I admit it, today's game was a bit of a downer. I wasn't able to watch past the third inning today, but a five-word text message--"7-0 d'backs. Fernandez got smoked."--told me all I need to know. So we head to St. Louis and the new Busch Stadium with a little less momemtum. It's important, though, that we don't lose sight of one thing.
This was one hell of an opening week.
Five of the six starting pitching performances were quality starts. (The one exception was Doug Davis on Saturday, and we won that one.) All eight of our bullpen guys have appeared in games, and six of them have yet to give up a run. With only a couple of exceptions, offense has come from everywhere in the lineup, with hefty contributions from the bench. Even the defense was solid, if not spectacular.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you in the back row: the Pirates and the Diamondbacks aren't exactly the Cardinals and the Mets. This week, we'll find out how we do against the big boys. But even against the less-powerful teams, the Brewers did what they needed to do. Oliver Perez and Zach Duke are hardly walkovers, no matter who they play for. We broke through against quality, veteran relievers such as Roberto Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino.
Most of all, what this team has shown me this week is that they simply don't quit. I know, it's a cliche, and I hate baseball cliches as much as you do. But for as long as I've been a Brewers fan, even last year, my enthusiasm flagged by August, because you just knew the Crew was often overmatched. And despite the energy of guys like Brady Clark, it was sometimes clear that they knew it, too. This year's Milwaukee team fears no one. The Cards may be a better team on paper, but they'd better bring their A game or they're not going to win their first series in the new stadium.
What's key to a team that doesn't quit is the consistency within the lineup. I'm not talking now about building some optimal batting lineup in which the #2 guy has a certain OBP. It's just a new experience to watch a lineup where nobody except for the pitcher is an easy out. On Friday, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and Damian Miller batted 6th, 7th and 8th. On April 7th, 2004, those spots were occupied by Wes Helms, Ben Grieve, and Gary Bennett. Especially when most of our guys are being patient, this is a lineup that can just wear down a pitcher. It doesn't work when Brady hacks at the first or second pitch, and it loses a bit when Geoff Jenkins K's on three pitches. But as we've seen in the five wins so far this year, the attack can come from anywhere: J.J. Hardy one day, Corey Koskie the next, Gabe Gross the next.
And, oh yeah, Carlos Lee. I've mentioned a couple of times this week that he looks like a guy playing for a contract. That phrase is sometimes used derisively, as if money shouldn't be the prime motivator. Regardless of what's making Caballo look like an MVP waiting to happen, I'll take it. Right now, his OBP is a mere .520 and--I wish I could quantify this, but I fear it will always elude analysis--he looks scarier at the plate than ever before. He may not put up Pujols-ian numbers, but he stands in there like he fully intends to.
Five and one. Doesn't sound nearly as nice as "six straight," but it's still the best record in the National League, and we've accomplished it without Ben Sheets, and with next to nothing so far from the leadoff spot. If this team can merely go 3 and 3 next week--4 and 2 would be gravy--we'll turn even more heads, proving we can hang with the big (expensive) boys. I have no doubt we'll do just that right into October.
Tags: National League, New York Mets, Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oliver Perez, Pittsburgh Pirates, Luis Vizcaino, Milwaukee Brewers, Roberto Hernandez, Gary Bennett, Busch Stadium, Ben Grieve, St. Louis Cardinals, Wes Helms