The New Brew Crew
It was clear early this year that Toronto wasn't going to run away with the American League East as expected, not the way the Orioles were playing. Now the Blue Jays have another team to worry about. The Brewers have joined the hunt.
Through Sunday, Milwaukee had climbed to within 3� games of East-leading Toronto and was just half a game back of Baltimore. The Brewers have moved into contention with a scratch-and-claw offense that has stolen 51 more bases than any other American League team, a relatively unknown pitching staff that may be the best in the league, and a never-give-up attitude that is personified by rookie manager Phil (Scrap Iron) Garner.
"There's a quiet confidence here. We're loose and relaxed," Garner said after the Brewers beat the Tigers 5-1 last Saturday night. "We're resilient. Seven times this year we've lost the first game of a series and come back to win the series. We obviously believe in ourselves."
The Brewers' big test will take place this weekend when they play a four-game series against the Blue Jays at the SkyDome. Milwaukee will go into Toronto having won two of three from the Jays last week, including 10-5 and 16-3 routs. The Brewers have always played well against Toronto—they are 6-3 against the Blue Jays this year; lifetime, they've beaten Toronto more times (120) than any other team has.
Milwaukee outfielder Darryl Hamilton says, "We don't compare with Toronto on paper, yet we're still in the race. Now we're playing a little better than they are. They can intimidate a lot of teams. They've got some big hitters, some studs. We have no intimidators."
It's remarkable that the Brewers are in the race at all, considering that two of their best hitters, outfielders Greg Vaughn (27 homers, 98 RBIs last year; 16 homers, 54 RBIs through Sunday) and Robin Yount (77 RBIs in 1991; 50 so far in '92), have had off years. They have left the batting order in a shambles. The number 4 and 5 spots have combined for a .233 batting average, which is 45 points lower than the number 9 spot has hit. The number 5 hole has produced 41 RBIs, the same as the number 8 spot has. Yet the Brewers have made up for a lack of power with their relentless running—six players have at least 10 stolen bases, including rookie shortstop Pat Listach, who was tied with Cleveland's Kenny Lofton for the league lead, with 42. Garner will run anyone on the team, anytime. "Speed," he says, "is our only weapon."
Offensive weapon, that is. Through Sunday, Milwaukee starters had the second-best ERA (3.78) in the league. Leading the way has been Jaime Navarro, who was 14-8 despite some tough luck—his 1.25 ERA since the All-Star break was the lowest in baseball, but he was only 5-2 in that time. Navarro throws in the low 90's, but instead of going for strikeouts, he has been told to take something off his fastball, stay ahead in the count and let his defense help him get hitters out. Teammates Bill Wegman and Chris Bosio are using the same approach, and together with Navarro, they are 24-12 over the last three months. Rookie Cal Eldred, who was called up July 15, has a 1.56 ERA in six starts. In addition the Brewer bullpen had the league's third-best ERA (3.00) through Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays' pitching is collapsing. Never did it look worse than last Thursday in Milwaukee, when starter David Wells was left on the mound to absorb a club-record 13 runs in 4? innings. That blowout helped drop the Blue Jays to 10th in the league in ERA and left the team that was supposed to have the AL's best pitching staff looking for another starter. Says embattled manager Cito Gaston, "We can't go on like this."