PHOENIX – Star players don’t come more team-oriented than Lorenzo Cain, who willingly sacrificed his own statistics in 2018 to become the Milwaukee Brewers’ primary leadoff hitter.
But when asked about not winning the first Gold Glove Award of his career in the off-season, he had a difficult time hiding his disappointment.
“Gold Glove…man,” Cain said, shaking his head, about falling short for the third time. “It feels like it’s getting tougher and tougher to win one these days. It is what it is. I have no say in it and all I can do is go out there and do the best I can on the field and play solid defense.
“Hopefully, one day before I finish playing I’ll go out there and win one. If not, if I can help get this team to the World Series and win a World Series, that’s more than enough for me.”
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Had he won the Gold Glove, Cain would have become the second Milwaukee centerfielder to do so in the past five years. Carlos Gomez won one in 2013, snapping the Brewers’ 31-year drought.
But it was Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves who got the nod over Cain and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton in the National League, leaving Brewers manager Craig Counsell to make this blunt assessment earlier in camp:
“I don’t know how (Cain) didn’t get it. I think it’s kind of a joke,” he said. “The thing is, there’s very good defensive players in the game. Inciarte is a very good defender. I don’t want to diminish that. But I watched Inciarte play six games; I watched Lorenzo play 140.
“It was a disappointing result.”
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Major-league managers and coaches accounted for 75% of the Gold Glove voting and Society for American Baseball Research metrics 25%. A quick look at the numbers makes the fact Cain didn’t win that much more head-scratching.
He was credited with 20 defensive runs saved, tied with American League most valuable player Mookie Betts of Boston for most among major-league outfielders and fourth-most at any position. Cain’s career-high 11 assists were tied for second-most in the NL, and he also prevented several home runs with leaping grabs.
Inciarte finished with 17 defensive runs saved, five assists and five errors.
“I pride myself on defense so much that the fact I haven’t won one stings a little bit,” said Cain, who committed six errors in 1,180 innings. “It stings a little bit. I know how much I pride myself on being a playmaker out there and catching everything possible. But it is what it is. Can’t do anything about it.
“Focus on playing ball and winning games for my team. Going from there.”
Lorenzo Cain talks about the upcoming season during 2019 spring training
As good as Cain was with the glove, it was only part of the overall package he brought along when he unexpectedly signed a five-year, $80 million free-agent deal – easily the largest ever in franchise history – to return to the Brewers in late January 2018.
Moving from being a middle-of-the-order hitter with the Kansas City Royals to the leadoff spot for Milwaukee, Cain posted career bests with a .308 average and 30 stolen bases to go with 38 runs batted in, 90 runs scored and a .395 on-base percentage.
“I was really proud of myself,” Cain said. “Being the leadoff batter for this team, being that on-base guy, is a little different for me. But I’ll go out there and hopefully do it again. That’s my main focus – being more of an on-base guy, taking pitches to allow these guys to see a lot of pitches behind me.
“Be that top-of-the-order guy. Make it harder or tougher on pitchers. Make them throw as many pitches as they can. Get on base as much as I can.”
Cain’s impact on the field didn’t go unnoticed, as he finished seventh in NL MVP balloting behind outfield mate and eventual winner Christian Yelich after also earning his second career berth in the All-Star Game.
Yelich finished 10th in the majors and fifth in the NL with 7.6 Wins Above Replacement, and Cain was right behind at 6.9.
“The thing about him is he’ll go out there every day, and there’s a lot to be said for that,” Yelich said. “You know that you can count on him every day. That’s one of the hardest parts of our job, if you’re an everyday player, just making it through that grind.
“He was unbelievable for us on both sides of the ball last year, and hopefully it’ll be more of the same this year.”
The only number Cain cares about each season is games played, and in that regard 2018 was a success with 141 – second-most in his nine-year career. A strained left groin cost Cain 12 games midseason, and the 32-year-old still seems a little salty about that.
“I have one goal every year, and that’s staying healthy,” he said. “I fell a little short of that last year since I had a groin issue. Same goal — being healthy. Being on that field as much as I can and helping my teammates as much as I can, because I know I need to be out there.
“That’s my main goal, being healthy the entire season. The other goal is to get to the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”
Cain also made a huge impact in the clubhouse. He carried himself with a quiet confidence and set the tone each day by playing all out, more often than not walking off the field afterward with a filthy uniform.
“I’ve never been a guy that’ll go in screaming or a rah-rah guy,” he said. “I like to go out there, hustle and run ground balls out. Make diving catches. I feel like if guys see you doing it, wanting it and making catches, that’s what they want to do. It falls on everybody, making plays. I want to make a play. I want to hustle down first.
“I’ve always been a lead-by-example guy. Never been very vocal. I want to get better at that. I want to grow and be more vocal. We’ll see what happens.”
Cain also brought aboard the “Show me some love” gesture featuring outstretched arms and wiggling fingers each time he reached base – a move that quickly caught on with teammates and fans as the Brewers played their way to a franchise-record-tying 96 victories and to within a game of their second World Series appearance.
He plans on showing the love again this season.
“I wasn’t expecting that, to grow as quick as it did or the entire stadium to be doing it, actually,” Cain said. “It’s something I started doing in K.C. It didn’t grow like that in K.C. It’s something I did with my teammates and you get here and everybody was doing it.
“I mean, it worked, and stick with it.”
With Keon Broxton having been traded to the New York Mets in the off-season, Cain’s primary backup in center will be Yelich (13 starts there in 2018) with utility man Hernán Pérez (one start) also capable of playing there.
By the numbers
5 Players to start a game in center for the Brewers in 2018 – Cain (137), Yelich (13), Broxton (11), Pérez (one), Brett Phillips (one).
3 Different spots Cain hit in for the Brewers in 2018 – 95 at leadoff, 23 in the second spot and 19 in the third spot.
12 Games in which Cain hit consecutively from Aug. 17-30, tying a career high. He batted .388 while adding a homer and three RBI.
2 Leadoff homers for Cain in 2018 (May 10 at Colorado and Aug. 14 at Chicago Cubs). He has three in his career.
1 Major-league rank for Milwaukee centerfielders in batting average (.299), hits (193) and stolen bases (35).