Last week’s season opening Sunday Cycle was admittedly a bit long-winded. I’ll chalk that up to an entire Wisconsin winter’s worth of thoughts on the Brewers. This week, we’re going to keep it simple. Here are my four key takeaways (overreactions) from the first week of the baseball season:
Opening day felt sadder this year
This was my fifth straight Opening Day, a tradition I hope to be fortunate enough to continue for years to come. While it was still a great time, there was a noticeably different vibe at Miller Park this year: it felt sad.
Maybe it was the weather- 26 degrees with clouds and light snow isn’t exactly ideal tailgating weather. Or perhaps I let my own opinions about the likely outcome of this team’s season get to my head. I just didn’t feel like I was surrounded by 40,000 fans who believed that their team could be writing the first chapter to a championship fairy tale. The magic and hope of it finally being “our year” was absent at Miller Park on Monday. The Brewers were winning the ball game after one inning, and yet as soon as the Giants went up 4-2 in the third, it was like the whole stadium had just accepted that the season was over.
Maybe what I perceived as sadness was in fact a fan base accepting the realities of their current situation and coming out to support their team, despite the overwhelming odds that they will fail to make the playoffs this year. Regardless of what it was, I didn’t like it. It left a sour taste in my mouth when the day was over.
There is something very wrong with Wily Peralta
Wily Peralta had a very successful 2014 season. He went 17-11 on a team that provided minimal run support for much of the season, and finished the year with a 3.53 ERA and a team high 154 strikeouts. Many fans, myself included, were looking for Peralta to take another big step last season towards being a true ace for the Brewers. You can’t blame the fans for expecting this- the overwhelming majority of the Brewers media had been hyping Peralta since the moment he arrived in Milwaukee in 2012. Even the players spoke differently about Wily than any of the other pitchers. You could sense that everyone in the organization believed they had a special talent on their hands.
2015 was tough for Peralta, but in fairness, it was tough for the entire team. He spent nine weeks on the DL early in the season, and when he came back his velocity dropped sharply. Adding fuel to the fire, Peralta returned to a clubhouse in turmoil- they had just fired the only big league manager he had ever played for, and were already out of the playoff race long before the All Star break. Peralta struggled all year long and never really found consistency, finishing the year with a career worst 4.72 ERA in 20 starts.
2016 is off to an even worst start. Peralta was surprisingly named the Brewer’s Opening Day Starter after a disastrous spring, which seems to have carried over into the regular season. Among starting pitchers who have tossed two games, only one in the majors has a worse ERA than Peralta (10.80, 8.1IP). In both his starts, Peralta failed to make it through five innings, forcing the Brewers to turn to their bullpen far too early. In both cases, the team was unable to claw their way back, pinning Peralta with two well deserved losses.
David Stearns is not Doug Melvin. While he has all the statistical information he could ever need and several highly paid scouts he can turn to for player advice, Stearns does not have the emotional connection to players that have come up through the organization over the last decade – something Doug Melvin was often criticized for during his tenure as GM. If Peralta doesn’t pick it up quickly, I would not be surprised to see him out in the bullpen or even down in the minors.
The 2016 Brewers will live and die by the home run ball
The Brewers have 17 extra base hits this season- 9 of them are doubles, and 8 of them are home runs, which ranks 3rd in the National League. They’ve gotten three of those bombs from an unlikely source in Scooter Gennett, who went yard off a talented lefty in Madison Bumgarner on Opening Day. Scooter flashed a ton of power in Spring Training as well, leading the team with three home runs in preseason play. I’m a huge Scooter fan, and he takes a ton of heat for not being able to hit lefties, so I’m thoroughly enjoying this new found swagger he seems to be playing with. I’m not smart enough to know if it’s a change in mechanics, or just the natural progression of a talented baseball player, but whatever it is, I hope it sticks.
The Brewers have always been a team that relied on the long ball, and I don’t see 2016 being any different. Miller Park is a hitter friendly ballpark, and the Brewers are a young team that will likely need to score runs in bunches to remain competitive. When you’ve got a young team that struggles to string together base hits, power players are more likely to swing for the stars to try to change the course of the game with one swing of the bat. When it works, it makes for some crowd pleasing baseball. When it doesn’t, it’s just a lot of striking out. Hopefully for the Milwaukee Brewers, it continues to work, which brings me to my final point…
THE BREWERS ARE .500!!
…and it’s not like they are playing bad teams either; they’re .500 after two series against quality opponents! Winners of three of their last four, the Brewers survived the first week of the regular season at an even 3-3 after facing a Giants team that many have picked to win the World Series this year, and an Astros team that made a playoff run last year.
With the exception of the previously discussed struggles of Wily Peralta, the starting pitching has been outstanding. Jimmy Nelson has been fantastic, earning the win today after a tough loss Tuesday in which he pitched 7 innings and allowed just two earned runs. Chase Anderson and Taylor Jungmann, both new to the starting rotation, tossed five quality innings and put their team in a position to win.
The bullpen hasn’t been half-bad either. Blaine Boyer, Tyler Thornburg, and Michael Blazek have all pitched in 3+ games without allowing an earned run, and Jeremy Jeffress has three saves in as many attempts, and has issued just one walk in those appearances. If the Brewers find some consistency with these relievers, they will become incredibly lucrative as the trade deadline draws near.
We’re one week into the regular season, and the Brewers have found a way to win half of their games. If they continue to move forward at this pace, I’m absolutely going to get fired up about it! While the rebuilding process is still very much ongoing, kudos to this young Brewers squad for keeping things interesting and grinding out wins. Every time this team wins, it means one of two things: either the individual pieces of the team become more valuable, or the timeline between now and “our year” theoretically shortens. I’m fine with either, but for now, it’s just fun to look forward to watching baseball on a daily basis.