Brewers can't wait for spring
One month from today, all Milwaukee Brewers with three or more years of Major League service will report to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix for the beginning of the 2013 season. That is still a little over four weeks away, but it's something many on the team have been itching to get to as soon as the last out was recorded last October.
When the 2012 season ended with a loss to the San Diego Padres and the Brewers found themselves cleaning out their lockers as opposed to getting ready for a wildcard game, there was a unique feeling in the clubhouse.
Sure, there was disappointment that the late season rally fell short. But there was heavy sense of optimism, and an excitement to get right back together on the field.
A lot of that, of course, had a lot to do with the team's furious race up the standings after bottoming out at 12 games under on August 19.
"If we would've finished 12 games under .500, next year would've been a huge question mark, so I don't think there's a question mark anymore," manager Ron Roenicke said after the season.
"These guys all know we can win. We can win with the personnel we have. We don't have to retool everything. We have to tweak some things and hopefully start a little better than how we started and see if we can carry this thing on for a long time and be consistent."
The comeback not only meant a lot to the management, but to the player's psyche as well heading into 2013.
"I think that's the biggest thing," John Axford said. "We knew we had a good team. We were wondering where all the pieces were when they weren't falling into place and we went on this run, made things interesting, and were finally out of it on the fourth to last day, which I don't think anybody saw back in August. It definitely gives you hopes for next season."
In addressing the media for the final time that day in October, Corey Hart looked out over the clubhouse. Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez were to his left. Jean Segura and Norichika Aoki were to his right. Rickie Weeks was across the way, and Ryan Braun had just entertained the media in front of him.
That lineup was one of the most prolific in all of baseball in 2012, and they knew it.
"You want to make the playoffs every year, but the character we showed in coming back and not giving up was huge," he said. "For (general manager) Doug (Melvin) and (assistant GM) Gord (Ash) and those guys there's not a lot we have to change. If we keep it together we're going to win next year."
Apparently Melvin agreed, as he hasn't sought out a veteran shortstop to displace Segura. He hasn't found another outfielder to move Gomez or Aoki back to the bench.
Such consistency in the lineup, along with the fact that nearly every player in that lineup knew their role (for the most part) in 2013 had a lot of players looking at a return to the playoffs – if not more.
"I think we know it's there," Weeks said. "The biggest thing was starting the season with expectations and to start how we started, and to finish like we finished, you just know it was there. I think everybody's kind of eager to get back to spring training – obviously get some rest – but we are trying to get back there."
With a month to go before everyone has to report, changes to the roster could still be made. But the odds of that are slimming. That prospect excites the team as well.
"Obviously you don't want to say we're all coming back but if we all come back we're going to win," Hart said. "We showed that. The team's here. The young guys got valuable time and the time they were here was important. It was kind of in crunch time and they performed well. The old guys did what we had to do and it showed there's not a whole lot that has to change to be a contender again."
Heard Roenicke say this morning that he's moving Weeks back to leadoff, Aoki in the 2 spot. Have to question that one a bit... Weeks got removed from that same spot by early May last year, if I remember correctly. They went on to have a pretty successful offensive season, so why try what already didn't work?
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