Brewers reflect fondly on magical 2011 season

Brewers reflect fondly on magical 2011 season

Brewers reflect fondly on magical 2011 season
MILWAUKEE -- The 2011 Brewers were as good a story as they were a team. They authored a tale of redemption, recovering from an 0-4 start, a seven-game losing streak and a spot in fifth place as late as May 13. And they painted a picture of diversity, from a business man left fielder who committed to Milwaukee for the long haul to a family man first baseman likely headed out the door; from a pitcher who quietly battles anxiety to a center fielder who happily touts his multiple personalities.

They had four African-Americans and a Cuban in the postseason starting lineup, and a bullpen comprised of players from Canada, Venezuela, Japan and U.S. states from Florida to Indiana to California.

In the end, the Brewers forced fans to ask of themselves a fundamental question: Do you see the glass half full or half empty? Will you remember the franchise-record 96 regular-season wins, the Brewers' first division crown in 29 years and the postseason series victory? Or will you remember the final two games of the National League Championship Series, two stinkers that saw the Brewers commit seven errors, get outscored, 19-7, and essentially hand a World Series ticket to the Cardinals?

"I'm not going to feel lousy about two or three games," general manager Doug Melvin said in the days that followed the Brewers' exit. "I'm going to feel disappointed, but not lousy. It was a special year for all of us and a lot of the players, too."

The Brewers shook off an early-season injury bug that claimed starter Zack Greinke (ribs), catcher Jonathan Lucroy (finger) and right fielder Corey Hart (rib-cage), and an early-season swoon to charge into first place in the NL Central on June 12 with a sweep of the Cardinals. In all, they would spend 100 days atop the division, including every day after July 27.

Ryan Braun's eighth-inning, three-run home run on Sept. 23 gave the Brewers a win over the Marlins that, with a Cardinals loss to the Cubs, sealed Milwaukee's first division title since 1982. That was also the last year the team won a postseason series before 2011.

"Your goal is to win your division," manager Ron Roenicke said. "You're playing 162 games to get into the playoffs, that's what your goal is. And we reached that goal. We reached another goal when we got past the first round.

"We didn't reach the ultimate goal, which is to get to the World Series. We fell two games shy of that. I'm happy with our season. I'm happy with a bunch of guys. I was certainly blessed to be able to manage not just a great team, but a great bunch of young men."

So Roenicke is clearly a glass-half-full kind of guy. Melvin is, too.

"I try to continue to tell myself what a great year we had," Melvin said. "We accomplished a lot as an organization [compared] to where we had been the last few years. It does feel pretty good from that perspective."

What follows is a look back at a memorable Brewers season:

Record: 96-66; first in NL Central.

Defining moment: So many to choose from, from Greinke's 10-strikeout performance on May 25 that announced the Brewers' transformation to a pitching team, to Braun's dramatic home run in the clincher. But the best moment came in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 5 of the NL Division Series, Nyjer Morgan's single up the middle that sent the Brewers to the NLCS. Morgan was both emblematic of Melvin's moves to better the ballclub and the free-spirited vibe inside the clubhouse. He was a fitting player to seal the franchise's first postseason series win since 1982.

What went right: Nearly every move Melvin made paid off, starting with bold trades for Shaun Marcum and Greinke in a two-week span of December. Free agent deals for reliever Takashi Saito and Mark Kotsay paid off in the second half, as did relatively low-cost trades for Morgan, Francisco Rodriguez and Jerry Hairston Jr. ... Melvin's best decision may have come way back in October 2010 when he hired Roenicke, whose player-friendly philosophy meshed perfectly with established players like Prince Fielder and Braun. ... Speaking of that duo, both enjoyed seasons worthy of NL MVP discussion. Fielder made a conscious decision in Spring Training to ignore his pending free agency, and he wound up matching his career high with a .299 batting average and finished second in the NL with 38 home runs. Braun finished second in the league with a .332 average, fourth with 111 RBIs and sixth with 33 homers. ... The Brewers set a franchise attendance record and rewarded those fans by going 57-24 at Miller Park in the regular season, by far the best home record in baseball, then went 4-2 at home in the postseason. The Brewers' 96 regular-season wins set a franchise record, and their 101 total wins, regular season and postseason, tied the 1982 club's mark. ... Braun and Rickie Weeks inked contract extensions, and along with Fielder, gave the Brewers three players elected to start the All-Star Game. ... Brewers leadoff hitters (mostly Weeks and Hart) led the NL with 122 runs scored, 32 home runs and an .852 OPS. ... The pitching stayed healthy, making the Brewers baseball's only team to employ just six starters. Five of them logged at least 10 wins, giving the Brewers five double-digit winners for the first time since '82.

What went wrong: Injuries marred Roenicke's first Spring Training at the helm, most notably the cracked rib that sidelined Greinke into May. He was hurt playing pickup basketball, not exactly the best way to begin a tenure with a new team. ... The five-hole hampered the Brewers all year, making Fielder's production hitting cleanup all the more impressive. Brewers five-hole hitters, mostly third baseman Casey McGehee, ranked 15th in the NL with a .627 OPS. McGehee's dropoff from 2010 led the Brewers to drop him from the starting lineup in the postseason. ... Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt's .270 on-base percentage was second-worst among NL players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Only Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez (.270) was on base less. ... Starting pitching, the Brewers' strength in the regular season, failed them in the postseason. Milwaukee's starters were 3-6 with a 6.99 ERA and a .310 opponents' average in October, by far the worst of any of the eight playoff teams. ... The most notable culprit was Marcum, who surrendered 16 runs on 17 hits in 9 2/3 innings while losing all three of his postseason starts. Roenicke was confident in his decision to stick with Marcum for Game 6 of the NLCS, a call sure to be debated by Brewers fans for years.

Biggest surprise: A tie between Morgan and right-hander Marco Estrada. Morgan was essentially dumped by the Nationals four days before the Brewers' season opener, and wound up hitting .304 as part of an effective center field platoon with Carlos Gomez. But Morgan may have been eclipsed by Estrada, who was not even in big league Spring Training camp but turned into a key swingman for the pitching staff, filling in capably for injured starters Greinke and Chris Narveson and also filling a role as a long man out of the bullpen.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.