MILWAUKEE — Any conversation about the greatest player in Milwaukee Brewers history is going to start with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.
No argument there.
But one can’t help but speculate if Prince Fielder would have that unqualified distinction had he played for more than seven years with the Brewers. Despite his relatively short tenure, he still ranks among the Brewers’ all-time leaders in the most significant offensive categories.
Fielder, who left the Brewers’ as a free agent at the age of 27 after the 2011 season, was back in town Saturday. The portly former first baseman donned a Brewers jersey again to throw out the first pitch for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.
With former teammate Ryan Braun standing behind the plate, Fielder lobbed a pitch amidst thunderous cheers from the home crowd. Just seven years ago, they were cheering Fielder during his swan song with the Brewers — their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 NLCS.
“It was a fun year, but, obviously, anytime the year ends before you want it to, it hurts a little hit,” said Fielder, whose career was cut short by a neck injury in 2016. “But I remember it was just a good year.
“It was my last year here. My family was here. Everybody was just having a good time. You had ‘T Plush’ (Nyjer Morgan) and it was just a good year.”
One of Fielder’s teammates at the time was current Brewers manager Craig Counsell. Did he see a future manager in Counsell at the time?
“Yeah, I definitely thought he would be here,” Fielder said. “He helped me a lot when I was playing with him. I’m sure he’s helping all those guys.
“His attitude is always, I think, good for these situations, especially in tense situations. He was always calm and I think he’s doing a great job.”
When was a time Counsell most helped Fielder?
“There was one time I was thinking about bunting and he told me if I bunt, he’ll punch me in the face,” Fielder said.
Third baseman Justin Turner wasn’t feeling too good about himself Friday night, after leaving the tying run stranded on third base Friday night in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 6-5 ioss to the Brewers.
But after going 0 for 5 in that game, he gave the Dodgers new life in the NLCS on Saturday, hitting a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Jeremy Jeffress.
“Yeah, I think it was well documented that it was probably the worst game of my career offensively,” the 33-year-old Turner said. “But I think you just shrug it off. We’ve got to go to sleep and show up and do it again today. Today was a new day and another chance to win a ballgame.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
“I was just trying to elevate, get something in the air,” Turner said. “I know (Max) Muncy is on deck behind me with only righties down there (in the Brewers’ bullpen) and he’s obviously done some incredible things this year. So the last thing I want to do is put a ball on the ground.”
Did you know?
- The Brewers and Dodgers have set a record for most combined pitching appearances though the first two games of a league championship series with a total of 27. The previous record was 23 by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS.
- The Dodgers were 7 for 13 from the seventh inning on Saturday after going 6 for 15 during the same stretch in Game 1. They were just 5 for 33 in the seventh inning or later during the postseason going into the NLCS.
Dealing an ace
If there is an ace on the Brewers’ bullpen-heavy pitching staff this season, it’s Jhoulys Chacin, who will start Game 3 when the series moves to Los Angeles Monday.
This is the same Chacin who entered the major leagues as an undrafted free agent in 2004 with the Colorado Rockies, was released by them in ‘15, dealt with shoulder miseries and brought a 59-67 career record with five teams to Milwaukee prior to this season
Brewers general manager David Stearns signed him to a bargain-basement two-year contract worth $15.5 mllion contract and Chacin has responded with his finest season (15-8, 3.50 ERA).
What’s been behind this evolution from journeyman to staff ace? Start with Chacin’s slider.
“Well, everything started off last year and the people in San Diego talking about my slider and doing more against lefties,” said Chacin, who was with the Padres in 2017. “After that, I started working on that — throwing my slider more to lefties and I got comfortable with it.
“And after that, I started changing location, go backdoor, go back foot ... and I started changing velocity, too. I mean, just change velocity, change arm angles. And I got good results last year. And when I got here, they just told me the same thing. My slider has been my big pitch.”
Chacin has been effective against the Dodgers, going 11-9 with a 4.41 ERA in his career. He has more victories against the Dodgers than any other team.
But he got pounded at Dodger Stadium Aug. 2, allowing nine hits and eight earned runs in 4⅓ innings. The Brewers lost 21-5 that day.
“I know this year, it wasn’t my best game there, but during the season, you got one or two bad games,” he said. “I had bad luck there this year and I know people might talk about that a lot. But I’m just going to go out, try to give my team a chance to win the game and just have fun.”
Woodruff’s big moment
Time will tell, of course, but Brandon Woodruff’s unlikely homer against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw Friday night just might be remembered more than any pitching career he ends up having.
For the record, it was the first postseason home run by a Brewers pitcher. And he was just the third relief pitcher in the postseason to homer, joining the Chicago Cubs’ Travis Wood in Game 2 of the 2016 NLDS and the New York Giants’ Rosy Ryan in Game 5 of the 1924 World Series.
And then there’s this: While Woodruff’s homer was the 22nd in postseason history by a pitcher, it marked the first time a left-handed hitter connected off a left-handed pitcher (Clayton Kershaw).
“It’s something obviously coming into the day you don’t know in your wildest dream is going to happen — to be able to get an at-bat against Kershaw and hit a home run,” Woodruff said.
Solving the pen
The success of the Brewers’ bullpen is the biggest reason why they’re in the enviable position they’re in these days. But Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor, who had hits against Josh Hader and Corey Knebel Friday night, has thoughts about how to crack the code.
“It’s just really trying not to do too much against them,” he said. “I think if you go up against big power arms like that and you try to meet power with power, it’s not going to work.
“You really have to shorten up and keep things simple and just kind of ... (Justin) Turner always talks about singling them to death. Just take what they give you and almost take like a two-strike swing and an aggressive mindset.”