Sabathia should not be seen as a savior
Lefty can help Brewers, but not carry them to the postseason
MILWAUKEE -- The CC Sabathia Era in Cream City is off to a fine start. As long as everybody remembers that Sabathia came from Cleveland, not Nazareth, this could be a very successful run.
Sabathia should not be seen as the solo savior of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise. He should be seen as one of the best left-handers in the game, and a Cy Young Award winner in a league that has deeper hitting than the National. This is why the Brewers gave up the prospect equivalent of a king's ransom to get him from the Indians.
But this operation isn't going to break its 26-year postseason drought unless the other 24 Brewers are also playing at a level good enough to reach October. They obviously have a much better chance of getting where they want to go with Sabathia in their rotation. But Sabathia isn't taking them there alone.
As almost immediate evidence that life in the National League Central was not going to automatically become easier, before Sabathia even took the Miller Park mound, the Chicago Cubs had already traded for a major pitching talent, Oakland's Rich Harden.
The move appeared to be a direct response to the acquisition of Sabathia. Harden does not have Sabathia's stature in the game, but Harden does have indisputably tremendous stuff. What he hasn't had is health. He made only 13 starts over the 2006 and 2007 seasons combined.
But Harden has been pitching superbly for the Athletics this season. This trade indicates just how competitive life is in the Central, the NL's toughest division, containing the teams with the three best records in the league. The Cubs have the NL's best record, but the Cardinals show no signs of evaporating. For all the talk about the Brewers' immense promise, they won 83 games last year. They're going to have to be much, much better than that to qualify for the 2008 postseason.
With that in mind, it was a happy beginning for Sabathia and his new co-workers on Tuesday night at Miller Park. Sabathia may have been slightly over-amped by the circumstances, but he pitched well enough to win. The rest of the roster chipped in; Ryan Braun almost immediately hitting a three-run homer in the first inning to lighten Sabathia's burden.
It all added up to a 7-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies. One day after the announcement of the trade with the Indians, Sabathia had his first victory as a Brewer, and his first as a National Leaguer for that matter.
Sabathia had enough control lapses to be a mortal. He gave up only two earned runs, he got the big outs when he needed them, but he walked five. This was probably fine. A perfect game would have sent the wrong message.
The Miller Park capacity crowd of 42,533 repeatedly showered affection on Sabathia with long and sincere ovations. Sabathia acknowledged his welcome from the Milwaukee fans, which he called "unbelievable," probably made him a bit too excited at times. There was plenty of excitement to go around and if he hadn't been excited, he wouldn't have had a pulse.
"He's easier to catch than he is to hit, I know that," said catcher Jason Kendall, who has been on both ends of the equation with Sabathia.
One facet of Sabathia's game that may not have been expected was glove work. Sabathia made a crucial defensive play, in what was a 4-3 game with runners on second and third and no outs in the sixth. Jayson Nix hit a low line drive and Sabathia speared it just off the ground, then neatly flipped to third to double the runner off base.
"He was nimble like a cat," manager Ned Yost said.
"Accident," Sabathia said with a smile when asked about the play. "I mean, it was right there. I'm not the greatest fielding pitcher but I can make plays sometimes."
"Maybe it was an accident," Kendall said, "but it still took a lot of athletic ability to make that play."
The Sabathia legend, Wisconsin version, is officially underway. Based on the way Sabathia has pitched over the majority of his career, and based on the way he has pitched since late April this year, he will be fine for the Brewers. That doesn't make him a savior, but it could make him an important part of Milwaukee's first postseason team since 1982.
Brewers manager Yost sounded the right note, recalling that his team, 29-16 in the last 45 games before the trade, was not exactly in desperate straits before the deal for Sabathia.
"You have to remember that I thought on Sunday night [before the trade] that we were a really good team," Yost said. "And I knew real quick on Monday morning that we became a better team. But I liked the team that we had on Sunday night. Now, does this help? Most definitely, to add a player of the caliber of CC Sabathia, oh man, I'm excited about it. It gives us depth. It really gives two No. 1 starters. And that's killer.
"But I haven't gotten away from the fact that our team was very, very good before we made this deal. In my mind we had a really, really good team before we got CC, and CC is not the guy who is going to come in here and save us. He's going to help us; he's going to help us get to where we want to go. But he's not going to be the big piece where we can jump on his back and he can just carry us. That's not going to be the case. We have to continue doing what we've been doing the last six weeks."
In the same vein, but with somewhat less seriousness, Yost, after questions about Sabathia's potential for hitting prodigious home runs, responded with a smile:
"Yeah, he can hit, he can hit. My question is: 'Can you bunt?'"
That was good, too, because it took Sabathia from mythical status all the way down to the small, but fundamental request made of a National League pitcher with a bat in his hands.
Sabathia should help considerably in the cause of the Brewers reaching the postseason for the first time in 26 years. As long as everyone remembers that his acquisition doesn't automatically guarantee anything, the rest of the Brewers can happily help themselves in that same direction.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.