An Outlier in the 2012 Brewers Blogosphere Awards

By Nathan Petrashek

This will be the first year I’m participating in the Brewers Blogosphere awards, run by Jaymes Langrehr at Disciples of Uecker.  This sort of works like the team awards every year, with each writer allowed to make three selections in each category—team MVP, best pitcher, and the like.  The first selection is worth 5 points, the second 3, and the third 1.  The winner in each category is the player with the most points when the votes are tallied.

The results are tallied, and it seems I’m an outlier in a few categories.  You can find the results here.  My explanation for my votes is below.

TEAM MVP

1. Ryan Braun

There’s no real debate here.  Braun should be the National League’s MVP this year, so he’s an obvious choice for the top spot in team voting.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This one was a really difficult choice.  The WAR folks are going to hate this pick, as Yo was a 2.8 bWAR pitcher while Rami knocked the ball around to the tune of 5.4 wins above replacement.  Nonetheless, Gallardo was the only starter on the team to eclipse 150 IP.  He anchored a rotation that made a real run at the postseason even after its best pitcher was traded away, going 11-1 to finish the year while accumulating 76 K’s over 79 innings.  Most of all, Gallardo proved that his outstanding 2011 campaign was no fluke and gave the team confidence that Gallardo can hold serve as a viable ace in the future.

3. Aramis Ramirez

No way could Ramirez fall any lower than number three in MVP voting.  A .300/.360/.540 season was just what Doug Melvin ordered for the heart of the Brewers’ order after Prince Fielder departed last offseason.  Ramirez clubbed 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles, the latter challenging the franchise record of 53. Ramirez, never known for his defense, also flashed some serious leather at third base and even chipped in a career-best nine(!) steals.  Ramirez even bested our pretty optimistic projection for him in spring, though we nailed his HR and RBI totals.

BEST PITCHER

1. Zack Greinke

Grienke was flat-out ridiculous as a Brewer in 2012.  His home run rate plunged from 2011, as did his walks per nine, and somehow Greinke managed to maintain an outstanding 8.9 strikeouts per nine.  So pretty much the Zack Greinke we all know and love.

2. Marco Estrada

Quick: who was the only Brewers pitcher to top Greinke in K/BB ratio in 2012?  Yep, it was Marco Estrada, with 4.93.  It might seem strange to peg Estrada as a better pitcher than Gallardo given the MVP honor for Gallardo above, but let me explain.  Gallardo was a workhorse for the Brewers this year, tossing over 200 innings.  Estrada was a reliever for part of the season and missed a month, but, when pitching in the rotation, actually performed better than Gallardo. Though Estrada ended the season with a 5-7 record, his 3.54 ERA, 1.14 WHP, and 113 ERA+ all topped Gallardo (albeit narrowly in ERA and ERA+).  In essence, Estrada gets the nod at best pitcher for much better command, while for Gallardo gets credit at MVP for actually being on the field and in the rotation.

3. Yovani Gallardo

I don’t intend to take anything away from Gallardo’s excellent 2012 campaign, but let’s face it, walks will haunt.  Gallardo was an ace in every sense except one: his unacceptably high 3.6 BB/9, a significant regression from 2.6 BB/9 a year ago and a return to his erratic ways.  The frequent free passes elevated his pitch counts, a big reason Gallardo never made it out of the eighth inning this season.

BEST NEWCOMER

1. Aramis Ramirez

An easy choice given his strong season.

2. Norichika Aoki

Doug Melvin’s 2-year, $2.5M Ryan Braun insurance policy paid off even though Braun wasn’t suspended.  Aoki produced a .288/.355/.433 line mostly in right field, as Corey Hart shifted to first base.  Aoki was good for a 3.3 bWAR and was only paid $1M.  Though Aoki is a rookie of the year candidate, at age 30 his ceiling might be limited.  Still, I think there’s room for improvement, as Aoki played sparingly initially, and expecting anyone to fully adjust to MLB pitching in only a partial season is a tall order.

3. Wily Peralta

I’m probably Peralta’s biggest critic, but he piqued my interest in the majors after a pretty crappy year at AAA.  While Peralta had a good year in 2011, I was skeptical that he had put his command issues behind him.  They again reared their ugly head in 2012; over 146 AAA innings, Peralta walked 4.8 batters per nine and amassed a 1.58 WHIP.  Somehow – I’ve heard a minor mechanical tweak – Peralta again managed to contain his wild ways over 29 innings for the big league club at the end of the season.  We’ll see if it sticks.

