Earlier this afternoon, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Class A Affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, beat the Fort Wayne TinCaps 4-2 to take home the Midwest League Title, a first for the club since 1984 – when they were known as the Appleton Foxes.
For those of you that followed this club throughout the 2012 season, this finish may not come as a surprise to you – the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers had one of the most cohesive groups of young talent in the Brewers organization.
For those of you who did not follow the Rattlers championship campaign, this is probably one of a half dozen articles you will see over the weekend about Minor League teams that you care little about. I’m not naive enough to think that I will change your mind with late coverage of low A-Ball playoffs.
I’m just dumb enough to try.
Wisconsin got off to a lead almost immediately, when Brandon Macias took the first offering from TinCaps pitcher James Needy into the outfield for a double, and was promptly driven in by Chadwin Stang, batting second.
It was 1-0 Timber Rattlers, but it was not anything we hadn’t seen before. Brandon Macias hit 35 doubles in the regular season and hit .321 in his last 30 games before the playoffs. He was seemingly always on base with the Timber Rattlers – a .388 OBP in 2012 mixed with a roughly 15% strikeout rate on the year made him an almost impossible out for Midwest League opponents.
Chadwin Stang, the big right-handed center fielder with one year of A ball service already under his belt was just the guy to drive in the first run. He had struggled some in the playoffs, but Stang put down a single and drove in Macias, just like he had done a career-best 47 times in the regular season.
In the second inning, right fielder Max Walla hit a solo shot to put Wisconsin up 2-0. The 21-year old put up a career best seven home runs during the regular season of his second stint with the Timber Rattlers, and though his season numbers weren’t great he came through several times for the team in the postseason.
Chad Thompson won the game – his second of the post-season and undoubtedly the biggest of his professional career – on six innings of work with five hits, two earned runs, and three strikeouts. The six-foot, seven-inch righty was riding a sub-two ERA coming into the postseason and continued the storyline of brilliant T-Rat pitching throughout the playoffs. After giving up a third-inning double, Chad Thompson did not give the TinCaps another baserunner.
Nick Ramirez came up big for the entire playoffs, none more than in the clinching game of the Midwest League Championship
But it was Nick Ramirez, the first baseman who led the team in RBI and batting average throughout the postseason that brought in what would be become the winning runs for Wisconsin. In the seventh inning, Brandon Macias hit his second double to lead-off, Chadwin Stang bunted him over and Brandon McMahon walked. The Timber Rattlers had gone on to leave 11 players stranded in scoring position prior to Ramirez’s at-bat. After falling behind to relief pitcher Brandon Alger, he took a mistake pitch off the outfield wall – more than enough to score both runners and Bring the Timber Rattlers the lead, a lead that they would not relinquish.
Brent Suter – the lefty reliever for Wisconsin, came in to the game in the seventh and simply never left, earning his first save of the postseason and the third of his career. He did so with perfection – literally. Over the next three innings, Suter did not give up a hit or a walk and struck out three, including the final two batters of the Midwest League Championship Series.
Do me a favor and remember those names. These are the players you want to see in Brewers jerseys down the road. These are the players weneedin this organization. It takes a lot to dig it out in the Minors, especially at this level, and they brought home the proof that Milwaukee still has one of the best farm systems in the Major Leagues.
The Timber Rattlers played with heart, with fire, with passion, and with that pure dopey joy that gets old hacks choked up when they think about their playing days (yours truly included on this one). They played behind a manager who trusted and believed in them, and they played more as a team than any other group of minor leaguers I’ve ever watched. They are also part of an organization in the Timber Rattlers that not only bends over backwards for their fans, but regularly rewards and welcomes people with a passion for baseball.
People like me.
Only one week ago the Timber Rattlers were kind enough to grant me a space in the Press Box so I could pretend I was real baseball writer. It was a big gesture for me, and in many ways I am indebted to this club, this season, and the players of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers for the baseball they brought me this year.
I only hope this returns the favor.
Congratulations to the 2012 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Your Midwest League Champions.