Brewers, Rays good stories but a good Series? - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Brewers, Rays good stories but a good Series?

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Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 8:45 pm | Updated: 10:07 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Around this time of year, the job of a general manager in Milwaukee is usually to explain how promising the young talent brought up for the final month of the season is and to remind fans they can still get great bratwurst at the ballpark.

So it's a little hard to criticize Doug Melvin for pushing hard for CC Sabathia to get the first retroactive no-hitter in major league history, even if he's making the argument just to let his hired hand know he's loved in Milwaukee. Like his predecessors, Melvin simply doesn't have any experience talking about anything remotely positive this late in the season.

Whether toiling in the AL East, AL Central or NL Central, the mantra espoused every year over the last quarter century has always been the same for the Brewers — just wait until next year when the players will be better and the brats just as good.

Next year is now officially here, and Melvin has other things to talk about, though the Sabathia no-hitter that wasn't was merely a bonus. He lost that appeal Wednesday, but so far he's been more successful as the architect of the current team and the guy who risked four prospects in June to trade for Sabathia in a gamble that the future indeed was now.

"I'd say we're going for it," Melvin said then. "That's the way I look at it."

Before anointing Melvin as executive of the year, remember that this was the same GM who gave Eric Gagne $10 million of the team's money just a few days before the reliever was featured in the Mitchell Report on drugs and baseball. That hasn't worked out nearly as well as the trade for Sabathia, who has rewarded his new team with nine straight wins and a 1.43 ERA in the midst of a race for a playoff slot that seems assured now barring a total collapse.

So allow him one mistake a year. His fellow GMs have made worse, not the least of which was Ned Colletti's decision to reward Andruw Jones for his fine play in Atlanta by giving him $36.2 million over two years to bat .161 with three home runs for the Dodgers.

Melvin, by contrast, locked up Ryan Braun for the next eight years with a $45 million deal that is astonishingly cheap for a player most GMs would pick first to build a team around. And any fans in Milwaukee old enough to remember Harvey's Wallbangers certainly aren't going to second-guess trying to win now.

Baseball still matters in Milwaukee, despite the long seasons of ineptitude strung out one after another since the Brewers won the American League pennant in 1982. It matters even more this year, when a group of young sluggers led by Braun and Prince Fielder and a pitching staff fronted by Sabathia and Ben Sheets hope to avoid the late slump that did in last year's promising team.

It doesn't seem to matter as much in Florida, where an exorcism of the Devil in Devil Rays helped put Tampa Bay in first place and make it even more of a surprising playoff team than the Brewers. Only 21,629 showed up Tuesday night for a big game with the Yankees, and many were New York fans.

You can't blame Floridians for not embracing a playoff race. None has ever seen one at Tropicana Field, where the Rays have surprised just about everyone by not only getting in front of the Red Sox and Yankees but staying there.

For 10 miserable years they were the Devil Rays and the only thing worth betting on was whether they would hit the magical 100-loss mark each season. Now they're the Rays, a team with more balance than stars and a pitching staff that features five starters with 10 or more wins.

The Steinbrenners could have bought the whole franchise for what the Yankees are spending on payroll this year alone. Instead, they are facing the increasingly real possibility that in its last year of existence Yankee Stadium won't host a playoff game for the first time since the 1994 strike.

A postseason without the Yankees is about as hard to imagine as the Brewers running out of beer at Miller Park. But this is one playoff season that may not play out so well.

Yes, the Red Sox will undoubtedly find their way in, but without Manny Ramirez they're far less interesting and if Josh Beckett isn't 100 percent they're not going far. The Los Angeles Angels do nothing exciting but win, while the team that finally escapes from the NL Worst may come in having lost more games than it won.

Meanwhile, for all the talk in Chicago about a Cubs-White Sox World Series, no one seems to have noticed that the Minnesota Twins are playing the best ball in the AL Central and have the pitching to keep the White Sox on the outside looking in.

That leaves us with the story of overachieving underdogs with the Rays and Brewers. But as much as anyone likes underdog stories do they like them enough to watch Tampa Bay play Milwaukee in the World Series?

True, both play in ballparks with roofs so the usual threat of ugly weather won't intrude.

It's enough to send chills through the people at Fox.

By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Columnist

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