manager is in charge.

Roenicke is just sort of there in the Bob Brenly scope of a manager hired not to screw it up. And he hasn’t. Yet.

He had a resume of managing in the minors and was on a well-respected coaching staff for a strong-handed manager Mike Scioscia.

But Scioscia’s teams don’t disrespect their opponents and the game the way these Brewers do.

They can defend “The Beast” silliness in which they raise their arms when they do….whatever; say that it’s all in good fun. But it’s offensive; and what makes it worse is that these players have accomplished absolutely nothing to warrant it. There are teams that expect to win and behave appropriately when they do; and there are teams for whom circumstances have coalesced into a perfect storm so their results are better than the reality.

The Brewers loaded up on starting pitching with Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke joining Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf; they brought in an All Star closer in K-Rod to set-up for John Axford; their two main bashers Ryan Braun and Fielder have carried them beyond a terrible defense and top-heavy lineup.

Teams like this can win with a weak manager, but they’re not in it for the long haul because Fielder’s not coming back after this season and once the novelty wears off and they need discipline, Roenicke isn’t going to be able to provide it.

The potential championship is worth the compromises they’ve made. But they’d better get that championship this year because it’s the only chance this group is going to have.

All of baseball is watching.

And rooting against them.

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NLCS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers

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St. Louis Cardinals (90-72; 2nd place, NL Central; won Wild Card; defeated Philadelphia Phillies in NLDS 3 games to 2) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central; defeated Arizona Diamondbacks in NLDS 3 games to 2).

Keys for the Cardinals: shut the Brewers up early; get depth from their starters; wait for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to make a mistake and capitalize; maintain their composure.

For a team that’s never won anything, the Brewers have an awful lot to say. There are two ways to handle that: don’t respond to it and respond on the field; or retaliate with similar trash-talk and/or by popping someone.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is simmering and seething at the way the Brewers are talking about his players, notably Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, but he’s going to specifically tell his players not to engage and to do their talking with their play. They have to adhere to the mandate.

Jaime Garcia has done well against all the Brewers hitters; Casey McGehee is 5 for 17 vs Garcia so presumably he’ll be back in the lineup.

Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder have hammered Carpenter, but yapping at a fiery competitor and one of the best pitchers in baseball isn’t simply stupid, it’s adding fuel to a fire that didn’t exactly need to be stoked.

Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Jerry Hairston and Weeks all bash Edwin Jackson; McGehee has 3 career hits off of him and all are home runs; expect to see Hairston at shortstop and McGehee at third in game 2. If anyone’s going to retaliate against the Brewers with a brushback (or one between the shoulder blades), it’ll be Jackson.

Roenicke doesn’t seem to have control of his players—something he should’ve learned from his years working for Mike Scioscia with the Angels—and it could be a big problem; he’s made some bizarre, small-ball calls (similar to Scioscia) with his players this season and LaRussa is smart enough to sit back and wait for the mistake, then strike.

The Cardinals can’t let Morgan and the ridiculous “Beast” nonsense—an arms raised, “GRAAARRRR” thing the Brewers do whenever they get a hit—get to them. It won’t be easy, but if they want to win, they have to do it.

Keys for the Brewers: put their performance where their mouths are; get baserunners in front of Fielder and Ryan Braun; hand the ball from the starters to the set-up man/closer; mitigate Pujols.

The Brewers had better put up or shut up. But they’re the type of group that, even if they lose the first two game and look awful, they’ll talk more.

The problem with taking the personality lead from Morgan is that it’s eventually going to catch up to you if you pull it with the wrong people. The Cardinals are those types of people.

Even Zack Greinke has a is talking now. Greinke’s not someone who’s a talker, but he’s joining in on the fun. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay have all knocked him around; and Pujols is Pujols.

Pujols and Rafael Furcal both kill Yovani Gallardo; we don’t know who the Brewers game 2 starter is for some reason; both Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf were better on the road than they were at home; I’d start Marcum in game 2 because he’s better than Wolf and has less of a history with the Cardinals.

It always comes down to Pujols when playing the Cardinals. He can look terrible for 15 at bats, then wreck the game and series with three straight games of ridiculous lightning shows. And it doesn’t help that the Brewers and “Tony Plush” AKA Morgan chose to denigrate this era’s Joe DiMaggio in terms of performance and, just as importantly, pride.

