Between 1982 and this year, the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans had to endure 25 years of baseball without a playoff game. With the Brewers making the postseason this past year, it is easy to call the 2008 season a success, as the team and their fans got a taste of what it was like to play and watch games in September and October that mattered.
Similar to last year, the team lost a commanding lead of a playoff berth late in the season, which prompted the team to let former manager Ned Yost go and appoint third base coach Dale Sveum as the interim skipper. C.C. Sabathia, a midseason acquisition who pitched lights out every time he took the mound, was asked to pitch on three days rest over the last few weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs to help carry the Brewers into the postseason.
And of course that is exactly what Sabathia did, but unfortunately as he approaches free agency it seems unlikely that his stay in Milwaukee will last any longer. Ben Sheets, the team's staff ace before Sabathia came to town, is also scheduled to be a free agent, and given his inability to stay healthy over the course of a full season, the organization does not seem motivated to keep him around.
Which of course means that General Manager Doug Melvin will once again have his work cut out for him this offseason, assuming he is still with the club. Owner Mark Attanasio has stated that he intends to extend Melvin's contract, but since that hasn't happened yet there are some that believe Melvin may be looking at other opportunities.
At this point in time, that is purely speculative, so we're not going to delve into that topic now. However, in addition to the needs on the pitching staff (a need that all teams face each and every year), the everyday lineup may need to be addressed given the lack of hitters that sniff a .300 batting average and/or a .380+ on-base percentage. The strikeouts are perceived by many to be a problem, but overall the team's inability to consistently get on base is the root of the problems on offense.
There will be plenty of time during the offseason to look ahead, as now it's time to hand out some postseason hardware. Before the season the Brewerfan.net staff took a stab at naming some preseason award winners while tackling five burning questions that would determine the outcome of the 2008 season. Please visit that story to review those predictions:
Now it is time to name the Brewerfan.net Award Winners for the 2008 season. The awards were determined by the collective decision of the Brewerfan.net staff.
Player of the Year: Ryan Braun
Coming off of a sensational and historical rookie of the year campaign, Braun continued to hit the ball extremely well while avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. He not only was the best player on his own team, but a legitimate MVP candidate in the entire National League. He handled the switch to left field extremely well, and went from committing 26 errors in 112 games at third base a year ago to playing flawlessly in the outfield in 149 contests.
Three staff members believed Braun indeed would avoid a sophomore slump (two others chose Prince Fielder, one picked Corey Hart, one took Rickie Weeks).
Pitcher of the Year: C.C. Sabathia
Similar to Ryan Braun winning the player of the year award, the staff unanimously chose Sabathia for the pitcher of the year honors. He not only dominated opposing teams and made his presence felt in the clubhouse, but he put the Brewers on the national sports media map in a way they hadn't been previously, and electrified the Brewers' fan base while unselfishly picking the team up and carrying them into the postseason.
Since Sabathia was a midseason acquisition, it would have taken a mighty powerful crystal ball for anyone to predict that he would have walked away with this award much less been acquired. Yovani Gallardo (three votes), Ben Sheets (two votes) and Carlos Villanueva (two votes) received the preseason votes from the staff.
Rookie of the Year: Manny Parra
This is the third of three awards for which the staff's choice was unanimous. But unlike Braun and Sabathia, Parra got the nod because he didn't have any other competition. That isn't to take away anything that he did during the 2008 season, as he was an integral member of the rotation despite inconsistent performances. He cemented his position with the team and will be counted on to shoulder a big load in 2009 as the team will look for him to improve both his consistency and his command.
Most of the staff predicted this award at the beginning of the season, noting even then that he would win it both by merit and by default.
Jack Voigt Memorial Award (Unsung Hero): Gabe Kapler
Carlos Villanueva won this award a year ago, so we removed him from the running right away since bigger things were actually expected of him this year. This award is open to the most discussion, since each member of the Brewerfan.net staff picked a different player and offered a different opinion as to what makes an unsung hero. The nod goes to Gabe Kapler, who wasn't exactly unsung, but certainly stepped up big this season with key hits and big defensive plays while providing excellent depth, all of this less than a year removed from coaching in the minor leagues.
Impact Callup: Mitch Stetter
There weren't too many candidates for this award, so similar to Parra winning the rookie of the year award, Stetter gets the impact callup award somewhat by default. In 30 games he recorded a 3.20 ERA, striking out 31 batters over 25 innings of work, shutting down both left-handed and right-handed batters. He proved he has the talent to stay at the big-league level moving forward in a specialized role, putting an exclamation mark on his work this year by shutting down feared lefty slugger Ryan Howard in the playoffs more than once.
No staff member chose Stetter last spring. Luis Pena, who regressed at AAA Nashville this year, was a popular pick, with three choosing him to step up and toss some key innings at the big-league level. One staff member did astutely choose Russell Branyan, who may have received this award had he not suffered an injury.
Minor League Impact Player: Mat Gamel
I'll let the comments from the preseason story do the talking: "All Gamel has done is put up big offensive numbers since joining the organization, and put an exclamation mark on his professional career so far by being named the MVP of the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league. That production will continue, and improve, this year at AA Huntsville."
Improve he did, with an overall line of .329/.395/.537 with 35 doubles, seven triples, 19 home runs and 96 RBI. He led the Southern League in RBI and total bases (273), and finished among the league leaders in every offensive category outside of stolen bases, which earned him a late season callup to both AAA Nashville and Milwaukee when the rosters expanded.
Three members of the Brewerfan.net staff picked Matt LaPorta, who very well may have taken home this award had he not been traded as the major cog in the Sabathia deal. One took Alcides Escobar, who split the player of the year honors from the Milwaukee Brewers official minor league awards with Gamel, and one pegged Jeremy Jeffress, who was the Brewers official minor league pitcher of the year.