UNSUNG HERO

1. Marco Estrada

Even though he’s been mentioned a lot, I think he would get more attention for his stellar 2012 if he weren’t Marco Estrada.  I get the sense that people feel Estrada is a known quantity, and they don’t get excited.

2. Shaun Marcum

This may be a bit of a homer pick, because I feel like I’m constantly on the defense about Marcum.  I know he came up short in the 2011 postseason, but you have to let it go.  124 innings of 3.70 ball this year, and the only time I’ve heard Marcum mentioned is when (1) he gets an injury timeout; or (2) people talk about dead arm.  Fact is, we paid a lot to get  him and he did reasonably well for us.  We shouldn’t be so quick to shove him out the door.

3. Carlos Gomez

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this pick, too.  Much has been made of his last-season surge in 2012, but he’s quietly put up consecutive 2+ bWAR seasons.

GOOD GUY

1. Rick Weeks

Worked through a severe slump to start the season with poise, never shifting responsibility or taking to Twitter to bash anyone (see #3 in this category).  By the end of the season, was pretty well back to the old Rickie.

2. Nyjer Morgan

We all kind of wanted to see him start trouble, but he managed to avoid it despite being benched.  Team player gets a vote.

3. Anyone but John Axford

New rule: No Twitter at least 48 hours after a blown save.

Down on the Farm…

By: Ryan Smith

Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun. Rickie Weeks. Yovani Gallardo.

These four guys all played major roles in turning the Brewers from a cellar-dweller to a playoff contender over the last few seasons.

These four are also prime examples of the importance of a strong farm system. Thanks to good drafts and impressive player development, the Brewers were able to outgrow the role of laughingstock and now have two playoff appearances in the last four years.

GM Doug Melvin gambled last year by gutting the farm system, but his gamble paid off in the form of a National League Central Division Title.

Of course, the strength of a farm system can help elevate a team to new heights in other ways. For example, going into last season, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Prince Fielder would be calling some other city “home” in 2012. With that in mind, and with some desirable prospects within our organization, GM Doug Melvin decided to gut the farm system in order to add the pitching that we would need to make one last push with the big slugger manning first base.

Out went Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jeremy Jeffress.

In came Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

The rest is history. Melvin’s gamble worked, as the Brewers were able to claim their first-ever National League Central Division Championship, as well as making it to the NLCS.

Those deals, while immensely successful on the field, left the Brewers with the worst farm system in the majors according to Keith Law, ESPN’s lead baseball analyst for Scout’s Inc.

Fast-forward one year and the recovery process has begun. This past week, Law released his Organizational Rankings as well as his Top 100, ranking the best prospects in all of baseball. In 2011, on top of being ranked as the worst system, the Brewers became the first organization to not have a player make it in the top 100.

This season, the Brewers check in at #23 on the Org Rankings. They also have two guys who crack the prestigious Top 100. Today, I’m going to introduce you to those two players: Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann.

Wily Peralta, RHP, 6’2”, 240 lbs – Ranked #39 on Law’s Top 100

After acquiring Greinke and Marcum, Peralta quickly rose to the top of the Brewers’ system. Up until 2011, there was some patience within the organization with Peralta, considering he lost all of his 2007 season to Tommy John surgery. Since then, he had steadily improved his numbers every year until 2010, when his K/9 dropped to 6.17 and his BB/9 rose to 5.10.

Even with those less than impressive numbers, people within the Brewers organization continued to have faith in the young pitcher. He seemed to have the work ethic, build, and stuff to become a strikeout pitcher.

Peralta started to really put it all together in 2011, raising his K/9 to over 9.00 and lowering his BB/9 to the mid-3.00’s.

In all honesty, Peralta could quite possibly challenge for the fifth spot in the Brewers’ rotation, though he’ll probably start the year in AAA Nashville.

Peralta is definitely a guy to keep an eye on this year. Without Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup and with the possibility of the first 50 games with Braun, Milwaukee is going to have to change its reputation as a bat-first team. Milwaukee is going to have to rely on its pitchers now more than ever, and that means that Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada will both be on relatively short leashes, especially since both pitchers have experience coming out of the bullpen.

If either of those guys stumbles out of the blocks, Peralta could get called up to the show. Law views Peralta as a No. 2 or No. 3 in a good rotation (which I think we have with Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum), but his fastball, which sits consistently in the mid-90’s, will allow him to have a positive impact right away. Peralta also has an above-average slider that sits in the low-80’s and drives hard to the plate. His changeup has a little sink, but he maintains the same arm action as with his fastball, which allows the pitch to work when he’s able to locate it.

Perhaps the biggest reason that Peralta could help the Brewers this year is not just his stuff, but his understanding of the game. While his secondary pitches lack the command that one would like to see, he recognizes the importance of using them to set up his fastball. Also, while he has the ability to rack up strikeouts, he doesn’t feel the need to rely solely on the strikeout. He’s shown the know-how in the past to lure the batter into making weak contact, thus saving his arm and allowing him to pitch deeper into games, a skill that Gallardo still struggles with at times.

Overall, I expect Peralta to have another dominant season in AAA. Don’t be surprised if his numbers drop a little from last year; his understanding of the game leads me to believe he might spend part of this season trying to improve his secondary pitches. Whether it’s in September when rosters expand or earlier than that if Narveson and Estrada struggle, Peralta will get a chance to take the mound at Miller Park some time this season. With Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum all becoming free agents after this season, there’s bound to be a spot in the rotation opening up for Peralta in 2013.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ’12 (at the latest)

Taylor Jungmann, RHP, 6’6”. 220 lbs – Ranked #58 on Law’s Top 100

Jungmann is one of the main reasons that the Brewers’ farm system jumped in Law’s overall org rankings. The Brewers made the Texas righty the 12th overall pick in last June’s draft.

During his final year at Texas, Jungmann didn’t fail to impress the scouts, posting a 1.60 ERA while recording 126 strikeouts in 141 innings, becoming a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award which is given annually to the nation’s best amateur baseball player.

Jungmann has a tall, lean frame and he shows great control of his long arms, allowing him to have more command on his pitches than one would expect. Most scouting reports also rave about his surprising athletic ability considering his frame. His fastball sits consistently in the low-90’s, and he has shown the ability to ramp it up to 95 if needed. If he fills out his frame a little bit more, that pitch could become a pretty dangerous weapon. To go along with that fastball, Jungmann has a hammer curveball that rests in the upper-70’s. His third pitch is a hard changeup, though he didn’t use it much in college because, well, he didn’t have to.

Jungmann impressed scouts with his ability to get batters out without having to rely on the strikeout. His 8.51 K/9 was down from previous years, yet he posted better numbers all across the board. Last season, Jungmann posted a career-low 1.98 BB/9, which is further evidence of his impressive control on the mound.

It sounds like Jungmann will start out this season in High-A, but considering he was viewed as one of the most polished and major league-ready arms in last season’s draft, I could see him making his way to AA-ball pretty quickly. A few reports claim that Jungmann could help out the big league club in 2012, but with the depth in our rotation, I just don’t see that. Unless the Brewers face a rash of injuries like never before, I don’t see any point in rushing one of our top prospects through the system. Let’s just let things progress naturally. I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to see Jungmann in Milwaukee.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ‘13

Well, that does it for now. I plan on introducing you all to different players within our system throughout the upcoming season, so stay tuned. After all, these could be the guys who we’re cheering for in Milwaukee before we know it.

On the Brighter Side

Although the Brewers dropped today’s game to the Dodgers, the Crew went 6-1 on the homestand and are 13-3 in August.  Their winning run over approximately the past month has been better than any I can remember in the years I’ve watched this team.

And so what have we learned?

Well, first, that number five starter Chris Narveson should use safety scissors.  I haven’t written a ton about Narveson this year, but I should have; Narveson is almost as good as any number five in the National League, and as my event services buddy Dennis noted today, on many teams would be a number four.*  After a little blowup against Minnesota on July 2 (4.2 IP, 7 ER, 2 HR), Narveson had settled down nicely.  In his six starts following that game, Narveson went 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA.  Opposing batters were hitting just .244 against him in that stretch.  And then, to continue the Brewers string of freak injuries this season, the guy is forced to the DL after cutting his pitching hand with a scissors trying to repair his glove.