What will happen.

It’s difficult to tell whether the Brewers bravado is false or if they actually believe it. Probably both.

The Cardinals are old-school; they’re not looking for friends on the field and that starts from their manager all the way through the team. They’re not happy with the way the Brewers disrespected them when the Cardinals looked finished in the playoff race; that September run that led the Cardinals to the playoffs happened in part because the Braves collapsed and in part because they wanted another crack at the Brewers.

They’re getting it.

This is a horrible matchup for the Brewers; in retrospect, they might’ve been better off facing the Phillies and the overwhelming expectations of a team for whom anything short of a World Series win was a failure. The Cardinals are playing with house money, are livid at the Brewers out-of-control mouths and will be determined to shut them up on and off the field.

The Cardinals hold a distinct advantage in managers; have been here—in this exact same position before—and came through.

When they upset the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, the Cardinals made it a point to ridicule the soccer chant that the Mets use(d) to celebrate Jose Reyes; those Mets were perceived as arrogant, but in comparison to these Brewers, they were the most professional, quiet, go-about-their-business group on the history of baseball.

It’s one thing to yap; it’s another thing to yap and disrespect.

The Brewers are writing checks with their mouths that their team’s not going to be able to cash.

And they’re going to be made to pay.

The Cardinals are going to slap a muzzle on them and be doing the Beast in the visiting clubhouse when they bounce the Brewers in 7 games.

PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN SEVEN.

NLCS MVP: ALBERT PUJOLS.

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Arizona Diamondbacks vs Milwaukee Brewers

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Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68; 1st place, NL West) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central)

Keys for the Diamondbacks: Get into the Brewers middle relief; keep the bases clear in front of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder; get depth from their starters; jump out to a lead early in game 1.

The Brewers strength is their starting rotation and their power. The Diamondbacks have been a more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts club; they don’t have an overt “strength” despite the statistically similar pitching staff in comparison to the Brewers.

The Brewers starting pitching is so deep and so good that the Diamondbacks have to get their pitch counts up and hope the Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke jumps the gun either by pinch hitting for his pitchers or pulls them in the middle innings. In the late innings, they’ll have Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford to contend with.

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are both MVP candidates this season; the Brewers offense is top-heavy and limited with Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee occupying two spots in the lineup along with the pitcher; the Diamondbacks have to keep the runners off the bases to either mitigate how much damage Braun and Fielder can do or to pitch around them when necessary.

Ian Kennedy won 21 games and was masterful this season, but in his time with the Yankees he proved to be a pitcher who thought way too much about what he was doing; those types tend to take a pressure situation and use it to formulate ways in which they can make themselves “better” rather than doing what it was that got them to where they are in the first place. If Kennedy gets through the first 3 innings relatively unscathed, he’ll be fine—the Diamondbacks coaching staff has to get it through his over-analytical head that what he’s done all season long has worked and there’s no reason to change it because it’s the playoffs.

Daniel Hudson is still a young pitcher despite winning 16 games and providing over 200 innings in 2011; McGehee is 5 for 5 in his career against Hudson with a double and a homer; Fielder is 2 for 5 with a homer.

Joe Saunders is a control-based lefty who cannot be expected to hold down the Brewers lineup. Braun has 2 homers in 6 at bats vs Saunders. Gibson has to have a quick hook with Saunders.

The Brewers are loud and bullying. They have a lot to say, are overt in their mannerisms and take their cue from Nyjer Morgan and Fielder. They’re not particularly likable and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson isn’t the type to let his players take a lot of junk. If the Diamondbacks jump to an early lead, that will prevent the Brewers from starting with their nonsense.

Keys for the Brewers: Depth from their starters; get the game to K-Rod and Axford; get runners on base in front of Braun and Fielder; lay down the law early with the Diamondbacks young starters.

This is why the Brewers made those drastic maneuvers last winter in getting Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. They have two of the best pitchers in baseball fronting their rotation with Greinke and Gallardo; a very good one in Marcum; and the veteran Randy Wolf. Greinke has never pitched in  the post-season; nor has Marcum. Gallardo pitched 7 solid innings against the Phillies in the 2008 NLDS.

