It’s been a pretty good year thus far for the Sunday Cycle. I’m fresh off my promotion to Senior Baseball Writer after three years of rock solid writing, and overall readership of my weekly ramblings is up by about 20% this year. I’ve been flooded with emails, comments, and text messages from many of you asking me for my thoughts on the unexpected success of this team! So in honor of my loyal readers, I’m going to take on some of those questions in this week’s mailbag edition of the Sunday Cycle.
“Got a request for the Sunday Cycle. Talk about how the Brewers need a real closer”
I have to respectfully disagree here. At first glance, Corey Knebel’s numbers in save situations are less than stellar. He’s got three blown saves in eight opportunities, including two in the last 10 games. He’s definitely had a rough go of it lately, but I’m still bullish on Knebel. Blown saves are just brutal, but in his two most recent blown saves, he’s had the mental strength to finish out the inning without giving the opposing team the lead. Knebel also followed both of those blown saves with solid performances in his next appearances, including a save this afternoon where he struck out the side. He’s got a cannon of an arm, he throws 3.2 strikeouts for every walk he allows, and he’s doesn’t seem to get rattled when there’s men on base. He’s thrown a strikeout in 30 straight appearances- a Brewers franchise record. Every closer blows saves, and it’s always followed by cries from fans to yank them from the closer role. I’m not ready to do that with Knebel just yet- I think he’s got the potential to be great for this team.
“I don’t get how this team keeps winning. They were supposed to lose 100 games this year. How does this keep happening?”
The Brewers have been very streaky on different sides of the ball. During the month of April and early May, they couldn’t be stopped offensively. Everyone was hitting the ball, which was masking some lackluster performances from both their starting pitchers and their relievers. Over the past couple of weeks, the script has flipped. Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies have been lights out, and they’ve been making up for a disappointing lack of offense. So while they’ve surprised everyone by their early success, I don’t think we’ve seen this team peak yet. They haven’t been able to put it together on both sides of the ball at the same time. If they could do that before the All Star Break, we could see this team rattle off a bunch of wins in a short amount of time.
If I had to pick a singular reason for why the Brewers are in first place, I’d say it’s their mental toughness. Perhaps it’s their youth, but this team seems to have a very short memory when it comes to tough losses, and they’ve had plenty of them. I give a ton of credit to Craig Counsell and his coaching staff for this. If there’s one thing the teams from 2012 – 2015 did that drove me nuts, it was their mental hangovers from tough losses that seemed to last for weeks. There’s a different attitude with this team, and I think it’s paying off.
“I’m worried that the Brewers are getting distracted by their recent success. The Cubs are going to make a run, and the Brewers need to remember that they’re rebuilding. They better not blow it this July.”
Two things to note here. First- I trust David Stearns. He has made it crystal clear that the Brewers are focused on the long term. But second- what would the Brewers “getting distracted” even look like? I highly doubt that the Brewers are going to make a blockbuster signing at the trade deadline. If that’s the case, then the only downfall of focusing on trying to make a playoff run this year would be the missed opportunities to trade some of the high performers on this team. But would that really be that big of a deal? The Brewers have so much talent in the minor league system, especially on offense. At some point, they’re going to run out of major league roster spots for guys who deserve them (certainly a good problem to have). At some point, the Brewers are going to stop looking at their high performers as trade pieces and start looking at them as a part of the future. It is not out of the realm of possibility that players like Eric Thames and Travis Shaw could be important pieces to a championship caliber ball club in two to three years.
I get it, the Brewers are rebuilding, and their spot in first place likely has an expiration date. I want them to stay laser focused on the goal of creating an organization that is capable of sustaining success in the long term. But I think it would be foolish to suggest that their early success this year is a distraction from the larger goal. The goal is winning, and that’s what the Brewers are doing right now; just because they’re rebuilding doesn’t mean they have to follow a script and ignore the success that they’ve had this year.