The perfectly brewed beer requires just the right mix of ingredients. You need a good amount of malted barley intermixed with just the right dosage of hot water to make a good mash. Once the mash has been created and boiled, a brew master then adds a dash or so of hops, depending on how bitter you like your beer, in order to add some delicious flavor and scent to the finished product. Finally, the brewer will add some yeast in order to begin the fermentation process, which adds alcohol to the process. If everything works out properly, the end result is a batch of cold delicious beer for anyone and everyone to enjoy, preferably while catching the home nine take the field.
This year’s edition of the Milwaukee Brewers is starting to come together like a well-brewed batch of beer. You have your mash, coming in the forms of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, who slug the ball to all fields and form the base of Milwaukee’s well-balanced attack. Next come the hops, taking the form of Norichika Aoki, a free agent pickup from the Nippon Pro League who’s steady ability to get on-base has been crucial. A little dash of Rickie Weeks was added in the 2nd half to provide more flavor. The pitching staff has come together as a new group of young Brewers starters have been given a chance to ferment together at the big league level. With brew master Ron Roenicke at the helm, this delicious mix of ingredients is starting to come together just in the nick of time to give the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team a shot at making a repeat appearance in the playoffs. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting story lines floating around Milwaukee these days.
Now that April is in the books, and with All-Star voting already underway, it’s a good time to look at the American League’s best, by position, so far.
Catcher- Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
The toughest position to choose from in either league, because of the excellent quality of play to date from Joe Mauer, who leads AL catchers in batting average and steals, AJ Pierzynski, who is hitting .309 with 4 homers, and Mike Napoli, who has crushed 7 homers already. I decided to go with Wieters, who plays behind the plate every game, unlike Mauer and Napoli, and who excels defensively, unlike Pierzynski. Wieters is hitting .279 with 6 homers and 15 RBI, helping Baltimore get off to a surprising start.
Konerko has been mashing the ball on the South Side, crushing for a .383/.444/.679 slash that puts him in the early MVP discussion. The slugging 1st baseman has also hit 5 homers, which put him over 400 for his career, and has driven in 15. He is the White Sox leader in the clubhouse, and has helped propel the team to a 2nd place start after the 1st month. This is one of the deepest positions in baseball, so we will see how long Paulie can hold on to the top spot.
2nd base- Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Kinsler has been the spark at the top of the Rangers finely tuned machine of an offense, leading baseball in runs scored with 24. He’s also hitting a robust .298 while blasting 5 homers out of the leadoff spot.
Shortstop- Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
This one isn’t even close, as Jeter is the only AL shortstop hitting above .300. He is currently off to one of the best starts to a season in his career, hitting .389 with 4 homers and 13 RBI out of the leadoff spot. He has also scored 16 runs and leads all of baseball in hits. He is also driving the ball to the outfield again, something he struggled with early last season.
3rd Base- Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria injured his knee last night, attempting to steal 2nd, which has really put a damper on what was shaping up to be his finest professional season. Longoria has hit .349/.433/.561, spraying the ball to all fields and showing good power, with 4 homers to go with 19 ribbies. Hopefully he won’t have to miss more that a week or two, because he has some competition at 3rd with Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre.
UPDATE: Longoria has a partially torn hamstring and will miss anywhere from 4-8 weeks. This is a massive blow to Tampa Bay and will undoubtedly hurt their offense. The Rays have plenty of depth, but losing your best player is tough for any team to overcome and will probably cost the Rays a couple wins.
Outfield- Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Hamilton, along with Matt Kemp, has been playing in his own stratosphere early in 2012. He is hitting .395/.438/.744 and has compiled a major league leading 64 total bases in a scant 22 games. He also leads the American League in homeruns and RBI and may have a legitimate shot at the Triple Crown, if he can stay healthy.
Outfield- Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
Josh Willingham has arguably been the most valuable free agent pickup to date. He’s driving the ball to all fields, posting an outstanding .347/.447/.681 with 5 taters. He may not stay in Minnesota for long, because if the Twins don’t get their pitching sorted out, Willingham would bring back a big return from an outfield or slap hitting team around the deadline.