But that leads to the second lesson:  Marco Estrada is an exceptional spot starter.  He received his first starting opportunity this year as a fill-in for Zack Greinke, who fractured a rib during spring training playing basketball.  Estrada made four starts for Greinke, two of them excellent, one decent, and one terrible.  He then went to the bullpen, where let’s just say the results weren’t impressive.  Between May 10 and August 11, Estrada’s 26 relief appearances got him a 1-6 record, 3 blown saves, four holds, and a 4.81 ERA.  There were some signs of life in all that, though; he held opposing batters to a .255 average, maintained a strikeout-to-walk ratio of roughly 2.7, and threw 62% of his pitches for strikes.  All of which set the stage nicely for his two starts in Chris Narveson’s stead.  On August 13, Estrada threw five innings of shutout ball against the Pirates, striking out five and getting the win.  Today Estrada was nearly as effective, allowing only one run over five innings.  He didn’t get the win (the Brewers’ offense was blanked until the ninth inning by Clayton Kershaw), but that wasn’t his fault.

Third, there’s some confidence to be had on this ballclub.  Up and down the lineup, every player is contributing, not just the usuals like Braun and Fielder.  Yesterday Jerry Hairston Jr. came up with the big hit to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead against the Dodgers.  On Tuesday Mark Kotsay chipped in with a pinch-hit, walk-off RBI single.  Nyjer Morgan came up with a sac fly in extra innings to win the game on Sunday against the Pirates.  The pitching has been excellent; the Brewers’ staff owns the second-best National League August ERA at 2.51.  Incidentally, the Dodgers, with whom the Brewers just finished a four-game series, have the best NL August ERA (2.38), which might explain why the Brewers were able to muster only nine runs.  But what matters most are the wins, and there have been plenty of those lately.

The Brewers now hit the road to take on a few sub-.500 opponents in the 60-63 Mets and the 58-64 Pirates before returning home to face the Cubs beginning August 26.

Magic Number Watch: 32.

*There are a handful of guys in the NL I’d take over Narveson; Bud Norris or Vance Worley, for example.  And of course Brandon Beachy from the Braves in a heartbeat.

Someone to count on

The newly reformed Brewers bullpen got its first test yesterday as starter Shaun Marcum exited with a strained neck after five innings.  A combination of four relievers took the Crew the rest of the way – LaTroy Hawkins (sixth), Takashi Saito (seventh), Francisco Rodriguez (eighth), and John Axford (ninth) –  to preserve a much-needed 4-3 win on the road.

The four are among the top relievers that have appeared in the Brewers bullpen over the course of the season.

Hawkins has been outstanding since returning from the disabled list; in 30 appearances, he has allowed only 5 earned runs and sports a nifty 1.65 ERA to go along with 15 strikeouts and 4 walks.

Axford is 25-27 in save opportunities, one  of the best save percentages in the majors, with an acceptable 2.84 ERA (11th best of current closers).  Axford is not a shutdown closer by any means, as he illustrated in yesterday’s game by allowing a double and a walk before striking out All-Star Troy Tulowitzki to end the game.

But Axford is getting the job done so far, and despite Francisco Rodriguez’s two scoreless frames in a Brewers uniform, Rodriguez does not look like a real threat to permanently displace Axford as a closer.  Earlier this week the Brewers agreed to increase K-Rod’s buyout to $4 M (from $3.5 M) in exchange for nixing the $17.5 2012 vesting option with 55 games finished, so there is no longer an urgency to keep K-Rod from closing games.  Still, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.  Axford has been able to get out of the messes he creates, and if he can keep doing so there’s no need for a switch.  It’s worth noting, though, that K-Rod has been able to strike out three in his two innings despite the lack of velocity on his fastball (regularly clocked at 91 yesterday, while once touching both 92 and 93).  His also allowed a double on a changeup, which was not quite as effective (between 84-86).

Finally, Takashi Saito, who was on the disabled list until recently, has been serviceable.  His 7:1 K:BB ratio will fly, but his WHIP (1.57) and HR/9 (2.6) will not.  Keep in mind those numbers are based on a rather small sample size of seven innings, and can be attributed to shaking off the rust after being shut down for so long.  Saito really only had one bad outing on July 15.  For his career, he has a 1.03 WHIP and allows only .6 HR/9, so there shouldn’t be much to worry about here.

The rest of the Brewers bullpen isn’t nearly as good, but Kameron Loe (3-7, 4.53 ERA), Marco Estrada (2-6, 4.70), and Tim Dillard (1-1, 5.00) have all shown flashes of greatness.  But having allowed third-most runs in the NL, the Brewers bullpen was desperately in need of help in the late innings.  The K-Rod trade has perhaps turned one of the Brewers’ greatest weaknesses into one of its greatest strengths.

