Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brewers No Longer Feel Need to Violate 'Baseball Etiquette' to Get Under Cardinals' Skin

Greetings ... you'll notice fewer updates in the coming weeks as I work on football preview research and play lots of NCAA and -- eventually -- Madden on the XBox.

Priorities ...

Anyway, the Brewers continue to play pretty darn good baseball as of late, and are now 12-1 in their last 13 games after a ten-inning win in St. Louis Tuesday.

You might remember a couple years ago, when the Brewers seemed to irk the Cardinals every time the teams played, largely because of their goofy walk-off celebrations and the Mike Cameron-initiated jersey-untucking after wins.

This time, the Brewers are irritating the Cardinals without the antics. They're doing it by going 7-3 so far in the season series.

Led off the field by Ron Roenicke and on it by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers are not behaving like the Brewers of old.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post Dispatch had a great column on the rivalry, and what appears to be a maturing Milwaukee team that has transformed itself from the fun-loving, brash bunch that got in the playoffs three years ago.

After years of playing the role of the nettlesome, shirt-tail flipping kids in their competitive relationship with the grumpy but proper Cardinals, the Brewers have evolved into a far more disturbing role for the Redbirds: a mature and confident title contender.

They don't need to yank out their shirt tails anymore to get on the nerves of the cantankerous old-school Cards. Instead, they seem to do it by playing solid, smart - and yes, unflinching - baseball in front of their barking elders.

... Maybe in the past, the Brewers might have shrunk a bit when the Cardinals blustered about any real or perceived affront to baseball's unwritten rules. But now they will stand their ground - and even act like adults - like last week during the great dust-up about Cards manager Tony La Russa's contention that the Brewers were pitching Albert Pujols dangerously high and tight. Last week's strategy sparked a beanball battle and a potential scuffle (neutralized by of all people Fielder, the guy who once stormed to the doors of an opponent's clubhouse to demand retribution).

It's amazing what you can accomplish when you go from Ned "Mortal Kombat" Yost to Ken "Zzzzz" Macha to Roenicke, an even-keel guy who clearly has the respect of his players.

If last week's scoreboard/sign-stealing/throw at Braun/"idiots in the stands" fiasco happens with Yost running the team, half of the team's remaining meetings would include either a bench-clearing incident or the very real threat of one.

This isn't to rip Yost or blame him for the team's past shortcomings. He did some good things in Milwaukee, helping lead the franchise from the depths of despair to where they are now. He played a positive role in that, even though it appeared at times his demeanor was helping hold the team back.

Roenicke, though, has gotten to these guys. His attitude last week was basically to blow off what happened and focus on the next game. His players followed suit, just like every GM dreams when he hires a coach or manager and something like that happens during the season.

We have a lot of baseball to play before October hits, but the Brewers appear to be in just as good a position as they have ever been in. Win another game in this series -- or two! -- and things will only look rosier.

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