Outfield- Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Adam Jones has been the other driving force behind the Orioles offense so far, hitting .333 and driving in 12. He has shown an All-Star level mix of power and speed, slugging 6 homers and stealing 4 bases, while scoring 18 runs. Other candidates for this last spot include: Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Nolan Reimold, and Nick Swisher, who is having a career-best start to his season.
Designated Hitter- David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Ortiz is having quite the season so far in Boston leading baseball in batting average, at .405 and OPS at 1.184. He has buoyed the Red Sox with his steady demeanor and production, leading the team in RBI and homers.
Right-handed pitcher- Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
What a comeback so far for Jake Peavy, who is currently 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA for the Sox. He’s already thrown 37 innings and has struck out a robust 33 while only walking 5 so far, for an excellent 6.6 K/BB. His WHIP of .690 leads baseball, as does his ERA+, which accounts for park factors and sits at an absurd 252. He will have some regression to the mean, but this is an excellent start for the righty.
The young 22-year-old was a blip on the radar before the season started, and a month later he leads all qualifying pitchers in ERA, at 1.23. He has only pitched 22 innings so far, but has struck out 22 while only allowing 1.182 base runners to reach per 9. He isn’t afraid to throw any pitch in any count and looks to be the real deal.
Relief pitcher- Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Johnson probably won’t occupy this spot for long, but right now he has a league leading 7 saves without allowing a run in any of his 8.2 innings pitched. Fernando Rodney has also been excellent, and apart from blowing an Opening Day save, Mariano Rivera has not allowed a run.
Yesterday was one of those days in baseball that just makes you wonder how a game that’s over 150 years old can continue to surprise? I mean just about everything has happened in baseball, but yesterday contained not only the 21st perfect game in baseball history, but also a 9 run comeback after the 5th inning. April 21, 2012 was a day that truly showcased everything that is great about baseball.
Phillip Humber began his game yesterday as a successful reclamation project and solid middle of the rotation starter for the Chicago White Sox. After being drafted by the Mets 4th overall in 2004 and made his major league debut in 2006 but struggled to find success, bouncing around to Minnesota and Kansas City before being claimed by the White Sox off of waivers in 2011. Chicago’s pitching coach Don Cooper worked on adding a slider to his repertoire and they changed his mechanics slightly, improving Humber’s balance on his follow through. Humber posted a 112 ERA+ last year and was reliable for 163 total innings, his first sustained success in the majors.
Humber was facing a team he figured to have some success against. The Mariners entered yesterday as the 2nd worst team in batting average and the 3rd worst in team OPS (an atrocious .285!!!). He got the first 3 hitters out and really found his groove in the 2nd inning, striking out the side. By the 3rd inning the White Sox offense had spotted him 3 runs, one run courtesy of a Paul Konerko home run, and he was officially rolling.
Meanwhile baseball had begun in Boston, where the New York Yankees were visiting for Fenway Park’s 100th. Freddy Garcia was on the mound for the Yankees and continued his early season swoon, getting bombed for 5 runs on 7 hits in 1.2 innings of work. The Red Sox hit double after double off Garcia, playing a game of wall ball off of the Green Monster. After 3 innings the Yankees found themselves in a 7-0 hole. Felix Doubrant was on the mound for the Red Sox and he was baffling the Yankee hitters with an array of fastballs, sliders, and curves. By the 5th inning the Red Sox had gotten 2 more runs and the game was getting out of hand at 9-0. Doubrant finally gave up a run on a Mark Teixiera homer in the 6th and he was pulled after the inning, finishing with 4 hits allowed and 7 strikeouts.
Back over in Seattle, Humber continued to dominate and was now entering the later innings of the game. By the 7th inning no Mariner had even threatened a base hit off of him. Humber primarily stuck to his fastball and curveball, mixing in the occasional 2-seamer or changeup or slider. He was locating his pitches all over the zone, keeping the Mariners putrid offense off-balance. In the 8th inning Brett Lillbridge came in to play left field, and only received one ball hit his direction. Humber’s 8th inning was another quick 11-pitch affair and he was off to the 9th, perfect game intact.
