Officially past the halfway point of the 162-game MLB season and still in 1st place in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers are starting to garner national attention for a season that few, myself included, could have ever predicted. They currently sit two games above the Cubs in the division, and with just two weeks left until the All-Star Break, GM David Stearns is starting to run out of conceivable excuses for why the Brewers would shy away from trying to make a run at the postseason. As someone who fully expected to watch this team lose 90-95 games this year, I couldn’t be happier to have been proven wrong thus far; it’s ridiculously difficult to spend two hours a week for six months writing about how fans need to trust the process and stay patient. Who am I kidding? Being patient sucks. Winning rocks. O’Doyle rules!
I’ve been wrong a lot this year. I was wrong when I predicted that Jimmy Nelson would be the most disappointing Brewer. I was wrong when I predicted Zach Davies would establish himself as the ace of the starting rotation. I was way off on my prediction that Neftali Feliz would prove to be one of David Stearns best signings as GM (he quite literally may have been his worst), and you could argue that I was wrong to think Eric Thames could hit 50 home runs, although I’m still holding out hope. And while I’ve been right plenty of times on the big things, I’m fine admitting that I’ve had my fair share of incorrect predictions. That’s the beauty of being both a Senior Brewers writer and a glorified volunteer for the Squeaky Curd: I can pretty much write anything I want to about this team.
So no- I’m not going to stop making predictions! I’m not going to “tone it down on the clickbait” (shut up, mom!), and I’m certainly not going to shy away from trying to answer the questions that are on the minds of Brewers fans all over the city, who are likely just as scared as I am to truly commit to this team emotionally. The success of this team continues to be somewhat of a mystery, and I feel a personal sense of obligation to take a shot at answering some of the most burning questions surrounding the most surprising team in all of baseball, your Milwaukee Brewers.
How big of a loss is Chase Anderson, and does his injury mean the Brewers going to give Josh Hader a chance to start?
I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that Chase Anderson was probably the worst possible player the Brewers could have lost to injury at this point in the season. He was hands down my first-half MVP, coming out of nowhere to post a 6-2 record with a 2.89 ERA. The Brewers are real deep on offense, but they don’t’ have that luxury in their starting rotation or their bullpen. Anderson has been an absolute rock for this team in 2017; his absence will certainly be felt.
There is nobody I would rather see enter the starting rotation than Josh Hader. Since being called up nearly a month ago, Hader has been virtually perfect; he has yet to allow a run in 7 appearances spanning 9 innings. And while he’s gotten himself in trouble with his 8 walks allowed, it’s been kind of fun to watch Hader pitch himself out of some difficult situations, albeit situations that could have been avoided.
With Junior Guerra, Zach Davies, and Matt Garza all having average seasons thus far, Hader could add a spark to this rotation and create a sense of urgency between those three, who could suddenly find themselves pitching to keep their spot in the rotation towards the end of Anderson’s 4-6 week stay on the DL. It makes perfect sense to me, but that’s why I’m not a Major League General Manager.
We’re not going to see Hader in the rotation- at least not yet. David Stearns is going to be incredibly careful with his top pitching prospect, who he (rightfully so) views as a long-term investment for this franchise. The Brewers have a plan for Hader, which likely features strict limits on pitch counts as they try to ease Hader in to the major league game. While I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that we could see Hader pitching in September (or October, which sounds so awesome when you say it out loud), every comment Stearns has made suggests that the Brewers are content with his current role in the bullpen. The Brewers aren’t going to let the unfortunate injury of Chase Anderson derail the plan for someone they believe could be a future star in the rotation in the not so distant future; they’re going to let the development plan take its course.
What is the single most important factor for why the Brewers are in first place?
There are so many good answers to this question. You could go with the fact that nearly everyone in their lineup has shown the power to hit the home run ball. You could point to the incredible depth they’ve got on offense, as evidenced by their 3-2 win on Friday in which Ryan Braun, Eric Thames, Orlando Arcia and Manny Piña were all missing from the starting lineup. You could go with the surprise emergence of Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Corey Knebel, who all rank amongst the top in the majors for their respective positions. You could certainly go beyond the box score and cite this team’s resilience and ability to bounce back quickly from some heartbreaking losses. All of those would be good answers, but they wouldn’t ring true to me.
This will likely anger a reader or two, but sometimes the truth hurts: The Brewers are in first place primarily because the Cubs aren’t.
There, I said it.
If you would’ve told me the Brewers would be a game or two above .500 on July 1st, I would not have written that off as impossible. But if you had you told me (or most avid baseball fans, for that matter) the Cubs would be below .500 on July 1st, I would have called you crazy. The Cubs roster is nearly identical to the team that won 103 games and a World Series last year, and yet they continue to lose games at a puzzling rate. At this point last year, the Cubs were 20 games above .500 at (52-32), which would put the Brewers a firm 8 games out of 1st place with their current 44-40 record. So while I refuse to take anything away from this Brewers team, who has outperformed expectations every step of the way during the first three months of the season, I do believe that without the lack of success from the Chicago Cubs, the Brewers wouldn’t be in a position to seriously consider the potential of October baseball in Milwaukee.
Is the Brewers organization going to try to make the postseason this year?
The tone changed this week. Mark Attanasio sat with Uecker and Jeff Levering on the radio broadcast of yesterday’s game and stated a couple of times that GM David Stearns could do “whatever he wanted” this year. Despite noting that he wasn’t going to “force” Stearns to go all in, the fact that Attanasio was even entertaining the idea of the Brewers winning the division this year is a dramatically different tone from even a month ago.
It’s important to remember that the Brewers are a business that functions under an incredible amount of pressure for information. The media and the fans overanalyze every word of every sentence uttered by anyone in the organization. Messaging is critically important, and it stands to reason that a huge amount of effort is taken to ensure the leaders of this team are on the same page before they make public appearances.
Thus far, Stearns has played the role of the patient GM focused on the long-term success of this team. Manager Craig Counsel has played the role of the coach who can’t worry about the rebuild and instead needs to try to win every game. To date, Attanasio has played the role of the patient owner who trusts the process, even at the expense of short term success. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but I could hear it in Attanasio’s voice yesterday- he’s starting to believe. And with one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball over the past couple of years, I’m sure Attanasio wouldn’t hesitate to take on some big money short-term contracts if it meant the Brewers could fill a couple of gaps and make a run at the postseason.
The July 1st milestone is a big one in baseball. Nothing is a fluke anymore. The Brewers are in a position to contend, and our owner sees it. It’s an exciting time for a fanbase who thought we were still a couple of years removed from a division championship. My advice to Brewers fans: get on board if you haven’t already- there’s no sense in sitting back and waiting for something that might already be here.