Looking Back on the Brewers 2011: The Finale
Welcome back boys and girls. We arrive, finally, to the home stretch of our look back on 2011. I know I said this would be up days ago, but lo and behold I am late on arrival once again.
I guess time flies when you’re having fun.
Anyway, in this – our third and final installment – our rag-tag group of heroes find themselves just about halfway through a season fraught with victory and defeat, triumph and peril, hyperbole and understatement. In short, business as usual for the baseball world. So how does the story end? Most of you already know, but follow the jump and take one final look back on the season that was.
The Brewers started the month by achieving the dubious distinction of losing twice in a row at home – the first time it had happened all season – against the Arizona Diamondbacks. On the back of that moment came one of the most trying months of the year. Leading All-Star vote getter Ryan Braun went out with a strained calf, and would later leave his 23 game hit streak at the plate only a few days after he returned. He would also sit out the All-Star Game, but Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder – ultimately the NL’s MVP – would prove to be all the offense the Senior Circuit would need as Milwaukee’s players helped to propel the NL to their second consecutive win. It would prove to be a prophetic circumstance for Milwaukee. As the month rolled on, the Brewers continued the up-and-down trend by dropping six of 11 games and then winning the next seven in a row. Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez would also be injured and out of the lineup by month’s end. Saito, however, was finally back – thus ending the Legend of Tim Dillard. Roenicke would make some of his biggest roster moves in July as well – K-Rod became a Brewer during the All-Star Break, and the team also picked up veterans Felipe Lopez and Jerry Hairston to fill the gaps in injuries. RR also switched up the lineup by putting Rickie in the five-hole and Hart leading off, it was a move that proved crucial for the Crew’s success down the road. The team would finish the month at 16-11, at the time their best one-month performance. The team ended the month up 2.0 games in the Central – a lead they would never relinquish.
It was also a productive month for us. Lou, for example, gave McGehee an attaboy, lamented the unfortunate working relations of Brandon Boggs, tried to cheer us up, livened up the slowest day in sports, broke down the trade deadline, and won his Softball League. I spent July embarrassing myself, handing out mustache facts, live blogging, breaking news, talking up the pirates, and still not worrying about Rickie. In July things really started to feel like they turned a corner, and we weren’t really worried about talking about playoff contention anymore. That was a whole hell of a lot better than complaining all the time.
August opened up with all the fury and drama that one might expect from a post-season run by opening the final month of summer at home against the second-place Cardinals. The Cardinals made a few statements in the series, but Milwaukee won the battle with two wins. It was the start of a month that saw records in ticket sales and performance. ‘Beast Mode’ became a household phenomenon in August, to the joy of most and the dismay of others, but Roenicke’s insistance on letting the team be who they are was one of the trademarks of the both the season and the team’s incredible August run. Some of the key players of the month included new addition Hairston, a rehabbed and peak-performing Takashi Saito, a long awaited welcome to Taylor Green, and even the struggling McGehee had his chance to shine during the Dog Days of Summer. The Brewers finished August at 21-7, it was the best 30-day record in franchise history and one of the best months in Major League History. The Cardinals appeared to be a distant memory at 7.5 games out of first, despite sweeping the Crew to head into September. Going into the final month of the season, everything looked primed and ready for a deep post-season run.
At Reviewing the Brew HQ, I made fun of Tony LaRussa (a lot), and apologized for Party Rockin’. Lou also complained about the Cardinals, pitched in to keep Prince, made fun of Narveson, and cleared up both Beast Mode and the many alter-egos of Nyjer Morgan. August was, by far, the most fun I had as both a Brewers fan and Brewers Blogger. It was a month I don’t think anyone who follows the Crew will forget in a long, long time.
September was another watershed mark for the Brewers. The final month of regular season play was headlined with amazing stories, but in Milwaukee it was all about amazing players. Braun and Fielder both reached 30 home runs, with Braun being the first Brewer to reach the 30/30 mark in 40 years of baseball in Milwaukee. The two power hitters kept the team up as much as they could despite a downward dip in performance for end of the season. The club would ultimately go 15-10 for the final month, but racked up 96 wins for a new franchise best. Not everything was roses in Miller Park, as the Cardinals would hand the Brewers the first home sweep of their season on the very first day of September, which included one of the funniest moments of the season for (or at the expense of) Ryan Braun. Also weighing heavily on the organization and its fans were the futures of K-Rod and Prince, who both chose inopportune times to broach the subject of their job security with the team. The month ended, of course, with nothing but good news. Minor League call-up and future star Michael Fiers made a fantastic debut against Colorado to begin the month. A few weeks later John Axford would find his place in Brewers history by notching his 42nd consecutive save and 45th on the season – both franchise highs. By month’s end, the Crew had claimed the Central Crown on an historic Braun home run to beat the Florida Marlins. Four days later, Milwaukee would beat Pittsburgh and lock up the number two seed in the National League and officially begin their first playoff run since the 2008 season.