The Midsummer Classic and an odd acquisition

How good is Prince Fielder?  On a night reserved exclusively for the best in baseball (or at least their replacements), Fielder managed to steal the spotlight again with a three-run dinger that pretty much decided the contest for the National League.  It was the first All-Star home run by a Brewer in franchise history, and Fielder’s subsequent MVP trophy was also a franchise first.

It was as bittersweet a victory as they come.  I couldn’t help but to think that next year Fielder could easily find himself in the other lineup swinging out of the DH spot.  Or at the very least wearing another team’s uniform.  The awards he piles up for the Brewers’ franchise are great, but also tough to take seriously when Fielder has not displayed the kind of commitment to the organization that our other annual All-Star slugger, Ryan Braun, has.

But, Fielder’s ringing jack is not the only reason for Brewers nation to rejoice tonight; indeed, it may not even be the primary reason.  In a stunning move, Doug Melvin and the Brewers announced that they had acquired New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez and enough cash to cover his salary (about $5 M) for two minor league players to be named later.  At 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and a 2.88 K/BB ratio, Rodriguez is poised to contribute significantly to the bullpen going forward.

It’s an interesting move, if for no other reason that Doug Melvin seems to have addressed one of the club’s strengths by creating a bit of a closer controversy.  Closer John Axford, also 2-2, has performed even better than K-Rod, and sits at 2.83 with 3.12 K/BB.  While Doug Melvin insists there’s no confusion about the closer role, well, there is, because he has thus far refused to say who the primary closer would be.  “John has done a good job for us, and I still have confidence in him,” said Melvin. “I’m not going to get into (a possible controversy). This is just a chance to get a quality arm that’s not easy to get.”  But as Tom Haudricourt points out:

One thing is certain: The Brewers will not let Rodriguez finish 21 more games over the remainder of the season. He already has finished 34 games, and if he gets to 55 games finished for the season, the $17.5 million option for 2012 automatically vests.

Please stay healthy, John.

The move certainly shores up a bullpen that has struggled as of late, with recently demoted set-up man Kameron Loe sitting at 3-7 with a 4.50 ERA.  Long reliever Marco Estrada has also fallen off, compiling a 1-5 record and 4.65 ERA since his last start on May 4.  And with Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins potential injury risks, its hard to pan Melvin for the move too much, especially if Rodriguez is used primarily as a set up man.*

Yet you hope Doug Melvin isn’t done working his magic, because the much more pressing need is at shortstop.  Melvin has been very active at the trade deadline in past years, and I’ll be handicapping the shortstop situation in the next few days.  There’s reason to like the K-Rod move, though, and not only because it keeps a really good closer out of the Cardinals hands.  But there also has to be cautious optimism that there is more to come before the July 31 trade deadline.

*Scott Boras apparently doesn’t consider his client K-Rod a setup man (“”Closers don’t make good setup men. Does anyone want an unhappy setup man in their clubhouse?”).  You have to wonder if the Brewers’ intention to use K-Rod in that role to prevent the vesting of his 2012 option will harm whatever (slim) chance the team has to keep Fielder.  But Scott Boras has said a lot of things, and its simply not clear how all this will shake out right now, including whether K-Rod will be a detriment in the clubhouse.  There’s certainly potential for that.

EDIT:  As Tim Dierkes over at MLBTradeRumors notes, the best case scenario for Scott Boras commission-wise is to have K-Rod become a free agent at the end of the season.  So, he can’t be too upset with a set-up arrangement for the righty.  Still, Jon Heyman, who views the trade favorably, reports that Melvin and Boras discussed K-Rod’s role with the crew, and for now Boras seems to be sticking to his “historic closer” shtick.

Brewers/Reds Postgame, 4.26.2011

Solo home runs from Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun powered the Brewers past the Reds, 3-2, on Tuesday night.  It was the Brewers’ first win against the Reds in five games this season.  Brandon Phillips hit a two-run homer from one knee, which temporarily gave them the lead until Braun’s and Weeks’ bombs.

Marco Estrada was exceptional on the mound for the Brewers, tossing seven innings and allowing only two runs.  Estrada had exceptional stuff, often hitting the 92 with his fastball. Though his velocity dropped a bit as the game wore on, Estrada kept hitters off balance with an occasional changeup and a nasty curve.  Reds hitters were only able to muster two hits against Estrada, their only other base runners coming from three walks. 