Back in Boston, by the 7th inning the Yankees had finally gotten into the Red Sox bullpen, the worst in all of baseball. Vincente Padilla was the 1st up from the bullpen and was immediately carpet-bombed by New York’s offense. After striking out Andruw Jones, Padilla gave up 2 straight singles, walked Derek Jeter, and gave up a 1st pitch grand slam deep over the Monster to Nick Swisher. Bobby Valentine decided that 4 runs wasn’t enough out of Padilla, so he left him in to face Robinson Cano, who played wall ball in left field, rapping out a double. Matt Albers was the next to face the firing squad, and after Alex Rodriguez reached on an error by shortstop Mike Aviles, Mark Teixiera bombed his 2nd home run, a 3-run job. Franklin Morales would be the next to come in the game, and was able to end the inning. The comeback was officially on, the score now 9-8 in favor of the Red Sox.
Phil Humber was entering the 9th inning in what was now the most important game in his life. All that stood between Humber and baseball immortality was 3 more outs. Michael Saunders was first up to the plate, and he was nearly walked before being struck out. Humber was nearing the 90-pitch mark and didn’t appear to be throwing as free and easy as he did in the early innings. The Mariners sent a pinch-“hitter” up to the plate in John Jaso, who lazily flied out to right field after falling behind 0-2. Humber was now 1 out away, and the Mariners, desperate not to have a perfect game thrown against them decided to counter with defensive specialist Brendan Ryan. Ryan has hit .248 and .223 during the past 2 seasons and is no ones definition of a good bat off the bench, but he does know how to work the count. He battled Humber for 6 pitches, working the count full. Humber decided to risk his entire game on a low and away slider, which generated just enough of a check swing to get the 3rd strike. The perfect game was his!!! Humber became the 21st member of the perfect game club, becoming the 4th pitcher in the last 3 seasons to throw one. (And for anyone who wants to argue that Ryan checked his swing, who cares? It’s Brendan Ryan!!! He’s not exactly the authority on hitting, and he went around enough for the pitch to be called a strike.)
Back over to Boston, the comeback was about to be on again. Boston’s Franklin Morales was left in to begin the 8th, and he immediately gave up a leadoff single to the pesky Eduardo Nunez. Valentine decided to make an immediate change, and brought in his de facto closer Alfredo Aceves. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 to 2010, and was excellent in relief last year for Boston, holding the pitching staff together down the stretch, throwing 114 total innings. But his early returns this season have been rather ugly, and yesterday was no exception. Aceves immediately walked Jeter, which brought up Nick Swisher. Swisher, already with a grand slam to his name, hit an 84-mph change-up that caught too much off the plate to deep right field for a double, plating 2 runs and giving the Yankees the lead.
Next, Valentine decided not to face the dangerous Robby Cano and put him on intentionally, bringing up Alex Rodriguez, who also worked a walk. The bases were now loaded for Mark Teixiera, who pummeled a ground-rule double to left, scoring 2 and giving the 1st baseman 6 RBI on the game. The Yankees now had the lead 12-9 all the way back from 9-0!!! The inning would continue to get uglier and uglier for Boston. Russell Martin doubled home 2 more runs and Jeter would single home another, bringing the score after 8 innings to 15-9, in the Yankees’ favor. Valentine was booed lustily every time he came out to discuss tactics or remove a pitcher.
The Yankees would close out the 9th inning to take the 15-9 victory, dropping the Red Sox to a measily 4-10, last in the AL East. The 9-run comeback by the Yankees tied the largest in franchise history, and was the 3rd time that New York has pulled the trick on Boston. Coupled with Phil Humber’s perfect game, April 21st was baseball’s finest day so far in 2012, and one that won’t soon be forgotten.
For more on Humber’s perfect game, check out these links from SI.com. Verducci’s take is especially interesting, as he looks at the game as a microcosm for the decline of offense around baseball.