It’s a wrap: Brewers go flat in ’09
Fielder hit a career-high .299 and played in all 162 games for the first time in five seasons. The 25-year-old slugger hit 46 homers and drove in 141, tying him for the best mark in the majors with the Phillies’ Ryan Howard.
Ryan Braun added 203 hits to bat .320 with 32 homers and 114 RBIs.
And yet, the Brewers finished 80-82 and were not a late challenger for the NL Central title.
“It’s great on a personal level, but it’s about winning, and hopefully I can do well next year and we’ll be winning,” Fielder said. “Hopefully next year we can have a better season.”
Milwaukee held a two-game lead in the NL Central in July before the pitching problems caught up with a team that needed CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets down the stretch in 2008 to make the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
Both Sabathia and Sheets left via free agency and while general manager Doug Melvin signed Braden Looper, the staff struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness.
Looper finished 14-7 with a 5.22 ERA, Yovani Gallardo was 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA, Manny Parra went 11-11 with a 6.36 ERA and Dave Bush was 5-9 with a 6.38 ERA. Jeff Suppan, in the third year of a four-year, $42 million contract, had a 7-12 record and a 5.29 ERA.
Looper has a mutual option for 2010, while the other pitchers are under team control. All will have to improve if the Brewers want to challenge in the division next season.
“It would be nice to have a guy who’d give you eight innings and a complete game every now and then,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said.
Macha will return next season, too, and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman agreed Monday to a one-year, $8 million contract as Melvin worked fast to take care of two of his team’s most pressing issues. Fielder and others say having Macha return is important.
“I think it’s good,” Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee said. “You don’t have to worry about getting to know a new personality. I think we all know what to expect from one another at this point and now moving forward we’re going to be better in the long run.”
McGehee also thrust himself into Milwaukee’s future plans.
The 26-year-old rookie hit .301 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs in 116 games despite dealing with a nagging right knee injury. He’ll undergo surgery Tuesday and should be ready for spring training.
Melvin still has a long offseason checklist.
He needs to find another starting pitcher or two in an already thin free agent market and decide what to do with former All-Star shortstop J.J. Hardy after top prospect Alcides Escobar hit .304 in 38 games.
“Doug’s looked ahead. He knows what’s out there. He’s got a good idea what he wants to do to assemble the team,” Macha said.
One thing that the Brewers can only hope returns is the fan support. The franchise drew 3 million fans for the second consecutive season after failing to ever reach that mark, but the economy may keep the club from repeating the feat next year, especially if the Brewers stumble again.
Macha understands the fans’ frustration.
“The expectations were off the charts and I have the same expectations as the fans do,” Macha said. “So, not getting where wanted to go, that’s probably a disappointment.”
Fielder said even though the season was sour, he’ll fill his offseason with taking his two children to school, get a little bit of time on the couch and come back next year planning to play meaningful games in October.
“We’ll see what happens. You can never go into this game being negative or you’ll have a negative year,” Fielder said. “We’ll just try and be positive and see what happens next year.”