Reviewing the Brew was battling a serious case of post-season fever for the entire month. It got to Lou real bad. During September he showed us mustachioed greatness, pondered the playoffs, got really sad, pondered his own sadness, celebrated, and crowned an MVP. I, on the other hand told everyone to chill the F out, wrapped up the Minor League System, cheered for the Cubs, analyzed the playoffs, and bartered (unsuccessfully) for playoff tickets. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: this month has many moments that stick out in my mind as a fan, but I blacked out from joy for most of it. I think of September and October as my Woodstock – except replace sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll with baseball, blogging and beer. It’s all kind of a blur.
The Milwaukee’s Brewers magical run would come to an end in October. It would not come the way that everyone would have hoped, but the Monsters of Miller Park would not go quietly if they could help it. The postseason began on the first day of the month and it brought a Gallardo win in a 4-1 game against Arizona. The series would fall strictly on home-field lines with Milwaukee leaving the Brew City with a 2-0 lead and what looked like an all-but decided series. Two straight dominating offensive performances by the D-Backs put the Brewers’ backs squarely against the wall, but in Game Four Milwaukee pushed back and Nyjer Morgan became the city’s hero with a walk-off double that scored Carlos Gomez in the 10th Inning. It was the shining moment of the season, and a play that defined Milwaukee’s ability to bounce back time and time again.
The team then prepared to face old enemies in the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League crown. St. Louis climbed out of the depths to fend off Atlanta for a Wild Card spot, and their momentum would prove to be the biggest obstacle. The series was billed as a fight between two very different dynamics, and the drama on the field more than lived up to the hype off of it. Milwaukee made a big splash in the first game behind Greinke, scoring nine runs and taking an early lead in the season only to be on the receiving end of a blowout the next day with a 12-4 rout at the hands of the Cardinals as they headed to Busch Stadium. From there things began to look bleak as St. Louis handed Milwaukee another loss with Gallardo at the hill and suddenly it was Randy Wolf who had to play the hero and try to ensure the series would close in Milwaukee with a chance for the Crew to win their second-ever pennant in the safe house that was Miller Park. Wolf prevailed with a solid performance and the Brewers won 4-2, clinched by a John Axford save. Unfortunately, the good feelings would not last the weekend – even with the meat of the rotation starting at home in decisive games five and six. Greinke took one on the chin a 7-1 drubbing on Friday, and Marcum had the most unforgettable postseason performance in recent history with a one-inning disaster that eventually led to a 12-6 loss and the Brewers faithful watching as St. Louis celebrated a trip to their 11th World Series in the center of our stadium. It was, in retrospect, a microcosm of the season for Milwaukee. Up and down performances by the bottom half of the line-up, costly errors, and inconsistent pitching sent Milwaukee packing out of the playoffs.
At Reviewing the Brew, we did our best to keep our chins up during the trying postseason. Lou worked through a true hero’s journey: from pride, to trust, to common ground, to anger, and finally to closure. I pulled a play from Mark Kotsay’s postseason playbook and shrunk in the moment. I only managed to put on the final live blog, yell at Jeff Passan, and get filled with romantic whimsy. In retrospect, I wish I had done more but I was too busy soaking in the moment to do my work on the site. It’s something I regret, but I feel as though we will get another chance to relive postseason glory. I hope.
Thus ends the Ballad of the 2011 Brewers with all of its highs and lows. It was a helluva season and we had a lot of fun covering it. Looking back I see that the team was performing at a high level for the entire year, and it reminded me how easy it is to get discouraged when you’re in the thick of something great. I hate to get all sentimental, but it might be helpful to think of that whenever you think things are going rough. The Brewers fought hard all year and made an incredible run, and they made even more memories for their fans. We were so happy to be a pert of it, and even happier that you could come along for the ride.
We will be keeping you updated all year with new Brewers news, but for now I just wanted to thank you for letting me be a part of your Brewers experience. Happy New Year and Happy Holidays and Happy 44 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report.