With K-Rod and Axford for the eighth and ninth innings, the Brewers are well-suited to get as many innings as they can from their starters and hand it over to a shutdown bullpen with two quality closers.

Morgan is good at getting on base and wreaking havoc with his legs and his obnoxious personality. With the all-or-nothing spots in their lineup occupied by Yuniesky Betancourt and McGehee, the Brewers have to get production from Braun and Fielder.

The Brewers are frontrunners; if they fall behind the Diamondbacks early, their bullying will be prevented.

Miguel Montero has hammered Greinke, Wolf and Marcum in his career and has to be watched.

What will happen.

The Diamondbacks were not expected to be here and take their cue from their ultra-competitive manager. They have some pop, they don’t strike out as much as they before GM Kevin Towers cleared out some of the wind producers, but they still strike out a lot. They have solid starting pitching, but it’s inexperienced in these types of circumstances; their bullpen isn’t as flashy as the Brewers, but it’s still good.

There will be tension in this series and how that goes might determine the outcome. The Brewers are loud and arrogant. Gibson isn’t going to tolerate that kind of attitude and will tell his players not to let it go by without response. The Brewers will push the Diamondbacks early, the Diamondbacks will push back and tempers will flare.

If Kennedy can get to the middle innings without giving up a crooked number and the Diamondbacks take the first game, they’ll be in great position to win the series. Justin Upton is 3 for 9 in his career vs Gallardo and Lyle Overbay 2 for 3.

If the Diamondbacks are going to win this series, they’ll be better-served to win the first game.

The Brewers infield defense is terrible; it didn’t hurt them during the season, but it will in the playoffs.

Far too impressed with themselves, the Brewers think they’ve accomplished something without actually having accomplished much of anything apart from making angry clubs throughout baseball with their behaviors led by Morgan.

The Diamondbacks functioned under-the-radar all season long and they’ve proven themselves again and again to be a formidable opponent that plays the game the way their manager did—hard.

The Diamondbacks are going to quiet the Brewers quickly and drop them in 4 games.

PREDICTION: DIAMONDBACKS IN FOUR.

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My 2011 MLB Award Winners (And They Should Be Yours Too)

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Here are my 2011 Award Winners along with the other contenders listed 1-5. Also my pre-season picks are included.

American League Award Winners

MVP

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

Verlander carried a mediocre team into contention and was about as brilliant as a pitcher can possibly be for the entire season. The Tigers record makes them look better than they were at mid-season when they were far from a playoff lock. Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins (5 losses); a 2.40 ERA; and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings.

If you use advanced statistics like WAR as a barometer, Verlander was second in the American League behind Jose Bautista with an 8.5.

The combination of being the best at his position and being imperative to the team’s success—they wouldn’t have been where they are without him—makes him the MVP.

2. Jose Bautista, OF/3B—Toronto Blue Jays

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

5. Miguel Cabrera, 1B—Detroit Tigers

Before the season, I picked Carl Crawford.

Yes. Well.

Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

See above.

2. CC Sabathia, LHP—New York Yankees

3. Jered Weaver, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

4. James Shields, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

5. Mariano Rivera, RHP—New York Yankees

My preseason pick was Verlander.

Rookie of the Year

1. Ivan Nova, RHP—New York Yankees

Nova has overcome every obstacle put in front of him including an “odd man out” treatment from the club that quite probably prevented him from winning 20 games as they had too many starters and Nova still had minor league options remaining. He’s fearless, he’s cool and he comes up big when the Yankees need him to. He went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and was completely reliable on a team that had more questions at the beginning of the season than they care to admit—including a failure to truly believe in Nova.

2. Eric Hosmer, 1B—Kansas City Royals

3. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

4. Mark Trumbo, 1B—Los Angeles Angels

5. Jordan Walden, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

My preseason pick was Kyle Drabek of the Blue Jays. He wound up back in the minors.

Manager of the Year

1. Joe Maddon—Tampa Bay Rays

Maddon did a magnificent job in leading the Rays from “out” of contention into the playoffs. Had the Red Sox held onto their playoff spot, I’d have picked Joe Girardi, but the late season run by the Rays stole a playoff spot and the MOY award for Maddon. Girardi did a magnificent job this year and that must be noted.

