Milwaukee’s Melvin still crying in his beer

The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers won 96 regular season games on their way to the National League Central Division title. They dispatched Arizona in their Division Series matchup three games to two before meeting the St. Louis Cardinals in the Championship Series.

During the regular season, the Brew Crew and Cardinals had split their series, each club winning five at home. In the Championship Series however, St. Louis eliminated Milwaukee in six games.

Apparently the bitter taste of defeat remains in the mouth of Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, reigning NL Executive of the Year.

In an article posted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Melvin claims the Cardinals had an unfair advantage in September. His belief is that an imbalance occurs because clubs from “large markets” can afford more September call ups from the minor leagues.

Melvin went on to say this:

“I still say that St. Louis doesn’t get in if it’s 30-on-30,” he said. “Tony La Russa was a master at manipulating all the players that he had. They had a kid, (Adron) Chambers. They won a couple of games pinch-running with him late. They got Arthur Rhodes late. They play a team like Houston late in the season. They say they’re rebuilding with minimum-salary guys. They’re not going to bring up guys to accumulate service time. That’s my biggest beef.”

Let’s take Melvin’s claims one by one.

“large markets” – The Cardinals play in the 20th largest market of the 30 MLB clubs. That may appear huge when you are in Milwaukee, ranked #26.

Let’s give Melvin the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant to say “payroll” instead of “markets.” In that case, it still doesn’t hold water as neither club was in the top third in player payroll in 2011, with St. Louis at 11th and Milwaukee 17th.

The two clubs that experienced colossal folds in September, Boston and Atlanta, are located in considerably larger markets than either Milwaukee and St. Louis. The Red Sox had the third-largest payroll in MLB last season with the Braves in between St. Louis and Milwaukee. Their substantial resources clearly did not help them down the stretch.

“30-on-30” – This may be the strangest charge of all. First, let’s check the facts.

The Brewers added seven players to their major league roster in September, while the Cardinals added eight.

The Cardinals promoted six minor leaguers for the final month. They are Brandon Dickson, Shane Robinson, Maikel Cleto, Tony Cruz, Tyler Greene and Chambers. Two other Major Leaguers were activated from the DL during September, Nick Punto and Eduardo Sanchez, for a maximum roster size of 33. That compares to Milwaukee at 32.

Most of the new Cardinals rode the pines, while the Brewers, with a huge division lead, proudly announced their callups would play. I did not check the Milwaukee group’s September at-bats and innings-pitched, as I don’t see it being particularly relevant to this discussion.

The contention is the benefit received by St. Louis. The veteran Punto had more final-month at-bats than the four kids combined. The youngsters hit a combined 6-for-20 (.300) while Punto went 8-for-26 (.308). The Cardinals’ three September call up pitchers were a complete non-factor, throwing just 6 2/3 innings in total with an aggregate ERA of 4.05.

Did the Brewers add one fewer player for financial reasons or because their farm system just isn’t as good? In all fairness, even after several highly-publicized trades of prospects for veterans (Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke), the Brewers certainly must have had additional Triple-A players had they needed them. If not, shame on them.

“Tony La Russa was a master at manipulating all the players that he had.” – OK, so does that mean his skipper Ron Roenicke was less adept at roster management of his 32 players than was La Russa with 33? Is Melvin suggesting the Cardinals should have stopped trying because their manager was too good at his job?

“They got Arthur Rhodes late.” – This is clearly a red herring. It seems a major stretch to tie the addition of a bit player signed on August 11 to September roster size. Rhodes played the role of the second left-handed reliever, a spot almost always occupied in La Russa’s bullpen, whether April or October.

Further, I would like to see anyone with a straight face assert that the 41-year-old with a 4.15 ERA was a 2011 difference-maker. If Melvin truly felt that way, he could have signed Rhodes himself for the mere pittance of a pro-rated share of the MLB minimum salary, less than $150,000. (Texas paid the majority of the 2011 salary of Rhodes, a player currently out of work.)

“(Houston is) not going to bring up guys to accumulate service time.” – Another very questionable claim.

Melvin implies the Cardinals unfairly benefited by playing the lowly and rebuilding Astros in September. The facts are that both clubs, St. Louis and Milwaukee, met Houston in only one final-month series.

The Cardinals won two of those September contests and Houston one. Of course, the last St. Louis victory is most memorable as it was in the final game of the regular season.

How about Milwaukee? They also played the Astros three times in September, earning a sweep. Despite the big division lead, individual games were still significant to the Brewers in the fight for home-field advantage. The Brewers took home field by just two games over Arizona. Didn’t they also benefit by playing Houston?

That one additional home game could have been the difference maker in their NLDS that went a full five games.

Despite Milwaukee earning the right to play more post-season games at Miller Park, they still lost to the Cardinals in the Championship Series. That brings us to a final point which Melvin did not make.

Rosters are of equal size in the playoffs. – The most relevant fact is that in the post-season, the best 25 players on the Cardinals and their manager defeated the best 25 players on the Brewers and their skipper. This cannot be disputed.

While Melvin admitted “I kill this thing to death…,” he is apparently so focused on his personal roster-size crusade that he presented a case that doesn’t hold water and makes him look like a sore loser.

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