Brewers could follow Giants model of pitching

October 30 [Tue], 2012, 15:40
Pablo Sandoval was named the most valuable player of the 2012 World Series, which was an easy and obvious choice.

The San Francisco Giants' third baseman, aka Kung Fu Panda, batted .500 in the four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers and in Game 1 became just the fourth player in Series history with a three-homer performance.

But, if ever there were a year in which an entire team deserved to hold up that MVP trophy, this was it.

"It's a team," Sandoval said upon receiving the award. "I say thank you to my team to give me the opportunity to be here. They fight 162 games, fight in the last two series, (to) win six elimination games is tough."

When the Giants captured the 2010 World Series with a modest offense but a superior pitching staff, some wondered if that model was sustainable. San Francisco did drop back in 2011, winning 86 games and finishing eight games behind Arizona in the NL West.

But the Giants were right back on top of their division this year, then won those six elimination games in the first two rounds before sweeping the stunned Tigers in the World Series. And while there were many contributors, the foundation of the club remained pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen.

The starters deserved much of the credit, never letting Detroit's offense get going early in games. But the bullpen was stingier. Six relief pitchers were used to cover 11 2/3 innings in the four games and only one allowed a run - the two-run homer hit by Jhonny Peralta in the ninth inning of Game 1 off George Kontos when the Giants were leading, 8-1.

You never would have known that the Giants were forced to play the season without all-star closer Brian Wilson, lost to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Another bearded one, Sergio Romo, stepped into that role and never missed a beat.

Look how much turmoil there was at the back end of Detroit's bullpen after closer Jose Valverde melted down in the playoffs and couldn't be trusted to pitch the ninth inning again. Manager Jim Leyland was forced to change the order of his relief corps and mix and match more.

With the pitching in place and Sandoval and NL MVP favorite Buster Posey anchoring the middle of the lineup, San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean was able to add vital pieces such as second baseman Marco Scutaro and rightfielder Hunter Pence. Those players helped solidify a defense that played as important a role as the pitching in dispatching the Tigers.

"That's our strength, pitching and defense," said manager Bruce Bochy. "Hitting sometimes comes and goes, but as long as you can stay in more games, the better chance you have of winning them, and that's how we play."

Because the Giants play in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and compete in a division with several spacious facilities, they can get by with a sparse offense as long as they have the pitching and defense. The Milwaukee Brewers, who play in more of an offensive venue in Miller Park as well as a division with the likes of the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, need more firepower in their lineup.

But the model of pitching and defense always has been a dependable one, which is why the Brewers are looking to make some astute moves with their staff this winter, particularly the bullpen. There is a chance that only closer John Axford and setup man Jim Henderson will return among those who saw significant time in relief roles.

The Brewers' bullpen ranked last in the majors in 2012 with a 4.66 earned run average, 29 blown saves and 33 losses, leaving much work to be done to even approximate the success of San Francisco's solid relief corps.

"We have to fix the bullpen," team principal owner Mark Attanasio said in an interview at the World Series.

The free-agent market opens for business Friday, with players allowed to sign with other clubs beginning at 11 p.m. Relievers on the free-agent market include Jeremy Affeldt, Jason Grilli, Brandon League, Mike Adams, Kyle Farnsworth, J.P. Howell, Jon Rauch, Matt Capps, Brian Fuentes, Chad Qualls and Valverde.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin also will be keeping an eye out for an experienced starting pitcher for an evolving rotation that could include rookies Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers as well as second-year pitcher Mike Fiers.

Zack Greinke, who spurned more than $100 million from the Brewers before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels, heads a free-agent class of starting pitchers that includes Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Jake Peavy and Dan Haren, if the Angels decline his $15.5 million option.

So, the Giants have thrown down the gauntlet for other teams in terms of building a World Series model. Even Bochy admitted it isn't easy to do.

"To be world champions in two out of the last thee years, it's amazing," he said. "Believe me, I know how difficult it is to get here."


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