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Lyle Spencer

Roenicke deserves Manager of the Year consideration

Veteran skipper leading Brewers past favored Cards and Bucs in tough NL Central

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Carlos Gomez has put in the hours under the Spring Training sun, working on his stroke, his baserunning, his routes in center field, his throwing accuracy. But if you ask him the source of his transformation into one of the game's most exciting and productive players, he nods toward the office of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.

"He's the reason I'm the player I am today," Gomez said over the weekend at Dodger Stadium. "He gave me freedom to let me be who I am. That made all the difference."

The Brewers return home for seven games after an impressive sweep of the Dodgers in a duel of division leaders. They beat Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, two of the game's best, and knocked out Dan Haren on Sunday behind Jonathan Lucroy's booming bat and the dynamic force of Gomez, their catalyst.

Wily Peralta, one of the relatively unheralded stories of this season, matched Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright for the Major League lead with his 15th win. Peralta was 11-15 last year, his first full season in the big leagues.

"Sooner or later, you have to pay attention to him," Lucroy said of the big right-hander from the Dominican Republic. "I think it's a byproduct of playing in the Milwaukee market. We're not looked at as much, which is fine. That's the way I like it, personally.

"But he definitely deserves a lot more credit than he's getting."

So does the manager, who moves under the national radar. Roenicke has made all the right moves. With his relaxed demeanor yet firm hand, he has kept his team atop the National League Central as skeptics have waited for the favored Cardinals or Pirates to overtake the Brew Crew.

At the moment, nobody is more deserving of the NL Manager of the Year Award than Roenicke.

At 70-55, Milwaukee left Los Angeles three games ahead of St. Louis and 5 1/2 ahead of Pittsburgh. Overall, the Brewers are percentage points ahead of the Dodgers and percentage points behind the Nationals.

Combining a productive offense and a sound defense with solid starting pitching and a savior at the back end of the bullpen in Francisco Rodriguez, the Brew Crew appears well constructed to endure a stretch run.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, like Gomez, doesn't hesitate in crediting Roenicke with keeping the house in order and loose with just the right balance of serious commitment and clubhouse chemistry.

"He really cares about you as a person, not just as a player," said Ramirez, who debuted in 1998 with Pittsburgh. "He's one of the best managers I've had at communicating with everybody. He treats a guy like me with 16 years [experience] the same way he treats a rookie. We have a really good clubhouse with young guys, older guys. A nice mix. That starts at the top.

"He understands that you are what you are as a player. It wouldn't do any good to try to make you something you're not. If you're aggressive, he lets you be aggressive. He lets you play, do what you do best."

If Lucroy, a prominent NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate, Ramirez and ace Yovani Gallardo are the glue, Gomez is the super glue.

Gomez swings at more first pitches than anybody, usually from the heels. He rocked the matchless Kershaw on Saturday night with a double and a home run on first pitches in a 3-2 victory.

No club in the game is more aggressive offensively. Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Rickie Weeks and Jean Segura join Gomez as free-swingers looking to drive the first thing they see in their zone.

Gomez, the kind of outgoing personality the game needs, runs the bases with abandon, bangs into walls making spectacular catches and unleashes powerfully accurate throws on the move, playing center field like a shortstop.

Roenicke, a quality defensive center fielder as a role player with the Dodgers and five other teams, understands why young athletes need the manager's trust -- especially one such as Gomez, who has worn the showboat label for his theatrics.

"Carlos is a super talented player," Roenicke said. "He plays hard and has learned to play for his teammates. He's become a dangerous hitter with power to go with his speed, and he can go get 'em in center field. He's crazy out there. He's running into walls, stealing bases. And he can throw."

After a breakout 2013 campaign that included his first NL Gold Glove Award, Gomez has a .285/.349/.489 line, with 20 homers and 27 steals.

"He's one of the leaders on this team," Roenicke said. "It's a joy watching him play the game and interact with his teammates."

Roenicke arrived as the Brewers' manager in 2011, taking a team powered by Braun and Prince Fielder to 96 wins and the NL Central title.

Finishing second to Arizona's Kirk Gibson in the NL Manager of the Year Award balloting, Roenicke drove the Brewers past the D-backs in the NL Division Series before falling to the Cards in six games in the NL Championship Series. St. Louis seized a memorable World Series from Texas.

Roenicke was part of a great staff with the Angels before moving to Milwaukee, winning a World Series in 2002 with manager Mike Scioscia and two fellow coaches -- Joe Maddon and Bud Black -- who have gone on to win Manager of the Year awards.

If the bullpen holds up and the Brew Crew keeps swinging and playing with purpose, it could be Ron Roenicke's time.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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