Bet on the Brewers? Um...no.
It’s been one long writing hiatus (my longest since starting this website), but in my defense I was extremely busy watching baseball. When I invested yet again in MLB.TV at the beginning of the season, I had assumed that by mid-May my lowly Brewers would be bringing up the rear and I’d be onto other summertime activities like tending the garden and exercising (oh yeah, and writing). Fortunately, the Milwaukee Brewers have saved me from that fate, and while my tomatoes are suffering from dry rot and my waste line is enjoying recent growth, my Brewers are in first place by 51/2 games at the All-Star Break.
Surprised? Well, yeah, but perhaps less by the Brewers and more by the other teams in the NL Central.
I had predicted a win total of perhaps 77-83 wins this year, an improvement over last year’s 73, but not enough to make a shot at the playoffs, especially with the Cubs and Cardinals in the division. And that’s the real surprise, that to date these two teams haven’t been able to get it together. As for the Crew, well...there’s still time to meet my prediction. Yes, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I also have a memory, albeit one that regularly forgets where I placed my phone.
As the Doonesbury character Duke discovered back in 1982, it’s never wise to bet your last ten dollars on the Brewers.
Brewer fans don’t need long memories to remember two disastrous second half collapses. We need go no further back that 2014, the year the Brewers enjoyed the best record in baseball and a 6 ½ game lead at the end of June, only to go 31-47 the rest of the way to finish third with an 82-80 record (which ordinarily would have been a pretty good season for the Crew).
And let’s not forget a decade earlier, when the Brewer suffered the worst second half ever for a team that entered the All-Star Break with a winning record, going 22-53, scoring two or fewer runs 33 times, and finishing last in the division.
And even in 2008 when the Brewers managed to make the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, the Crew had a terrible September, going 4-15 before winning six of their final seven to squeeze into the post-season with a 90-72 record. It got so bad that final month of the season that Ned Yost was fired as manager with just 12 games to play.
Will the 2017 Crew suffer a similar fate? Hard to say, but there are a few reasons to remain optimistic. First, this year’s team has suffered some enormous blows without folding, two of them the result of National League rules. Opening day starter Junior Guerra lasted just three innings before going on the DL after injuring his leg leaving the batter’s box. Similarly, Chase Anderson - the best Brewers starting pitcher this season - suffered an oblique injury while taking a swing and will be out likely until the end of August. Add to that the continued injuries of Ryan Braun (no steroids equals no playing time, apparently), and you might expect this team to struggle. Not so. The bench on this team as constructed by general manager David Stearns is deep, so much so that manager Craig Counsell claims his team doesn’t have a bench. Rather, they have interchangeable parts, all of them formidable, from waiver acquisitions Eric Sogard and Stephen Vogt and trade acquisitions Travis Shaw and Manny Pina, to utility men Hernan Perez and Jesus Aguilar to recent signee Eric Thames, every day seems to highlight a new hero. If there’s cause for concern, it’s the alarming number of strikeouts (the Crew one again leads the league in this category) and I have to wonder how the lineup is going to fair against the elite pitchers on the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. The weakest link in the chain so far is center fielder Keon Broxton, who - despite moments of brilliance and solid defense - can’t seem to find any consistency behind the plate, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he isn’t a Brewer next year.
But if the Brewer position players generally lead one to feel optimistic, the pitching staff may cause a few fans to squirm in their seats. When Matt Garza is your third most reliable starter, you might concede that the second half could be rough, yet somehow through it all - through injuries to two starters and a bullpen that struggled mightily early in the season, Milwaukee has the 8th best ERA in the Major Leagues. And recently the starting staff, bolstered by Anderson’s replacement Brent Suter and a reinvigorated Jimmy Nelson, has finally given the bullpen some rest after it was overused for the first two months of the season. Will the young pitching staff be able to stay strong throughout a long second half? This is the biggest question mark the Brewers face, and no doubt one that David Stearns is eying carefully.
If I’m allowed to alter my prediction of the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers, it would be to add 4 games to the total. Instead of 77-83 wins, I think they have a chance to finish with 81-87 wins. Enough to win the National League Central? Possibly, but I doubt it, as I keep thinking the Cardinals and Cubs will eventually find their way and turn the 2017 Brewer season into a pleasant surprise, but not one that includes games come October.
Either way, I’ll be watching baseball and procrastinating on my hope to one day write the Great American Novel. But will I bet my last ten dollars on the Crew? Not a chance.
But next year? Quite likely.