There’s something special going on in Milwaukee, Wisconsin these days. The dog days of summer are upon us and the Milwaukee Brewers are hotter than ever — scorching, if you will. Milwaukee has stellar pitching, a loaded offensive lineup with two MVP candidates, and if that wasn’t enough, they began to really flash the leather Monday night at Miller Park.
With a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Brewers improved to twenty games over .500 on the year (71-51) and thirty games over .500 at home (45-15). Milwaukee is 17-2 in their last 19 games and has a six game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
Randy Wolf (10-8, 3.30) was masterful as he went eight scoreless innings, allowing only six hits while walking five and striking out five. He was also the beneficiary of some beautifully crafted defensive gems. Wolf got Andre Ethier to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the first inning. In the second, the Brewers turned the first triple play in the National League this season and the sixth in franchise history. Wolf surrendered a lead-off walk and single to put runners on first and second (Matt Kemp was running on the single but was forced to slide into second base thanks to Josh Wilson’s bluff, making Kemp think it was a ground ball therefore preventing him from reaching third on the hit-and-run). James Loney then broke his bat on a cue shot up the middle; Wilson smoothly fielded and flipped the ball with his glove to Yuniesky Betancourt who threw to Prince Fielder at first base to turn two; Kemp, trying to score from second base on the play, was then thrown out by Prince at the plate thanks to a diving tag by George Kottaras; 4-6-3-2 (the first triple play of that sort since 1973 — 151 triple plays have occurred in between the two). In the third inning, Jerry Hairston Jr. threw out Dodgers catcher Dioner Navarro at home. The fourth inning ended with a double play when Hairston made a diving catch in center then promptly stood up and threw out Ethier at first who was attempting to tag. In the bottom half of the fourth, Ryan Braun capitalized off of Lilly’s lone mistake and deposited his 23rd homer into deep left center on a 0-2 pitch with two outs, giving the Crew a 1-0 lead. The fifth inning saw a 3-6-1 double play, also courtesy of James Loney — who had his first two at-bats result in five outs. Wolf finally had his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, getting two ground ball outs with a strikeout of Ted Lilly squeezed in between. With the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, Wolf got Navarro to fly out to Hairston. Jonathan Lucroy entered the game for Kottaras in the eighth and unleashed on a fastball, cranking out his 9th home run of the season and putting the Brewers up 2-0. Corey Hart followed by launching his 18th long ball into right field, giving the Crew a 3-0 lead. John Axford closed the door again, thanks to a game ending double play, Milwaukee’s fourth of the game. Axford earned his 32nd consecutive save and 35th of 2011. Ryan Braun went 2-for-4 on the night, raising his batting average to .328 and stealing his 23rd bag along the way.
Baseball is an inexact science. Statistical blips and odd occurrences happen all of the time. If you go to the ballpark, you may just see something that you’ve never seen before – like a triple play, a no-hitter, etc. – that’s what makes the game great. Rarely will you find two people who share the same thought process, especially when it comes to the philosophy surrounding player personnel. Nevertheless, over the next few days I’ll attempt to rank the current Brewers players, 25 to 1, in order of their importance to the franchise. The most expendable player on the active roster will be ranked 25, while the top few guys are Brewers which I view as cornerstones for Milwaukee’s future. Please, feel free to disagree. Below are players 25 to 21, 20 to 16 will come later.
25. Wil Nieves, C
Nieves is the battery-mate for starter Randy Wolf, and that gives him some solid value. However, he’s very limited offensively, batting .163 for the Brewers this season. The 33-year-old backstop seems to be on borrowed time; and Jonathan Lucroy has a stranglehold on the starting job.
24. Mike McClendon, RP
McClendon, a 26-year-old middle reliever, has been impressive in his first 25 appearances in the majors. Over the past two seasons, the righty is 4-0 with a 2.94 ERA. He’s been up and down between AAA and the Bigs, but looks to be a solid option for Milwaukee in the middle innings.
23. Josh Wilson, SS
Claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks only a week ago, Wilson joined Milwaukee with a bang, crushing a pitch over the left field wall at Great American Ballpark for his first hit as a Brewer. He’s a journeyman infielder who has a paltry career batting average of .227 but does provide some pop. He’s another bat for Roenicke to use off the bench and is solid defensively.
22. Tim Dillard, RP
The 27-year-old right-handed middle relief pitcher, in his third season with the Brewers, was recalled from AAA Nashville on May 14th when Milwaukee placed Brandon Kintzler on the 15-day DL. Dillard is used sparingly, boasting a career 6.23 ERA in 17 appearances. However, he did pitch two scoreless innings in his last outing on May 30th.
21. Sergio Mitre, RP
The veteran pitcher, currently with his fourth Major League team, has been outstanding so far this year for the Crew. Through 23 innings, Mitre’s ERA sits at a sparkling 1.96, with an even more impressive 1.04 WHIP. He’s become a reliable option for Roenicke out of the pen.