Minor League Breakout Player: Omar Aguilar
Similar to unsung hero award as listed above, the minor league breakout player award is one of the more difficult ones to hand out, since each staff member has a varying opinion as to who truly broke out. This award is in response to the preseason sleeper award nomination, although no one at that point in time accurately picked Omar Aguilar, and no one that was selected played up to the expectations we the staff placed on them.
Aguilar pitched extremely well over two levels, speeding up his expected arrival in Milwaukee by saving 17 games and posting a 1.98 ERA. Batters hit only .177 off of him this year, and he could be aggressively placed at AAA Nashville to open the 2009 season, if he's not a darkhorse to make the big-league team out of spring training. He is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, which is often considered one of the final tune-ups before a player makes the final ascent.
Five burning questions, a review:
Question #1: Do you feel satisfied with the moves Doug Melvin made this offseason, and in particular, did he do enough to improve both the bullpen and the team defense?
Despite having a knack and reputation for blowing a game at the worst possible time, the bullpen overall was much improved, finishing near league average. The defense moved up from being one of the worst in baseball in 2007 to being in the middle of the pack.
Many of the preseason concerns focused on Braun moving to the outfield and Kendall throwing out baserunners. Braun of course didn't commit a single error on the year and no backstop was better at throwing out baserunners. Toby Harrmann summed up how the offseason additions/changes would improve the team the best with this statement: "The team defense was improved dramatically the moment the decision was made to sign Mike Cameron and move Ryan Braun off of third base. Jason Kendall also improves the defense behind the plate."
Regarding the bullpen, similar to the team defense, the organization really had nowhere to go but up from 2007 to this past year. Although we should have listened to our resident Massachusetts Brewers fan (Jim Goulart), who warned us with an answer to question #3: "Remember, I live in Red Sox country. I saw the "Gag-Me" era first-hand. It was even worse than you've read. If Eric fails early and often, he's $10 million of dead money, because he's not helping you in a lesser role."
Fortunately the acquisitions of Guillermo Mota and Salomon Torres were solid and helped stabilize the bullpen despite Gagne's struggles, while Carlos Villanueva, Brian Shouse and David Riske all had their moments. Torres' late season struggles as the team's closer increases the concern for this role moving forward.
Question #2: Will Ned Yost be with the Brewers by the end of the year and beyond?
One staff member (Laura Hawing) had this to say in the preseason: "Yes, unless the Brewers underachieve to a stunning degree."
While it is still fortunate that the Brewers made the playoffs (and in the opinion of many Brewers fans, doing so without Ned Yost), it was unfortunate that the Brewers did underachieve to a stunning, if not frightening degree while having Yost leave town unfairly pegged as the scapegoat for the team's collapse. Yost's firing shocked everyone, a bold move often attributed to owner Mark Attanasio and not General Manager Doug Melvin. Most felt the team was married to Yost for better or for worse, and now many are thankful that wasn't the case.
Question #3: Who needs to step up the most for the Brewers to enjoy success in 2008?
"It's probably cliche by this point, but it's gotta be Ben Sheets." Ethan Riepl pointed out in the preseason story. "After getting a taste of his full potential in 2004, everyone has been waiting patiently to see such sustained success from him again. Of all the other starters on the roster, the pitchers with the most upside have the least experience and those with the most experience are somewhat middling in terms of ability. Sheets is the lynchpin and his performance will likely be the difference between a great and mediocre rotation."
While injuries caused him to miss the playoffs and a good chunk of the month of September, he pitched extremely well in the five months leading up to the stretch drive, finishing fifth in the league in ERA (3.09) and seventh in WHIP (1.15). However it should be pointed out that Sheets still fell short of reaching 200 innings pitched on the season, a number he hasn't attained since the 2004 season that stands to go down as his best ever, at least with the Brewers.
Rickie Weeks was an equally unanimous pick amongst the hitters, and he remains one of the team's biggest question marks moving forward after having another frustrating season despite teasing us with an appealing on-base percentage (.342) relative to his batting average (.234).
Question #4: What area on the team as it stands right now gives you the most concern?
After watching the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers finish with the fourth best ERA in all of baseball (3.85) I think it's safe to say they collectively exceeded everyone's expectations, especially after most of the Brewerfan.net staff pegged the Brewers pitching staff as the team's biggest concern heading into the season.
And the team defense, which was the second most glaring concern, improved to finish in the middle of the pack, meaning it was the offense, which was supposed to be the strength of the 2008 Brewers, that was the biggest weakness and overall disappointment.
Much has been written about how for the most part the team underachieved. Only J.J. Hardy had a season that was greater than expectations, as the offense struggled to reach base consistently. Due to the youth and overall potential of the players that made up the 2008 starting lineup, that could change drastically next year, but it will be difficult for the Brewers front office to find solace in that and simply move forward without making significant changes.
Question #5: Which teams from the National League will make the playoffs, and how will the NL Central stack up when the 2008 season is in the books?
Brad Jiles deserves kudos for accurately predicting all but one of the National League playoff teams, and even then I don't think anyone can fault him for taking the Diamondbacks ahead of the Dodgers in an extremely weak and fluid division.
The staff was in complete agreement entering the season that the Brewers would indeed make the postseason, so thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers for not making us eat our words.
Annual bonus question: Who will be number one on the Power 50 at the end of the season?
Four staff members selected Matt LaPorta to hold this honor, which he might have held had he not been traded away. Two others picked Alcides Escobar, who was labeled as Brewers prospect number 1B after Mat Gamel as part of the most recent Power 50 update.
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