Why the Brewers Will Beat the Phillies

Twenty-six years. The universe owes us one, right?

Okay, maybe not. But the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2008 season is looking more and more like a feel-good sports drama with every day that passes. Baseball isn’t supposed to be like that—well, except when kids, ghosts or magical bats are involved—but when you’re an hour into one of those flicks, you can usually make a good guess of how it’s going to end.

Check out this cast of characters, and I defy you to show me how this team couldn’t win.

The redeemed

Every inspirational sports team has to have a player or two who have to earn back the love of the fans.

For the first few months of the season, Ben Sheets did just that. Sheets has been a walking pile of injuries for years, despite an even bigger pile of promise. Sheets was very possibly the MVP of the first half, and despite some late-season health problems, he still logged 31 starts and more innings than anyone else on the team. (Oh yeah—with a 3.09 ERA.)

I hope that, if Sheets goes elsewhere this winter, fans remember the first five-and-a-half months of his season, not the last two weeks, in which he went on the shelf, then tried and failed to make one last start.

The grizzled

You want Crash Davis? Jake Taylor? Done. I give you Jason Kendall and Craig Counsell. Grit; clutch; pure, unadulterated veteran presence—you got it.

The cheerleaders

In some role or another, a team like this has to have a few players who are revitalized just by the opportunity to be part of the experience.

You will never see a more intense, revved up baseball player than Seth McClung right now. He was little more than a waiver wire pickup, and he has spent plenty of time hanging on to the 12th or 13th spot on the pitching staff. He’s done it all for the 2008 Brewers, capped by four shutout innings of relief against the Cubs in a huge game last Friday.

Want another? Try Salomon Torres. He contemplated retirement after the Brewers traded for him in the offseason. (He’s done it before.) At a rally on Monday, Torres stole the show—this is hardly the same man who came over from the Pirates less than a year ago.

The reinforcements

In mid-May, Russell Branyan was slugging about .700 in Nashville. He got the call, started platooning at third with Bill Hall and proceeded to slug .700 some more. He didn’t quite keep it up, but when the offense was flagging, he launched Roy Hobbsian shots that, if nothing else, reminded the rest of the offense how it was done.

Of course, Branyan’s revitalizing effect will soon be lost to history. He arrived in Milwaukee about six weeks before CC Sabathia did.

Sabathia doesn’t look anything like Jimmy Chitwood, but if you ran through the Brewers’ season in fast-forward, his first few starts would be a good place to start playing the Hoosiers soundtrack.

After three months of watching him pitch, I’m long out of superlatives. Fortunately, you can read this story without adjectives: 11-2, 1.65 ERA, 5:1 K/BB ratio, three shutouts including a one-hitter, and a complete game on the last day of the season to give the Brewers the wild card.

The story you couldn’t make up

Then there’s Yovani Gallardo. As much as anyone, he was the centerpiece of the 2008 Brewers team that Doug Melvin put together in the offseason. He impressed in his 2007 half-season in the bigs and looked poised to be a solid #2 starter behind Sheets, if not a bona fide ace in his own right.

Then he tore his ACL. Gallardo made four starts before going down with an injury that usually takes six months to rehab. More than a few Brewers fans waved goodbye to the season on May 1.

Homestretch: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Part 3
A tight race shows no signs of letting up.

But wait—Gallardo fast-tracked his rehab and made an abbreviated start last Thursday. He struck out seven and allowed only a solo homer in four innings. He looked nearly as good as he did before the injury, and now he’s the NLDS Game 1 starter.

A bunch of guys who play baseball really well

I don’t have a role for Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy (OK, he’s the cute one) or a host of important role players. But of course, it isn’t just about the drama. You don’t luck your way into 90 wins, though the Brewers might’ve lucked their way up from 87.

This was a good team before Sabathia, it’s a good team with no Sheets, and it has gotten by through cold streaks that affected entire chunks of the team at once.

I haven’t the foggiest idea of whether the Brewers will beat the Phillies in the first round. But if I were a screenwriter and I had Sabathia and Gallardo starting three out of five games, I know full well how the story would end.

Oh yeah, and we’ve got Bob Uecker.

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