Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Season in the Books

All photos of Brewers final home game and Ducktoberfest available on Flickr.

I can't believe the regular season is over already! Definitely a lot of ups and downs for our teams this year. The Brewers finished the year very strong - split with the world-champ Phigtin Phils in the final homestand, played the red-hot Rockies very well, swept the 1st-place Cards on the road - but still finished at 80-82, 10 games below last season's playoff year. A pretty good season all things considered though. It just goes to show you how much every inning, every pitch, every hitter means. 10 wins is like 1.5 extra wins a month, and that gets the Crew into the playoffs. One less one blown save, one more quality start, a couple more hits here and there. If Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan don't get injured, there's 7-8 wins right there. It also goes to show you that the two key factors for any team making the post season is a solid rotation with a legitimate ace, and being relatively injury-free, neither of which the Brewers had this year. On a high note, the middle of the lineup enjoyed a breakout season. Ryan Braun became the first Brewer to lead the league in hits (203) in 18 years, and became the 4th fastest player to 100 homers. Prince Fielder set club records in walks and RBI, became the first Brewer to lead the league in RBI (141) since Cecil Cooper, and became the youngest player ever to have two 45+ homerun seasons. Casey McGehee finished the year at .301 and in the top 3 in almost every rookie offensive category, all while riding the pine well into May.

The Reds improved by 4 games over their 2008 campaign, and a lot of questions will loom in the offseason. Who will play the outfield? Dusty Baker seems to favor guys like Wladamier Balentien, Wily Taveras, and Chris Dickerson, even though Drew Stubbs, Johnny Gomes, and Jay Bruce all made significant contributions at a young age. Can Joey Votto and Scott Rolen remain healthy? Bronson Arroyo led the team in wins, but is it worth it to keep him for this high salary? The Reds might want to think of dumping him and Harang on a pitching-hungry team (like the Brewers) and rebuilding for a couple years. Both Arroyo and Harang had a lot of bad starts to go with their good ones. Can Cueto and Bailey continue to progress, or will Dusty run them into the ground like he did Volquez, who had Tommy John surgery a couple months ago? Who will catch for the Reds? A bright spot for the Reds this year, besides Votto and Rolen, was the bullpen, and look for this to be a strength going into next year, due in large part to Dusty's general disregard for pitch counts.

Minnesota is still in it, and are playing in a Game 163 elimination game for the 2nd consecutive year. I don't know how they did it down 7 games in September without no Justin Morneau, and with that rotation, but they did. I've said it before - Ron Gardenhire should win the Manager of the Year every year in the AL. The Twins always field a competitive team no matter who they lose to free agency/trades or what the attendance is, with a lot of credit going to the front office for drafting and retaining young, cheap pitching.

The Twins may be hanging on for another day, but the Mallards have been hanging onto the '09 season for dear life after finishing 38-29. Since the last day of the season in mid-August, Warner Park has hosted two alumni baseball events, roller derby, and this past weekend was the 1st annual Ducktoberfest. As I noted in a previous post, the Mallards finished with the #1 overall attendance in all of college summer league ball, and decided to reward their awesome fans with a little party at The Duck Pond on Saturday. Ducktoberfest is Wisconsin's and the Mallard's version of Oktoberfest, and in general just another excuse to visit the ballpark. It was decent for the first go-round but needs to be better organized. It wasn't nearly as good as Milwaukee's Germanfest, but it never really claimed to be - clearly with all the free tickets and prizes, this 6-hour event was just a way to get people to spend money on beer, and to give away trailers' worth of 2009 merchandise in the process. The best part of the day was drinking a cup of hot spiced apple cider while watching the Stoddard's Brat Eating Contest. I've included pictures at the Flickr link up at the top.

Back to the major leagues, here's my take on the '09 playoff matchups and how I think things will shake out:

Colorado (WC) v. Philadehlphia - Phillies in 5
Key Storyline: Phillies closer issues. Brad Lidge's inability to save games this year makes the series go the full five, but they'll squeak by with their power and strong rotation. The Rockies have been riding the Momentum Train since early June, which makes this my hardest pick of the four series.

St. Louis v. Los Angeles (NL) - Cardinals in 5
Key Storyline: Battle of managers. This series will be a long game of chess between Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, both with decades of playoff experience. Torre once had the deepest rotation in baseball, but is now struggling to find a reliable 3 guys for the 1st round. The Cards wimpered into the playoffs, but matching up against Carpenter, Wainwright, and Piniero still won't be easy. I think that the Pujols-Holliday combo will be a wash with Ramirez-Ethier and it will come down to late-game hitting with RISP.

Boston (WC) v. Los Angeles (AL) - Angels in 5
Key Storyline: Can Angels win at Fenway? These two teams have matched up the last two seasons, with the Angels clearly being the better team each time and losing to Boston because of their inability to play well at Fenway. I want to give the nod to Boston because of the history, but again, I think Anaheim is the more complete team, and will go with the "they're due" hunch.

Detroit/Minnesota v. New York (AL) - Yankees in 4/3
Key Storyline: A-Rod & Joba. I think that the Yankees can get out of the 1st round even if A-Rod hits poorly and if Joba doesn't pitch, because this year the Yankees have lineup and bullpen protection. However, these two will definitely have to assert their roles and step up in Round 2 if the Yankees expect to win another pennant. I think the Tigers would win either Verlander's or Jackson's start, and the Twins - who are 3-23 against the Yanks under Gardenhire and 0-7 this season - would get swept.

World Series - Cardinals over Angels in 6
I originally picked the Phillies and Athletics to go to the World Series in April. The Phillies could very much still repeat if they can get Lidge straight, but having seen a lot of Cards games this year, I see them as the team of the 8 with the fewest holes, if any. In defense of my A's pick - they were much improved this year, have a great young starting staff all under 25, and were one of the best teams in the AL after the break. I also called the Rangers being good this year with the addition of Mike Maddux and Elvis Andrus, FYI. If Hamilton isn't injured all year they win the West.

Early 2010 Predictions:
Every year there is a "feel good story" that celebrates the parody of baseball - the '03 Marlins, the '06 Tigers, the '07 Rockies, and the '08 Rays just to name a few. Next year, look for the AL West to be an exciting race for once. Inevitably by September or earlier, one team always ends up running away with the division, and for most of this decade that team has been the Angels. Look for all four teams to play down to the wire next year. I love Kenny Williams, but I think that the Rios-Peavy signings will bust and the White Sox will continue having medicore seasons until Ozzie is replaced, he's just not lighting the fire anymore. In the NL I think the Nationals will not contend but will be much improved. They have great nucleus of young players that can really hit the ball, and they have two stud pitchers from the 2009 draft that will pitch in September. Don't forget about the Mets either, they will rebound in a big way next season. I want to say every year that the Royals and Pirates will run off 90 wins and make the playoffs, but unfortunately I still think they're a few years out from that because of upper (mis)management. The Brewers, Marlins, Giants, and Rays are all one big move away from contending next year, and I think if the Cubs can get Mark DeRosa back that they will contend again as well.

Brewers 80-82, -11.0
Reds 78-84, -13.0
Twins 86-76, -- (one-game playoff v. Tigers - Tue.)

Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 61

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