As the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox prepare to open the World Series, here's some of what we've learned so far during a baseball postseason that has been as entertaining as it has been unorthodox:
• The American League Championship Series between the Sox and Houston Astros was like a slugfest for the heavyweight championship.
• On the other hand, the National League Championship Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and Dodgers was more of a finesse duel featuring the kind of analytical strategy normally confined to high-level chess matches.
• Finally, all things considered the Fox television network got what it wanted -- an attractive coast-to-coast lineup -- even if it is perceived to be between a lightweight and heavyweight. You can only imagine the anguish a matchup between Central time zone teams in Houston and Milwaukee would have caused.
Now, here's one thing we don't know about the lead up to an intriguing World Series:
• Why did the Milwaukee Brewers make the trade with the Baltimore Orioles for second baseman Jonathan Schoop? What exactly were they thinking?
I can tell you this -- it's complicated. Very complicated and hard to explain, but worth a try.
Unless the Brewers were already paying it forward to 2019, there isn't a logical answer to the question. But that certainly wasn't the case when they disrupted a winning combination and immediately inserted Schoop into the starting lineup in the middle of a heated pennant race.
In retrospect, 2019 did figure significantly in the Brewers' thinking. However, Schoop's uneven performance during the last two months of the 2018 season not only jeopardized those plans but also the immediate future of the former O's infielder, who suddenly finds himself in no man's land. It may not be a coincidence that Schoop's poor performance coincided with what looked to be an unnecessary shakeup of a Brewers lineup that had already undergone a massive reboot in the infield.
In order to understand how drastic the overhaul of the infield had been, you have to closely follow a bouncing ball that directly involved four players, three trades and one waiver claim during a two-year period. And that was before the deal for Schoop at the July trade deadline.
When Milwaukee obtained third baseman Mike Moustakas from the Royals, it started a chain reaction that involved moving Travis Shaw from third to second base, which in turn shifted Jonathan Villar to shortstop, temporarily benched shortstop Orlando Arcia -- and prompted the Brewers to jump head first into the Manny Machado sweepstakes. That's just for openers -- with us so far?
Arcia was a central figure in all of this from the very beginning, the one who actually made the dominoes fall. It was his early development that led to the trade that sent shortstop Jean Segura to the Mariners after the 2015 season -- the same Segura who hit a three-run homer off Brewers lefty Josh Hader in this year's All-Star Game.
With Arcia as the shortstop of the future in waiting, with four more years of team control, bringing Machado in as a three-month rental seemed an ideal solution.
"[Machado] would have been a perfect fit for that team," said one scout following the Brewers at the time and familiar with their desire to upgrade at shortstop. "It was the only position where they needed help and he was obviously the best player out there."
When the Dodgers upped the ante and took Machado off the table, Schoop became an object of affection for the Brewers, who knew Moustakas was only going to be around a short time and Shaw would return to third base next year. It didn't hurt that Schoop was originally signed by the Orioles as a shortstop. In fact, the Brewers looked at him as a "mini-Manny" and started him at that position 10 times in the first month after the trade.
In the meantime, Shaw, in the midst of a breakout year, was occasionally without a position he could call his own, Schoop struggled mightily with a new league, new town and new position while Arcia spent half his time on the bench. Instead of "mini-Manny," the Brewers found themselves four players deep into a "mini-mess."
Villar, of course, ended up being a key to the trade for Schoop, but that doesn't even tell the whole story about his role in this caper. Originally signed by Houston as a shortstop (what else?), he was expected to be second baseman Jose Altuve's double-play partner in the big leagues -- until the Astros drafted shortstop Carlos Correa.
Still with us? Villar ultimately was traded to the Brewers, who after one year figured Villar would pair nicely as Arcia's double-play partner at second base. That, of course, made the incumbent second baseman (Scooter Gennett) somewhat irrelevant and very available. Unable to make a deal, the Brewers sent Gennett to the Reds via waivers.
At the time of the deal, Gennett was a rather pedestrian hitter, pesky with a hint of power, maybe a poor man's Dustin Pedroia -- a "scooter" type, if you will. In the two years since he left Milwaukee, Gennett has put up average and power numbers that would make a rich man's Pedroia proud. As a hitter, he outgrew the best nickname in sports.
In 2015, the struggling but improving Brewers had Segura at shortstop and Gennett at second base. The next year they had Villar at short and Gennett at second base. A year later it was Arcia at short, Villar at second and Gennett in Cincinnati. That's an impressive array of talent for a team looking to improve the middle of the infield -- enough to make one wonder which combination would have worked the best.
While Machado and the Dodgers are gearing up for what could be an epic World Series matchup with the Red Sox, Schoop and the Brewers are probably trying to figure out the answer to the question that started this discussion: Why did the Brewers make the trade?
Meanwhile, Brewers and O's fans alike can wonder if Arcia (.333 with three home runs during postseason play) could have been the difference in a trade with a different ending.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox