Recap of the Brewers' 2016 Season
That the Milwaukee Brewers managed to win 73 games in 2016, a full five games ahead of their disastrous 2015 season, is nothing short of miraculous when considering that the team they fielded consisted of so many players with little to no major league experience. Add to that the mid-season trades of four of their more productive players – Aaron Hill, Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith and their all-star catcher, Jonathon Lucroy (all of whom played for teams that made the playoffs this year; more on that in a moment) – and it’s amazing that the team was able to finish as strongly as they did. At the July 31 trade deadline, the Crew was 47-56, on track to win 74 games. They finished just one game short of that pace during the remaining two months of the season despite fielding a team made up of players who had just spent time in the minors. Hell, they even took care of the Cubs and Pirates during September. Pretty incredible.
Front and center of the team’s return to somewhat respectability is Hernan Perez, a jack of all trades defensive player who since coming from Detroit a year ago has shown that he belongs in the Major Leagues. Jonathon Villar isn’t far behind. He strikes out a lot, but the guy was one home run away from the coveted 20-60 clubs of 20 home runs and 60 stolen bases, finishing with 19 and 62, respectively. Not too shabby. Strong finishes of Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana and rookie Orlando Arcia, plus a return-to-form season for Ryan Braun – a few nagging injuries and regular off days aside – helped the Brewers hold their own for the most part, even down the stretch. Second baseman Scooter Gennett also proved himself as a capable starter by figuring out how to hit left-handed pitching. His status as an unmovable infielder may make him a short-term contributor to the team as it positions itself for the future, but Gennett has clearly proved himself as a legitimate starter or platoon player somewhere, if not Milwaukee. Chris Carter, who amazingly finished tied for first in the National League in home runs, also led the league in strike outs and batted .222 with only a .321 on-base percentage. A contributor, for sure, but not exactly the first baseman the Crew has been longing for since Prince Fielder’s departure five years ago. If the Crew hopes to compete in a year or two, an upgrade at first base may be needed.
On the pitching side, manager Craig Counsell was able to piece together just enough starting pitching to hang in there until the sixth inning, when he could hand the reigns to a fairly solid relief core that was initially hampered by a bizarre injury to Will Smith but bolstered by performances from Tyler Thornburg, Carlos Torres, and Jeremy Jeffress. Starter Zach Davies proved once again that he’s a force to be reckoned with, and the big surprise of the year goes to starter Junior Guerra, who at age 31 had rookie-of-the-year type numbers before exiting due to injury. I had hoped the Brewers would trade him at the end of July when he was hot, but who knows – the guy could end up being a contributor for years to come.
As a Brewer fan, watching former Milwaukee players enjoy amazing seasons and careers is a constant source of frustration. Last year's Brewers shortstop Jean Segura had a terrific year for Arizona – leading the league in hits and batting .319 – and left fielder Khris Davis finished with 41 home runs for Oakland (along with a piss-poor OBP). Carlos Gomez finished strong with the Rangers, and don’t get me started on the former Brewers who’ve played with the Royals the past four or five seasons, plus JJ Hardy is still having a great career with Baltimore, etc. It begs the question: is there something wrong with the Brewers’ coaching staff that can’t get the best out of their players while they’re in a Milwaukee uniform? Add up all the former Brewers in MLB, and you’ve got yourself a pretty damn good team. Of course, being among the smallest two markets in baseball, Milwaukee can’t afford to keep most players around too long, but lately general managers Doug Melvin (until last year) and now David Stearns have been dishing players off before they’re even arbitration eligible, much less free agents. Probably not a formula that can continue for too long if the team hopes to compete in the near future, and one has to wonder if the Brewers could have actually competed this year had they kept onto some of their core players. Perhaps not, and perhaps in a few years fans will reap the benefits of rebuilding, but the organization is going to have to find a way to tap into the talent of players while they’re in Milwaukee instead of seeing glimpses of talent that end up maturing elsewhere.
Still, as a fan, it was a fun season to watch, in that I had absolutely no expectation for this team. Watching young guys compete can be a satisfying endeavor even when the end results aren’t perfect. The Brewers could manage to get back to a .500 team next year and perhaps manage a winning season in 2018, but it’s going to be a tough road. We’ll see if the Cubs continue their hapless ways in the playoffs this year, but make no mistake – they are going to be good for a long, long time, and with a one-game wildcard playoff (which I hate), it may be a long while before the Brewers actually get to play a legitimate playoff series again. GM Stearns may be ahead of where many of us expected the Crew to be at this point, but he and the team still have a long way to go.
Either way, I’ll be watching and likely losing more hair in the process.