Where do I even begin?
First things first, I’m going to admit that I got away with one as a writer by taking last Sunday off for the All Star Break. Why is that? Because words cannot explain how high I was on the Brewers last Sunday. They were 11 games over .500 coming off two straight wins to start the second half. They were 5.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Cubs in the NL Central. It was happening, you guys. And anyone who crossed paths with me last Saturday night in the Wisconsin Dells (admittedly, in a state of mind that’s only appropriate during one’s bachelor party) knew how I was feeling; there was no question – the Brewers were going to win the World Series.
My, what a difference a week can make.
Over the past eight days, the Brewers have gone 1-7, at one point losing six straight. The Cubs, meanwhile, won six straight to start the second half and sit just .5 games out of first place in the NL Central. A win for Chicago tonight on Sunday night baseball would have them tied with the Brewers 60% of the way through the season. It’s been a nightmare week for the Brewers, who saw their bats go quiet, their All-Star closer blow a save that would have bought them a game in a critical series against the Pirates, and the worst part of their 25-man roster exposed when the game was handed to their middle relievers. They watched the surging Cubs make a bold move to acquire one of the two hottest starting pitchers on the trade deadline market, and they saw the 5.5 game lead they worked so hard to build disappear right before their very eyes. They dropped two of three to the worst team in baseball, and let a seven run lead disappear late in the only game they would salvage during the worst week of their season. As a fan, it’s like I’ve been watching a train wreck play out over the course of 192 hours. Oh, the horror.
The timing of all of this magnifies the importance of what rookie GM David Stearns is going to do next. Mark Attanasio flew into town last weekend to publicly state that the Brewers were going to make some moves and officially “go for it”. You’ve got to wonder what he’s thinking now. For all intents and purposes, the Brewers are now tied with the Cubs. And with eight days left before the July 31st trade deadline, the players that are going to have an effect on the Brewer’s playoff odds this year are going to carry a price tag that will likely cost the Crew one, or many, of their top 10 prospects. It’s an opportunity cost that is suddenly a lot harder to swallow than it was seven days ago. So forgive me for being that guy, but I feel obligated to at least ask the question that’s on the minds of a lot of fans right now:
What if the Brewer’s don’t go for it?
It’s a gut wrenching proposition, but you have to look at the facts. The Wild Card, while still in play, is a one and done situation. It’s such a literal “wild card” of a situation that the Brewers would be foolish to make a move in the interest of trying to get the team to that game. The goal has to be winning the division, which means the Brewers have to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves: can we really beat the Cubs?
I don’t know, man. I just don’t know. Granted, the Brewers are in the worst slump of their season right now. Every team slumps, and when all’s said and done, if the slump ended today, there are plenty of ways to spin this streak of games in a not-so-negative light: “the Brewers have won 5 of their last 7 series” or the Brewers are 9-8 over their last 17 games”. But in order for the Brewers to stop the bleeding, they’re going to have to do it against the division leading Washington Nationals (on the road, mind you), and against the surging Chicago Cubs at home in front of a crowd that will likely be split 50/50 with fans. And to add to the situation, the trade deadline comes in a WEEK! Stearns doesn’t have time on his side any more. He’s been a seller in years past. Sellers have all of the leverage at the trade deadline. If he wants to be a buyer this year, he’s going to have to make competitive decisions based on imperfect information. Sure, the Brewers could send away some of their top outfield prospects for Sonny Gray, but that guy is only going to play once every five games! Will that really be enough? Is this really a slump, or are the Brewers showing their true colors? If they’re balking under the pressure now, what’s it going to be like if they’re a game ahead with ten to play at the end of September? Does this keep anyone else up at night!?!?
I’m flustered over here, guys. I’m frustrated, I’m shocked, I’m nervous every time our middle relievers walk the lead-off man, and I’m filled with doubt about the same team that just a week ago literally brought me to my knees with joy at Otto’s Supper Club (in fairness, that’s because the AC was broken and there was a fan on the ground). I don’t know what to do, and quite frankly, I’m glad I’m not being tasked to make those decisions. If David Stearns wanted to, he could pump the breaks and make some shocking deadline moves to send Travis Shaw back to the Red Sox and Corey Knebel to one of the 10 teams that are desperate for relief pitching, and he could garner a king’s ransom for them in return, further positioning the Brewers for success for years to come. But on the flip side, it’s July 23rd, and at least for the next 24 hours, the Brewers are guaranteed a share of first place.
Either they’re a slumping team that is going to bounce back and contend, or they’re a group of overachieving pretenders whose time atop the NL Central has come to an end. We’re going to find out which one of those statements is true over the next two months, but unfortunately for David Stearns, he’s going to have to figure that out over the next eight days, and the cost of being wrong has never been bigger.
FYI: Next week’s Sunday Cycle will be written and released after the 3PM Trade Deadline on Monday, July 31st