Baseball / Sports

Commentary: Chemistry helps Brewers cook up a hot start

What comes first: chemistry or winning? That question became a topic of discussion when the unheralded Milwaukee Brewers roared out of the gate to go 20-8 before May 1.

It's the oldest chicken-or-egg question in team sports.

What comes first: chemistry or winning?

That question became a topic of discussion when the unheralded Milwaukee Brewers, barely on the radar screens of most preseason prognosticators, roared out of the gate to go 20-8 before May 1. Putting together the best record in baseball tends to get the attention of folks.

During that first month, which included the opener March 31, it was quite evident the Brewers had more than a bit of team chemistry going. They have lots of fun with each other, from the bullpen doing dance videos featuring rookie reliever Wei-Chung Wang to large groups of players showing up for meals on the road, forcing restaurants to find extra seating.

So, did the chemistry exist when the Brewers broke camp in Phoenix and lead to the breakaway month? Or did the early winning -- especially that 6-0 trip to Boston and Philadelphia -- create quicker-than-normal bonding?

Asked which came first, right-hander Yovani Gallardo, the senior member of the pitching staff, said, "I think chemistry. That's very important. If you have all the guys on the same page, it's going to allow you do a lot of good things.

"A lot of the guys in this clubhouse were here last year. Then you add guys like (Matt) Garza, (Lyle) Overbay and (Mark) Reynolds. They fit right in. They enjoy playing. That's the most important thing. They have a lot of fun, but when it comes down to business you have to go out and perform."

Closely associated with chemistry is team confidence.

"We knew we had a good team coming out of spring training," he said. "We're not going to back down from any challenge. It shows the kind of attitude the guys have in this clubhouse and how they go about things.

"We don't let anybody get down. There are going to be tough days but we support each other and have each other's backs."

Because relief pitchers spend so much time together, sitting together for innings waiting for the bullpen telephone to ring, there is plenty of time to bond. But the Brewers' relief corps has taken that to a different level, particularly with their "Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays" dance routines.

"I've always said in any sport that chemistry is important," said starter-turned-reliever Tyler Thornburg. "I've always believed that. I believe this team is proof of that. In the bullpen, every single one of us is close. It's been great.

"You can tell how much each guy cares for the other and roots for each other. That sort of makes things come together. You've got to be loose but at the same time be intense and have a fire about you. I think we're in the perfect spot right now."

A month to remember

The Brewers' 20-8 opening stretch was their best month since going 21-7 in August 2011. That month launched the Brewers toward a franchise-best 96 victories as well as their first and only National League Central crown.

"That was a great month," said manager Ron Roenicke. "We won a ton of games then."

Roenicke noted there was a common bond between those banner months: a lockdown bullpen. After acquiring veteran reliever Francisco Rodriguez at the all-star break to serve as setup man to closer John Axford, the Brewers never lost a game they led after seven innings.

"(The relievers) were great," said Roenicke. "We had (Takashi) Saito and (LaTroy) Hawkins in front of K-Rod and Ax. They didn't blow a lead. The bullpen allowed us to win late."

Nearly three years later, Rodriguez has served as closer and put together an astounding start, going 14 for 14 in converting saves while not allowing a single run. His setup pitchers, in particular Will Smith, Thornburg and Zach Duke, have done yeoman duty in front of him.

"That allowed us to get off to the kind of start that everybody hoped we could do," said Roenicke.

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