Souhan: Brewers lack glamour, but not wins

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 2, 2014 - 12:21 AM

Wise investing when others doubted, including in three ex-Twins, paid off for GM Doug Melvin.

Starter Kyle Lohse (with catcher Jonathan Lucroy) is one of three former Twins, along with outfielder Carlos Gomez and starter Matt Garza, prospering in Milwaukee. Lohse is 7-1 with a 2.60 ERA.

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– The coolest thing about the success of the Milwaukee Brewers is that nobody’s going to try to write a pseudointellectual book about them. Even if someone did, nobody would invent a cute nickname to characterize their success, and this is certain:

If someone made a movie about the Brewers, the general manager would not be played by Brad Pitt.

Maybe the cowboyish actor Sam Elliott would stand in for Doug Melvin, the Brewers’ mustachioed, understated GM, who often dresses at the ballpark the way your dad used to dress in the back yard.

Most likely, the Brewers being in first place in one of baseball’s toughest divisions, the National League Central, won’t make much of a national stir. That’s because Melvin is cut from the plaid cloth of traditional GMs unbound by overarching philosophy, who trust their eyes and simply try to make one good decision at a time.

So when Melvin saw a spectacular athlete such as Carlos Gomez learning to hit, he signed him to a three-year, $24 million deal last spring at a time when few teams would have invested hope, much less money, in a player who took such undisciplined at-bats.

Melvin signed two front-line starting pitchers the market seemed doubtful about, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, to join Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation. Melvin signed Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract last spring, and Lohse has become an ace. He is 7-1 with a 2.60 ERA after shutting out the Cubs on Sunday, far outperforming his contract.

Melvin signed Garza to a four-year deal worth $50 million — close to the same contract the Twins gave Ricky Nolasco — and Garza is younger than and has better stuff than Nolasco. Garza is 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA but has a career ERA of 3.89.

Garza, Gomez and Lohse sit next to each other in the Brewers clubhouse. “We’re just outcasts from the Twins,” Garza joked. “We just keep playing, keep plugging away.”

Asked what it was like to sit next to two other former Twins in a first-place clubhouse, Lohse said, with a smile: “It feels good. I’ll leave it at that.”

The Twins will play their next four games against the Brewers, who won 20 of their first 27 games, then slumped, as right fielder Ryan Braun (oblique strain) and third baseman Aramis Ramirez (hamstring strain) went on the disabled list, and Gomez was briefly slowed because of a back injury.

When Ramirez returns, they will field a remarkably deep lineup featuring a potential MVP in Gomez, a former MVP in Braun, the productive Ramirez, doubles machine Jonathan Lucroy, young power hitter Khris Davis, talented shortstop Jean Segura, adept second baseman Rickie Weeks and bargain free-agent signing Mark Reynolds (who’s on a one-year, $2 million contract), who has produced power and spectacular fielding plays at third base.

“I had heard reports from guys that played with him that he was a lot better than people thought he was, but he’s still surprised me,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

If there is a theme to this Brewers team, it is that it might be the anti-Moneyball team. The roster is filled with big, athletic guys who look like prototypical baseball players. This week would not be a good time for the Twins to pick a fight.

“Coming out of spring training, and Doug and I have talked about it, that we knew everything was going to have to go right this year,” Roenicke said. “And in the beginning, things went right. Then we had an injury, DL, then another injury, DL, and now all of a sudden what we were doing is changed.

“It was so nice, at the beginning of the year, to put down the same batting lineup every day. We know we have to be healthy. We’re in a tough division, and we know some teams are going to play better than they have so far. We’re going to have to be ready for that, to fight to stay out in front of those teams.”

Last week, Lohse walked past a few hitters playing cards in the Brewers clubhouse. Carrying a bat, Lohse looked over and said, “If you think you hear thunder, don’t worry, it’s just the pitchers taking batting practice.”

That night, with the Brewers out of position players, Gallardo pinch hit in the 10th and delivered a game-winning hit. On Sunday, Lohse started against the Cubs and delivered two RBI singles in a 9-0 victory.

Whether it’s thunder or Gomez’s constant stream of conversation, the Brewers are making an unexpected amount of noise in the National League.

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