Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball ‘Weekly’ Hit Ground Ball 2008 – Week Twenty Five

‘Weekly’ Hit Ground Ball 2008 – Week Twenty Five

by Matt Smith

Yost is toast

With only two weeks of the season left to go, the Brewers shockingly sacked manager Ned Yost last Monday. While a poor September had caused a growing number of Milwaukee fans to question Yost’s decision-making skills, few expected him to be fired at this late stage. Teams that are tied for the wildcard midway through September just don’t make such major changes. Until now, that is. 

It was an unprecedented move, but these are unprecedented times for the Milwaukee Brewers. Deep-seated frustrations have combined with a never-ending barrage of blunders and beatings to leave the organization dazed and confused. Why sack Yost at this particular moment? ‘Why not?’, seems to be the answer. If some of the criticisms of the manager were not so valid we would be able to see this as a case of insanity brought about by desperation. As it is, we can more fairly describe the move as one made by a group of people who are thoroughly fed up with finishing nowhere.

The Brewers haven’t made the play-offs since 1982. That’s eighteen long years of watching October baseball from the outside, a current drought longer than any other team in the Majors (the Rays are the only other team not to have played in the postseason during that period, but of course they did not exist until 1998 and they ended that streak last night). Embarrassment turns to anger turns to sadness.

This year’s story of early promise followed by bitter disappointment is all too familiar for the Brewers. They spent 121 days in first place in the NL Central during the 2007 season, but didn’t occupy the top spot when it mattered most. August proved to be Milwaukee’s undoing last year, as they struggled to a 9-18 record over the month to let the Cubs back into the contest. Although they regained their composure and made a fight of it down the stretch, you sensed that the Brewers were always on the back foot after seeing their strong position slip away.

That experience, and the constant reminder of ‘seventeen years and counting’ pounding in their heads, compelled the Brewers’ owners to act at the halfway stage of this season. They decided to do everything in their power to put this run of despair to an end. And what more could they have done than completing the blockbuster trade for CC Sabathia on 7 July?

The owners agreed to give up a top prospect in Matt LaPorta to make it happen. They were prepared to find an extra $5 million to pay what remained on Sabathia’s contract, taking the team’s payroll to an “all-time high of $90 million” in the process. It was a clear statement of intent: this is the year we make the play-offs and give the Milwaukee fans something to celebrate.

Sabathia has been outstanding, but the Brewers have still found a way to fall apart. No wonder they lashed out by kicking Yost to the curb.

Milwaukee held a four-game lead over the Phillies and the Astros in the NL Wild Card race prior to a four-game series against Philadelphia last weekend. The Phills promptly erased that deficit completely by sweeping the series; the double-header on Sunday putting an exclamation mark on proceedings. While the Brewers were feeling sorry for themselves, the Cubs were mocking them. Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter against the Astros and did so in Milwaukee’s own stadium, the series having been moved to a neutral venue due to Hurricane Ike.

Enough was enough. Ned Yost received his marching orders and Dale Sveum took over as the last roll of the dice. A three-game series in Chicago gave the Brewers a great opportunity to draw a line under their recent run of misfortune and to begin their charge to the finishing line.

Game one: CC Sabathia was handed his first loss in a Brewers uniform.

Game two: the Brewers won, but they also lost. Ben Sheets lasted just twenty-four pitches before leaving the game injured with a ‘cutting’ sensation in his elbow. He then revealed that he had been struggling with pain in his pitching arm for a couple of weeks and it looks doubtful he will make his final two scheduled starts.

Game three: the Brewers blew a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth and lost 7-6 in extra innings. Most depressingly, Milwaukee committed suicide in the top of the ninth, running their way into two needless outs and failing to add a few more (as it turned out, much needed) insurance runs onto the scoreboard.

Their season just went from bad to worse.

This should have been the Brewers’ year to make the play-offs and, for all of the recent turmoil, they still have an outside chance. With Sabathia and Sheets hitting free agency in November, Milwaukee fans will be praying that they make the most of the opportunity. Eighteen years is a long time to wait for a post-season appearance and they could be waiting even longer.

Week 25 wrap-up

Two more teams officially qualified for the play-offs last night, leaving five spots to be decided over the final week of the regular season.

In the AL, the Rays (92-61) have guaranteed themselves at least the wildcard and, with a 2.5 game lead over the Red Sox in the East, they will be looking to get there by winning the division. The Red Sox (90-64) have a 6.5 game lead over the late-surging Yankees in the wildcard race and look certain to mount a strong defence of their World Series crown. With the Angels (95-59) having won the West over two weeks ago, the only true battle in the final week comes from the Central division, where the White Sox (85-69) have a 2.5 game lead over the Twins.

In the NL, the Cubs (93-60) won their second straight Central division pennant last night and in the end it has been a cakewalk for them: they lead the Brewers by ten games. The Dodgers (81-74) have a 3.5 game lead over the D-Backs in the West, which is a strong, if not insurmountable, position to be in. Arizona will need an L.A. collapse to make the postseason as they have officially been eliminated from the wildcard race. So that leaves two positions for (probably) three teams: the Phillies, Mets and Brewers. The Phillies (87-68) have a half-game lead over the Mets (86-68) in the East, while the Mets hold a 2.5 game advantage over Milwaukee (84-71) in the wildcard standings.

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