Hope and Baseball
“Hope springs eternal.” Baseball fans say that in the spring. It is part of the annual ritual of spring. First comes in taking heart when hearing in the middle of February, “The pitchers and catchers are reporting to major league baseball training camp today.” Then, with patience, comes “Opening Day.” Hope is everywhere. No one has lost a game. Is a championship season possible? “The team is not out of it yet!”
In some seasons fans lose hope when it is impossible to avoid a bad start. I correctly disengaged emotionally last season with the Brewers losing hope for the team in the middle of May. (See web site archive “2013 Brewers May Mess.”) It is rare for players and fans when the team recovers to still come out ahead. Last season the team never recovered from its tailspin.
But think of the 1982 Brewers. They were treading water going nowhere under the martial regime of manager Buck Williams. The manager change to Harvey Kuehn fit the club like an Italian shoe. After June 2, 1982 the team raced to the American League Pennant and ultimately just one game short from a World Series Championship.
There is always the 1914 Miracle Braves with that year’s NL MVP Johnny Evers. Hall of Famer “Rabbit Maranville” made up the other half of the 1914 Braves keystone combination. The Miracle Braves charged from last place on July 4 to not only taking the NL Pennant but sweeping four games in WS from the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics of Connie Mack. The A’s featured “the million dollar infield” led by “Home Run Baker.” But it was not enough to top the red-hot Braves. In those days teams could go with a three man rotation. Each of the Miracle Braves three starting pitchers won twenty games apiece after the fourth of July!
Sometimes expressing the vibration of “hope” is mistaken for and criticized as being “Polly Anna” over-the-top enthusiasm or “cheerleading.” No one dislikes anything more than being sold “false hope.” This tempers us.
But as we sit today with about 60 games under our belt and 100 or so left to go, I have hope the Brewers will be competitive to win the whole goose, and if not, at least a lion’s share of it. The Brewers just missed the WS in 2011 by a single game. Maybe the stars and planets are aligned just right this year? It is easy to feel hope that the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers just might ride the crest of their current five game division lead on the Birds of St. Louis (and more on the rest of the National League Central Division) all the way down the white water rapids after the All-Star break and through to the play-offs.
How good are the 2014 Brewers? Time will tell. But what we know so far is mostly good. I start with team leader Jonathan Lucroy. He plays heady defense, and is hitting a ton. So is his back-up, Maldanado.
First Base play is covered defensively with either Reynolds or Overbay. How many times I cannot count already have I said to myself after either have made a play at the first base bag, “Fielder would never have made that play.” Shortstop “Sugar” Segura is living up to his nickname. While he has booted a few just to show he’s human, his fielding range, consistency, and throwing arm are all exceptional. When one adds a bat that is coming around, and his speed as a base runner, there is no need to hope for more. Third base can only improve with the health of the knees of Ramirez. While no Brooks Robinson, a healthy Aramis (or Reynolds) is at least as good as Hall of Famer Ron Santo was for the Cubs, so that is good enough for me. Both second basemen are good. Indeed, Gennett is spectacular, in my opinion, and Weeks is hitting!
The outfield anchored by Gold Glove Carlos Gomez is OK defensively too. It is at least good enough to be competitive to win at the high levels of play required for success in the play-offs. All are hitting too, now that Davis is raising his average.
That leaves our pitching. The bull-pen has performed superbly. Francisco Rodriquez still is tough enough to hit that he is saving games. It seems an adventure every outing, but he is getting it done. Will Smith has revealed himself to be a stopper. His great stuff is especially tough on left handed hitters. He can get anybody out. Then there is middle relief. Thornburg has been mostly good. Good surprises have been Zack Duke and to a lesser extent, Rob Wooten. This is an area where sometimes a veteran hurler can be acquired for a stretch run, like Don Sutton was in 1982.
Our starters are going to have to keep pulling the wagon. Sometimes they get battered, like Kyle Lohse recently against the Pirates. But Garza can be a horse putting up innings. He seems to be getting his groove on. Gallardo just threw a beautiful seven innings of shutout ball to take a series on the road against a chief competitor. This was good after a dip recently after his injury. Then there is Piralta and Estrada. Piralta could become our “ace” with his good stuff. Estrada is wonderment to me because he relies on control and a change-up. Generally speaking, the only pitchers I ever saw in a Brewers uniform that could get by in.
By J. D. Thorne
Author of The 10 Commandments of Baseball
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