I had to check my math a couple of times, but based on my calculations, we are just shy of 25% of the way through the Brewers regular season. At this point, most of the statistical anomalies have played themselves out, so batting averages above .300 and ERAs below 3.00 aren’t flukes, they’re actual indicators of players having good seasons. Now that most of the new players that graced the lineup card on Opening Day are familiar faces and names, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a sense for this team, it’s weaknesses, and it’s potential. And while there has been no shortage of disappointments for this young Brewers team, I’ll sum up my feelings about the first 25% of the season by saying this: I honestly didn’t expect the Brewers to be this “good”.
Hear me out here. First of all, the word “good” is used in quotations for good reason. I am not suggesting that the Brewers should be content with their 16-22 record. They’re 12 games back of the Cubs and all but out of the division chase; while they are only 5.5 games out of a wild card spot, they would have to leap frog 7 teams to get there. The Brewers are a losing baseball team, and losing is most certainly not good.
But it’s really important to keep in mind the expectations that were set for this season. Regardless of if you agreed with the approach or not, the Brewers dove head first into rebuilding mode. They shipped everyone they could out of town, promoted no-namers who weren’t ready from AAA, and signed players that couldn’t find a home anywhere else in the majors just to fill up the 25-man roster. It was an all out fire sale. Every major sports publication had the Brewers finishing in the bottom 5 in all of baseball, many predicting more than 100 losses.
Truth be told, I fully expected this season to be miserable. The Brewers lost 12-3 on Opening Day in front of a disinterested crowd, and I fully expected that to be the norm for this team. And while the Brewers have had their fair share of one-sided losses, they’ve also had a number of big and exciting wins. If you exclude the two game series in Chicago (cut short due to rain), the Brewers have yet to get swept in a three or four game series. Their two most valuable players, Braun and Lucroy, are both in the middle of All Star caliber seasons. They’re right in the middle of the league in every major hitting category, and their bullpen has been stellar thus far, anchored by Jeremey Jeffress, who earned his 10th save of the year this afternoon in the Brewers 3-2 victory. If the Brewers didn’t have one of the worst starting rotations in all of baseball, they might actually be in the playoff conversation.
While the Brewers are only three wins better than where they were at this point last year (16-22 vs 13-25), they’re a drastically different team, and more fun to watch. This year, they’re mounting comebacks and fighting for wins. Last year, they were getting rolled over and didn’t appear to have an ounce of fight in them. The 2015 season began with many fans clinging to the hope that the Brewers could make a playoff run. When they started the season 7-18 and fired their manager, the year was all but over for most fans before May even started. This year, with expectations so low, seeing this team go 16-22 has actually been a pretty enjoyable process. I expected moderate success from the 2015 Brewers, and got none; I expected very little success out of the 2016 Brewers, and have gotten some. It’s safe to say I’m in a far better place as a fan than I was 365 days ago.
There’s still quite a bit of baseball left to be played, and the Brewers have plenty of work to do in the next five months both as a team, and as an organization. If high performing players are traded before the July 31st deadline, we’re going to see the losses become even more frequent. For now, I think this team is right where it needs to be, perhaps even a bit better. Remember, this is supposed to be year one of a rebuild; this is supposed to be rock bottom. But it truly doesn’t feel like it, especially when you see teams like Minnesota and Atlanta who are losing but don’t seem to have a long term plan in place for the future.
Regardless of how poor the pitching has been and how low the expectations of this team continue to be, if the Brewers were to go on a hot streak and win 8 out their next 10, they’d find themselves right in the playoff mix. Do I think it will happen? No. But stranger things have happened. The fact that it COULD happen is enough to keep me actively tuning in on a daily basis. Fire up the grills, everyone, it’s going to be long summer!