For those of you not fluent in Japanese, the title basically says 'Welcome to the show Mr. Aoki'
I had absolutely no idea who Norichika Aoki was when I first heard the news that the Milwaukee Brewers had "won" the rights to negotiate with the Japanese star. I also couldnít help but imagine that this would happen in the clubhouse at some point this season -- at least I hope it has!
The Crew last winter signed Aoki to a two-year contract with a club option for 2014. Up to this point, at least, it appears to be a worthwhile investment.
Aoki has appeared in 87 games this season and ranks second on the team (trailing only 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun) with a .284 batting average. He's third if you count injured Jonathan Lucroy's .345. Heís also managed to steal 11 bases and hit five home runs, the first of which was an inside-the-parker on 4/20 against the Colorado Rockies.
In eight seasons in Japan Aoki was a career .329 hitter. He hasnít quite lived up to those numbers yet, but his production has been more than adequate -- good enough to essentially secure his spot in starting lineup, day in and day out.
Even outside of his numbers, it is fun to watch Mr. Aoki play baseball. And by "watch," I mean the description I get from either Uke, his first-year partner Joe Block, or the replays I see the following day. Maybe itís just how all players of his stature bat in Japan, but Aoki's stance looks an awful lot like that of the former Seattle Mariners', current New York Yankee Ichiro Suzuki. Many times it appears that he is two steps down the line when by the time the bat makes contact with the ball -- which obviously shortens up the time the defender has to make a play.
No one knows how long Norichika Aoki will wear a Brewers uniform, but for the next couple years it looks like he will be a dependable player. Ichiro joined the Mariners organization at the age of 27, whereas Aoki is enjoying his first MLB season at age 30. I donít think anyone expects Aoki to be the next Ichiro -- who banged out at least 200 hits in each of his first 10 MLB seasons and has more than 2,500 MLB career hits -- but it sure would be nice if Aoki can at least continue his current pace, if not improve, over the next couple seasons.
In other news ...
As any plausible chance of a playoff berth for the Crew slowly gasps its last breaths and the odds of a season-turning inspirational speech being almost nil, itís the time of the year where we as fans can begin to root for more individual performances and concern ourselves a little less with the standings. Sure, it would be great if Milwaukee could be more like New York or Boston or, worst case, like the "Yankees of the Midwest" and contend every season but, alas Ö we are not.
In 43 seasons in Milwaukee, the Crew has finished above .500 just 14 times, appearing in the playoffs in four of those seasons. This year looks like it may fall in line with the majority category. While, disappointing, itís not the end of the world or even the end of the season. Now the Brewers will start playing "spoiler" for playoff-contending teams. Baseball for Milwaukee fans will become embracing that spoiler role and rooting for more individual accomplishments == especially those of us who manage fantasy baseball teams with a chance to win it all.
Iím not ready to throw in the towel on the Crewís season, although the towel has been washed and dried and is sitting on my shoulders after K-Rod blew another save opportunity last night. As Iíve stated before, when it comes to the Brewers I am an optimist until it comes time to be a realist. The time for being a realist is rapidly approaching. I just hope that players like Nori Aoki and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun keep the games exciting and give us fans hope next year!