The First Step Toward a Championship

This is where we expected to be at the beginning of the season, right?

Never mind that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder formed one of the most epic one-two punches in perhaps baseball history.  Never mind that the team won a franchise-best 96 games during the regular season.  And never mind that the team had three legitimate aces to form the front end of their starting rotation, and a bullpen that is the envy of all postseason teams.

It would have been a long offseason for Brewers fans to endure if there hadn’t been any championship games in Milwaukee.

So with Game 1 of what is sure to be a testy and classic matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals, I’m ready to declare the season a success no matter how the Brewers fare in the NLCS.

There is absolutely no love lost between the Brewers and the Cardinals.  When Lance Berkman was questioned about that very topic, he replied simply and directly: “And that’s correct.”  The last time these two teams saw each other, Chris Carpenter threw an f-bomb at Nyjer Morgan, who would have taken on the entire Cardinals roster had he not been restrained.  I’m giving a better than 50-percent chances of a bench-clearing brawl.

That all adds to the high-tension that already accompanies a rematch of the 1982 World Series, won in seven games by the Cardinals.  But the Brewers dominated the Cardinals in Game 1 of that series; lefty Mike Caldwell tossed a three-hit complete game shutout and the Brewers’ offense – Harvey’s Wallbangers – exploded for ten runs on seventeen hits.  Molitor and Yount, yesterday’s Fielder and Braun, combined to go nine-for-twelve with two RBI each.

Caldwell was not a strikeout pitcher, but the Brewers send one out today in Zack Greinke, who had 201 strikeouts in only 171 innings during the regular season.  Greinke was consistent with his strikeouts in his short start against the D’Backs in Game 2 of the NLDS (7 K, 5 IP), but allowed four runs on eight hits. Greinke, as he has all season, really struggled to keep the ball down in the zone, and three of the hits were home runs. Brewers fans won’t have much to cheer about today if he does that against a Cardinals lineup anchored by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman.

But enough of the game minutiae for now.  The Brewers have their first playoff series win since 1982.  And that’s something even the Cardinals can’t ruin.



Earning your way

Early returns are in, and our hometown leftfielder Ryan Braun leads the NL vote for the 2011 MLB All-Star game.  He’s not the only Brewer in the hunt, though.  Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Jonathan Lucroy are all in the running, though it would take a small miracle to get them there through the fan vote.

Those are all guys I’ve voted for on my ballot, but lord knows I’m not a complete homer.  I just couldn’t bring myself to punch that hole for Yuniesky Betancourt.  Or Carlos Gomez or Casey McGehee, for that matter.  Instead, Jose Reyes, Matt Kemp, and Placido Polanco got my vote.  I try to keep my ballot pretty fair; I think defensible arguments can be made for all of the Brewers I voted for.*

Unfortunately, the voting totals show that’s just not the way most people do things.  Albert Pujols should not be the leading candidate for first place, let alone the second-highest vote-getter in the NL.  Prince has more hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, and walks than Pujols, and also has a better average, OBP, and OPS.  Any objective observer can see that Fielder deserves to be an All-Star over Pujols.  And yet Pujols has such a legacy of success that people are willing to throw him votes based on his name alone.

Second base has its problems, too.  Brandon Phillips, the current leader, and Weeks should both be in that conversation, but the third-highest candidate, Chase Utley, has over 1.2 million votes and didn’t see his first major league pitch until May 23.  He’s rocking a .261 average.  But that looks good compared to the fourth-highest second baseman, Dan Uggla, who has a .183 average and is in the worst slump of his career.

All this has prompted Sean Clair at the Bleacher Report to call for an end to fan voting.  Can’t say I’m not sympathetic to that argument.  MLB voting is already a bit of an absurdity, with voters able to cast 25 online ballots per email address, plus as many in-stadium ballots as possible without suffocating oneself in the resultant pile of chads.**  Not only that, but it makes absolutely no sense to have fans vote for position players, but not pitchers.  And then there’s the fact that the MLB All-Star game is actually a contest with high stakes; the winner enjoys home field advantage in the Fall Classic, a substantial benefit.  So why are we trusting this thing to people who will cast ballots en masse for a guy batting under .200?

Baseball wouldn’t exactly be breaking new ground by doing away with fan voting.  In 1957, Reds fans stuffed the ballot box and elected all but one of their starting position players to the roster.  Commissioner Ford Frick wound up replacing two Reds players with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, and stripped fans of the ability to vote.  Voting rights wouldn’t be restored until 1970.  Maybe it’s time to think about whether that was a wise choice.

* Not that my ballots don’t occasionally reflect my nostalgia for, say, the 2010 Shin-Soo Choo.

** The frequency of hanging chads on the in-stadium ballots make me wonder whether we’re someday in for a Bush v. Gore style showdown.  I’d love, just once, to see a jilted first baseman petition for a recount.