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Brewers shut out of Sunday nights to start 2012

ESPN is releasing the first half of its Sunday Night Baseball schedule today, and just like last year, the Brewers are being shut out of the national showcase to start the season.

The list of games ESPN announced:

4/8 – White Sox at Rangers
4/15 – Angels at Yankees
4/22 – Yankees at Red Sox
4/29 – Rays at Rangers
5/6 – Phillies at Nationals
5/13 – Angels at Rangers
5/20 – Cardinals at Dodgers
5/27 – Nationals at Braves
6/3-7/1 – TBD
7/8 – Yankees at Red Sox
7/15 – Cardinals at Reds
7/22-9/23 – TBD

That’s a whole lot of AL games — it isn’t until May that we get a National League game, and only four of the 10 announced games are NL games — but overall it’s hard to argue with the decision-making here.

The first Sunday night game of the year features the AL champion Rangers, and while they’re playing a White Sox team that won’t have a lot going for them in 2012, there should still be plenty of interest in the game. The Brewers are playing the World Champion Cardinals that day, but with no Pujols, no Fielder, and likely no Braun, it’s easy to see why ESPN would rather show the AL champs. The Brewers and Cards will at least get a national audience the day before on Fox Saturday Baseball.

After opening weekend, it’s hard to find a Brewers game that could be considered compelling for a national audience. The Brewers’ Sunday slate for the year:

4/15 – at Braves
4/22 – vs Rockies
4/29 – at Cardinals
5/6 – at Giants
5/13 – vs Cubs
5/20 – vs Twins
5/27 – at Diamondbacks
6/3 – vs Pirates
6/10 – vs Padres
6/17 – at Twins
6/24 – at White Sox
7/1 – vs Diamondbacks
7/8 – at Astros
7/15 – vs Pirates
7/22 – at Reds
7/29 – vs Nationals
8/5 – at Cardinals
8/12 – at Astros
8/19 – vs Phillies
8/26 – at Pirates
9/2 – vs Pirates
9/9 – at Cardinals
9/16 – vs Mets
9/23 – at Nationals
9/30 – vs Astros

Brewers/Braves on April 15 should be an interesting game, but it’s not going to be more interesting to a national audience than Albert Pujols’ first series in New York as a member of the Angels. The Brewers face the Cardinals again on April 29, but ESPN is opting to show a different playoff rematch in Rays/Rangers. Brewers/Giants on May 6 should feature some good pitching, but it’s understandable that the Phillies would be the first NL team to appear on SNB.

The stretch from June 3 to July 1 is still to be determined, but unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be many attractive Brewers games for the Worldwide Leader to pick up. Milwaukee faces Pittsburgh, San Diego, Minnesota, the White Sox, and Arizona during that month — a combination of small market and bad teams that wouldn’t make for very good ratings.

Like last season, the Brewers’ best bet to appear on Sunday night is to establish themselves as a contender heading into the second half of the season, and hope a game in the final two months gets picked up. Looking ahead, there are a few games that could be interesting to ESPN if the Brewers are competitive and things go as expected in the NL — Brewers at Cards on August 5, Phillies at Brewers on August 19 and Brewers at Cardinals on September 9, to name a few.

It’s a little disheartening to see the Brewers shut out of Sunday nights to start the year coming off a division title and the third-highest win total in baseball, but from a television programming perspective, it’s understandable. The most marketable stars from last year’s team will be gone to start the year, and small-market teams will always have to re-prove themselves as contenders at the start of every year. In the first three weeks of the season, ESPN is going to show the defending AL champions (with a decent chance of Yu Darvish’s first major league start if the Rangers do sign him), Albert Pujols in Yankee Stadium, and a Yankees/Red Sox game. All three games should be highly-rated.