Mike Leake pitched effectively for the Reds, but the Brewers managed to scatter seven hits over seven innings.  Still, they were not able to muster runs in any way other than the long ball, a sharp contrast with most games early this season.

One element remained consistent, though:  Carlos Gomez’ problems on the basepaths continued.  He took a huge lead off first base with no outs in the fifth and was promptly picked off by Leake. 

Where We’re At

If you’d have told Ron Roenicke, whose squad was reeling with injuries at the end of spring training, that the Brewers would be playing .500 ball on the verge of getting Zack Greinke and Corey Hart back, I’m sure he’d have said, “I’ll take it.”

Hart and Greinke, two key cogs in the Brewers’ postseason aspirations, are slated to return at the end of April.  Hart began his rehab assignment Tuesday at AAA Nashville, going 0-2 with a strikeout.  The Brewers expect that he will need about 20 at-bats before he is ready to come off the DL.  Greinke has also been moved to Nashville after facing one over the minimum in three innings of scoreless ball at Class A Brevard County.

The Brewers have plenty of other injured players, though.  Sergio Mitre still has not pitched after being hit by a line drive on April 18, though he should be back soon.  Nyjer Morgan was placed on the DL today after a thigh bruise he sustained in an unnecessary collision with Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit failed to heal; Brandon Boggs has been recalled from AAA to take his place.  Manny Parra (back) is improving and is expected back in late April, as is offseason acquisition Takashi Saito (hamstring). 

The pitching injuries have left the Brewers a bit short, but, by and large, the replacements have performed spectacularly.  Marco Estrada is 1-0 in two starts with a 3.46 ERA.  And aside from one mistake pitch to Shane Victorino that cost the Brewers a win against Philly, Brandon Kintzler has performed admirably (1-1, 3.86 era, 6:1 k:bb). 

The Brewers (9-9) are currently third in the Central behind St. Louis (10-9) and Cincinnati (10-9). 

The Crew starts a three-game home series tonight against the Astros (7-12) featuring ace Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 4.62 era, 13:9 k:bb) versus righty Nelson Figueroa (0-2, 7.31 era).  Gallardo has struggled mightily in his past two starts, but looks to get back on track tonight against a weak offensive lineup.  Gallardo has never lost to the Astros in Milwaukee, so lets hope the trend continues.

Climbing Off The Ledge

I confess, I was one of the guys holding his breath as Axford took the ball in the ninth inning of today’s 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves.  He got behind young slugger Jason Heyward early, and ball four was a pitch that bounced about four feet in front of home plate.  Axford’s velocity has been fine, but his control seemed to elude him throughout the spring and as he blew his first save opportunity on Opening Day.  I was really starting to sweat when Axford started off two-and-oh against Alex Gonzalez.

But all my worrying was unnecessary.  Axford recovered and struck out Gonzalez on a foul tip, and started off the next two batters with strikes.  Both at-bats ended with the ball in play, but in the gloves of Rickie Weeks and Nyjer Morgan, respectively.

So with two wins in the books, Brewers nation can climb off the ledge after their 0-4 start. 

Fielder was back to his old self today, sort of.  He’s still searching for home run numero uno, but he did have three solid hits and had a hand in each of the five Brewers runs that crossed the plate.  Bet he’s happy to get that off his chest.

Gomez was back to his old self, too, but that’s not such a good thing.  He could have given the Crew an insurance run in the bottom of the 5th had he taken any kind of slide into home plate from third base.  Instead, he did some sort of late belly-flop maneuver that allowed Atlanta catcher Brian McCann to apply an easy tag.  Other than that, Gomez went 1-3 with a walk.  Yes, a walk, bringing his on base percentage to a sparkling .227.  I know it’s early, and I think Gomez has a longer leash than most think, but he’s going to need to improve both his average (.150) and on base percentage or else he’ll be watching Nyjer Morgan shag down fly balls in center the rest of the season.

And, last but not least, a big congrats to Marco Estrada on his first major league win.  He pitched a very nice game, going six innings with four strikeouts and a walk.  Other than a major mistake pitch that Heyward hammered into the right field bleachers for three runs, Estrada had decent control, throwing 54 of his 83 pitches for strikes.  He relied mostly on a 91-92 mph fastball, mixing in an occasional curveball and changeup.   I know he was primarily called up for this start, but I’d expect him to stick around for a little while while Zack Greinke continues to rehab.