The last week and a half has been a rough one for Major League Baseball to say the least. On Monday, 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun willingly took a suspension for the rest of the season, covering the final 65 games. He won’t receive a paycheck for the rest of the year either and for all intents and purposes he’s going to be a black sheep within the sport and among sportswriters for the rest of his career. Matt Kemp, the runner up for the 2011 MVP award has already called for Braun’s MVP trophy to be returned. “At this point, he lied about it. Got away with it. Tried to lie about it again. … Got caught. … And is still making hundreds of millions of dollars,” said New York Mets pitcher David Aardsma. Reed Johnson of the Atlanta Braves felt that Braun cheated the system and abandoned his fellow players. Suffice to say, the reaction to Braun has been harsh and for the rest of his career it will always be harsh. But you know what?
The man is a sly, sneaky bastard.
Outside of scorn, the only real, tangible punishment that Ryan Braun receives in this whole Biogenesis ordeal is a loss of 65 games or $3,251,366 dollars. That’s a whole lot of money to me and you, but to Braun that’s chump change. He made $6 million last year. He’s going to make $133 million over the life of his contract. That $3.25 million doesn’t matter to him, neither do those 65 games. Milwaukee’s already 20 games out of first in the NL Central. Hell, they’re 15 games out of the second Wild Card spot. That’s an impossible deficit to overcome, so why shouldn’t the Brewers go into all-out tank mode to get a better draft spot in next year’s draft? Braun’s locked into his contract until the end of the decade and he knows this. Why not cut a deal, help your team lose more, and reap the benefits in a couple of years? Yes, the Major League draft is a crapshoot, but it’s still better to be picking in the 1-3 range rather than the 5-7 range.
And the real cherry on top for Mr. Braun is that neither he, nor Major League Baseball, have revealed any details about the suspension. We have no idea what Ryan Braun was on, all we know is that he failed a drug test in October 2011 for elevated testosterone levels. We also have no idea about Braun’s involvement with Biogenesis and their owner Anthony Boesch and we probably never will. It’s great that Braun was suspended without any form of appeal. That, in and of itself, is an admission of guilt. But we still don’t know what, exactly, Braun was guilty of.
Let’s just pretend for one moment that the advent of the modern bullpen never happened. There’s no such thing as a LOOGY, Jerome Holtman never invented the save, and starting pitchers are handed the ball at the start of the game with the expectation that they will work a minimum of 7 innings. Now, I’m fairly sure the Player’s Association and a majority of the big league managers would riot if this kind of thing ever happened, but I know one place where everybody would be happy: the National League Central.
You see, apart from Pittsburgh, none of the NL Central teams have been able to cobble together a solid bullpen.The Cardinals struggles have been well-documented this year and for good reason. St. Louis currently has an ERA north of 6.00 out of the bullpen, which is good for dead last in baseball. Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee haven’t been much better ranking 20th, 18th, and 15th respectively in ERA.
But when a starting pitcher is on the mound? Look out, because each of these ball clubs has put together a quality rotation and most of them are running at full power right now. But which one of these star-studded starting staffs is the best?
From 2010 through 2011 John Axford and Carlos Marmol were two of the most effective closers the National League had to offer. Axford was a huge part of the Brewers 2011 run to the NLCS, leading the National League in saves while rocking the meanest foo-man-chu and one of the nastiest sliders in baseball. Despite struggling a bit with control issues, Carlos Marmol was also an extremely effective closer. He struck out a whopping 70 more hitters than any other NL closer between the 2010 and 2011 seasons and piled up a tidy 72 saves.
But since that high water mark in 2011 neither pitcher has been anywhere close to replicating that type of production. In Milwaukee a year ago the bullpen anchored by Axford was an absolute disaster and more than likely cost the team a shot at the playoffs. Marmol had similar struggles a year ago, walking a little over 7 batters per 9 innings of work during his roller coaster season. Both pitchers were up to their devious tricks again over the weekend. On Saturday night Carlos Marmol let both Upton bros. go deep, snatching another Cubbie defeat from the jaws of victory. Not to be outdone, on Sunday afternoon John Axford gave up a 2-run, 11th inning moonshot to Eric Hinske to put the Brewers down 8-6. Milwaukee tried their best to bail Axford out but they came up just short, losing 8-7 to complete the sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks.
The final free agent domino finally fell on Monday as Kyle Lohse and his agent Scott Boras were finally able to get a deal done, sending the right-hander to Milwaukee to pitch for the Brewers. Lohse and Boras were holding out in hopes of garnering a deal worth $15 million a year or more and it appears they have finally settled, taking 3 years and $33 million from Milwaukee. It’s a rather team-friendly deal in a market that cannibalized itself this winter over quality starting pitchers but it does come with the dreaded loss of a draft pick to the St. Louis Cardinals.
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.
If we’re going to talk about the Brewers, the most appropriate place to start would be with Ryan Braun. The defending NL MVP has been tearing up National League pitching over his last 25 games, hitting .356/.421/.6 with 6 homers, 7 doubles, 18 RBI, while going 7 for 8 in steals. Braun now leads the NL in homers, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, while ranking 2nd in WAR and RBI. This type of production has vaulted the Milwaukee offense to the top of the National League in runs scored and back into the playoff hunt, which is going to present what may perhaps be the season’s most interesting scenario: What happens with the NL MVP award if Ryan Braun continues his tear for the next two weeks and the Brewers sneak into the playoffs?
A week and a half ago I previewed the month of September and attempted to divide teams up into Contenders or Pretenders. The National League in particular, had a bunch of teams withing reasonable striking distance of a playoff berth, particularly if everything broke right. Well so far so good, because damn near every team at the top of the running for the NL Wild Card spot is slumping, which means that teams like Arizona, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee have been reawakened from the dead. St. Louis has lost 5 of their last 6, while Los Angeles has lost 6 of 9 since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez in the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, and don’t even get me started on the nasty slide the Pirates are in. The wheels have fallen off in the Steel City, as Pittsburgh is just 13-25 since the start of August while winning just 2 of their past 10 games. Atlanta is still looking good at the top, so the question is worth asking: does anybody want to win the win the 2nd Wild Card spot? And could one of the long-shot teams entering the month of September (Philadelphia, Arizona, and Milwaukee) sneak in there?