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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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After their improbable come-from-behind win, coupled with Boston's heartbreaking loss, the Tampa Bay Rays celebrated winning the American League Wild Card.
After their improbable come-from-behind win, coupled with Boston's heartbreaking loss, the Tampa Bay Rays celebrated winning the American League Wild Card.

A fitting end to an incredible baseball season

You can't say baseball doesn't know how to go out with a bang.

Oh, I know there are of course still the playoffs, and for once Milwaukee will be riveted to how the Brewers fare in October. But Wednesday night, with so much still to be decided, the American game that has survived five wars and 24 presidents made the entire sports universe stand up and say "Wow!"

Of course we were all watching and waiting for the Brewers to secure home field advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs in their final game against the Pirates. The Brewers were also looking at setting a franchise mark for wins in a season, and hoping to extend their record for home victories as well.

After the Brewers got off to a third inning 2-0 lead on home runs by Jonathan Lucroy and Corey Hart, you had a sense that they might be able to celebrate a little bit earlier than some of the nail-biters that September has sometimes foisted upon us.

After Carlos Gomez' three-run shot in the fourth, I felt comfortable enough to check out the other games that were going on. I'm glad I did. Because what I witnessed along with millions of others around the country was nothing short of incredible, and even reeled in casual baseball fans that had turned the page to football more than a month ago.

In Atlanta, the Braves were in the midst of an implosion for the ages. Having won just 9 games in September while surging St. Louis had already gone 20-8 in the last month of the season, Atlanta needed to hold their slim 3-1 seventh inning lead on Philadelphia. A win and a Cardinals loss would wipe the slate clean and the Braves could forget their September swoon altogether. If both teams won, at least Atlanta would be able to salvage their disappointment with a 1-game tiebreaker Thursday night in St. Louis.

When the Cardinals scored five runs in the top of the first inning in Houston, the Braves knew that this was it. Win or go home. The Phillies, playing for nothing with their top-seeing long since clin…

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Where will the next Brewers celebration take place? Tonight's games will go a long way in determining that.
Where will the next Brewers celebration take place? Tonight's games will go a long way in determining that.

Down to the wire in MLB

This was supposed to have been figured out a long time ago.

The last day of baseball's regular season for Brewers fans usually means little more than the passing of another day as other teams gear up for the postseason. This year the final day of the season was supposed to be treated as little more than a glorified spring training game, just trying to keep everyone both fresh and sharp simultaneously for the playoffs.

However, as it stands today, there are no fewer than four different playoff scenarios that the Brewers could face in the NLDS:

  • Home field advantage vs. Atlanta
  • Home field advantage vs. Arizona
  • Vs. Arizona with the Diamondbacks having home field advantage
  • Vs. Philadelphia with the Phillies having home field advantage

The last day of the season for Brewers fans usually doesn't involve scoreboard watching. However, as I sat in the stands at Miller Park last night, I became continually frustrated at the scoreboard policy of showing all of the baseball scores on a rotating basis. Why was I to be subjected to waiting for the Cardinals-Astros score or the Braves-Phillies score for the sake of telling me the Mariners were trailing the A's or the Twins were beating the Royals. Who cares?

One year ago, as the Brewers played out a frustrating two-year stretch under Ken Macha's leadership, no one at Miller Park would have noticed. But the last couple of days have been, improbably, the most intense scoreboard watching days of the year.

One month ago, this was all supposed to be figured out – especially in the National League. The Brewers would host the Braves; the Phillies would host the Diamondbacks. Today, the only thing that is certain is that the Phillies have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

As for tonight's games:

  • If the Brewers beat the Pirates or the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks, Milwaukee would have home field advantage in the NLDS as the No. 2 seed.
  • If the Brewers lose to the Pirates and…
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The Brewers are headed back to the playoffs. But they aren't the only local sports team that tasted succes in 2011.
The Brewers are headed back to the playoffs. But they aren't the only local sports team that tasted succes in 2011.
The Packers won Super Bowl XLV in February, but wouldn't be the only local sports that saw success in 2011.
The Packers won Super Bowl XLV in February, but wouldn't be the only local sports that saw success in 2011.

2011 is Wisconsin's best sports year ever

As a sports city, Milwaukee doesn't have the history of Boston or New York; the glitz and glamor of Los Angeles; the national cache of Chicago. Blockbuster movies aren't set in Wisconsin; the rich and famous don't have lake houses here; Fortune 500 companies look to build their offices on Wall Street, not Water Street.

Nope. We are just humble, hard working, blue-collar Wisconsin. But guess what, fellow cheddar-head? We just might be sitting in the middle of a sports utopia.

Using my ultra-scientific-in-every-way formula, Wisconsin has not only had its best ever year in sports, we are having a better year than the other 49 states as well. Considering in 2011, we have seen, in order:

  • A Rose Bowl runner-up
  • A Super Bowl Champion
  • Two teams in the Sweet 16
  • A team in the MLB playoffs

Those are just the so-called "major" teams. In addition to the Brewers, Packers, Badgers (football and basketball) and Golden Eagles, the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team won the NCAA Championship, the UW-Whitewater football team won the Division III title, and the Milwaukee Wave won another MISL Cup.

Major sports, minor sports – it doesn't seem to matter. Right now Wisconsin has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the teams we cheer for. Even today, with our major football teams a combined 7-0 (although the Badgers haven't really played anyone yet with Nebraska on tap for Saturday) it seems as if we have forgotten what it's like to have a loser.

Using the measures of major team sports that we care about (NFL playoffs, BCS games, NBA playoffs, NCAA Tournament (specifically the Sweet 16 for our purposes because just getting to the NCAA Tournament itself really isn't that hard to do), and MLB playoffs) no other state has had the amount of success Wisconsin has had. We have had more teams participate in these events than sports hotbeds Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and Texas. Does this mean that we are better than every other state?

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The Packers return to Soldier Field on Sunday for the first time since winning the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 23
The Packers return to Soldier Field on Sunday for the first time since winning the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 23

Packers Week 3 preview - at Chicago

The Packers return to the scene of where they advanced past their chief rivals for the right to go to Super Bowl XLV on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field. And while the Chicago Bears have all said that what is past is past, don't think that they have been allowed to forget January's loss by Chicago fans and media.

Certainly there is some evidence to the testiness of some Bears players that have had to live with the criticisms since Jan. 23. Even other players around the league such as Maurice Jones-Drew, Darnell Docket, Raheem Brock, and Asante Samuel ripped Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who left the game with a knee injury. Brock went as far as to call Cutler both a "wussy" and a "sissy" on his Twitter feed before the game was even over. Not surprisingly, Cutler was testier than usual at his mid-week conference call with Green Bay reporters when the subject of leaving the contest midway came up.

 

Question: "Were you offended by what people said after the NFC title game?"

Cutler: "No."

Question: "Were you surprised at the backlash you received?"

Cutler: "No."

Question: Did it hurt that it came from other players more so than media?

Cutler: "No."

Packers PR: "Is there anything else for Jay? (pause) Jay, thanks for your time today."

(Immediate sound of the click of the phone hanging up.)

 

Last week, Cutler lost another perception battle when the Fox cameras caught him on the sidelines pacing and yelling at his teammates after taking yet another sack. Last week alone Cutler was dropped six times by the Saints in Chicago's 30-13 loss at New Orleans. While this is hardly headline news in and of itself, it does underscore the tension that is building between a quarterback that is frustrated with his lack of protection.

Conversely, the Packers defense has not exactly been adept at getting the same push into the opposing team's backfield. In the last two weeks, Drew Brees and Cam Newton both scorched the Green Bay secondary for more than 400 yards. Fort…

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