2. Joe Girardi—New York Yankees

3. Jim Leyland—Detroit Tigers.

4. Mike Scioscia—Los Angeles Angels

5. Ron Washington—Texas Rangers

My preseason pick was Leyland.

National League Award Winners

MVP

1. Matt Kemp, CF—Los Angeles Dodgers

Kemp’s come a long way from being benched and ripped publicly by the club for his lazy, disinterested play and poor attitude that seemed to have come from going “Hollywood”.

He dedicated himself to the game in 2011 and almost won the Triple Crown while playing Gold Glove defense in center field. He put up massive numbers with 39 homers, 126 RBI, a .324 batting average, a .399 on base and 76 extra base hits.

2. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

3. Prince Fielder, 1B—Milwaukee Brewers

4. Lance Berkman, RF—St. Louis Cardinals

5. Clayton Kershaw, LHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

My preseason pick was Albert Pujols.

Cy Young Award

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw won the National League pitching Triple Crown with 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 233 innings. He walked 54 and allowed only 15 homers.

2. Roy Halladay, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

3. Cliff Lee, LHP—Philadelphia Phillies

4. Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP—Atlanta Braves

My preseason pick was Lee.

Rookie of the Year

1. Craig Kimbrel, RHP—Atlanta Braves

Never mind the games he blew late in the season, Kimbrel struck out 127 in 77 innings and saved 46 games for the Braves. They collapsed, but it wasn’t because of Kimbrel.

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

3. Brandon Beachy, RHP—Atlanta Braves

4. Vance Worley, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

5. Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

My preseason pick was Kenley Jansen.

Manager of the Year

1. Kirk Gibson—Arizona Diamondbacks

This is partially good work and partially managing a team from whom not much was expected. Gibson’s intensity and the way it rubbed off on his players and the Diamondbacks won the NL West title.

2. Charlie Manuel—Philadelphia Phillies

3. Don Mattingly—Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Ron Roenicke—Milwaukee Brewers

5. Tony LaRussa—St. Louis Cardinals

My preseason pick was Mattingly.

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The Cardinals’ Last Stand

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Having swept three straight from the Brewers at Miller Park, the Cardinals have kept themselves alive in the NL Central race. They’re still down 7 1/2 games with 25 to play so a comeback would be bordering on the miraculous, but they’re still around—and that was the first step.

This weekend is supremely important for the Cardinals to—at the very least—stay 7 1/2 games behind. The Brewers are in Houston for a 3 game series with the Astros while the Cardinals are going home to play the Reds.

On Monday, the Brewers go to St. Louis for 3 games.

If the Cardinals can cut the deficit another game or two, Monday becomes very, very interesting and important. Let’s say the Cardinals manage to get within 5 games after their home series with the Brewers. The Brewers are then going to Philadelphia to play the Phillies; the Cardinals have the Braves coming to town.

Without providing schedules for each team down the stretch (their opponents are mostly the same), the Cardinals have to make their move now.

It’s hard to see the Brewers stumbling in a 2007 Mets-type way and being caught or passed by the Cardinals. Those Mets were drastically flawed in the starting rotation with Oliver Perez and John Maine both having been coaxed to unexpected 15 win seasons by Rick Peterson and Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez were shells of what they once were; this Brewers club with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf has legitimate starting pitching.

You can also throw the 2008 Mets into that mix. With Johan Santana their starting pitching was better than it was in the previous year, but the bullpen was relying on journeyman Luis Ayala to close after Billy Wagner went down with Tommy John surgery; the Brewers have two legitimate closers in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.

2007 Mets manager Willie Randolph panicked and 2008 manager Jerry Manuel was outgunned; I don’t know how Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke is going to react if his club is pressed by Tony LaRussa‘s Cardinals over the last two weeks.

But the Cardinals crawled back into striking distance with the sweep—similar to the way the Phillies did against the Mets (twice) in the final 5 weeks of the 2007 season.

The last thing the Brewers want to do is let the Cardinals think they have a chance.

That’s what the Cardinals are thinking now.

And if things break a certain way, in seven days time they might have more than a chance. They might have a race; a race the Brewers neither wanted, needed nor expected.

The Brewers have to take care of business by next Thursday or they could have a problem on their hands.

A big one.

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