If you stopped paying attention to the team with the worst record in Major League Baseball, then know this week of 3-4 baseball for the Brewers was full of the same frustrations we’ve seen all season. The week featured blow out wins and losses, stellar pitching performances coupled with a lack of run support, imploding bullpens that turned around the next day and dominated, and the same old base running and fielding errors that have defined this team for quite some time. It was a roller coaster week, high(low)lighted by the ejection and impending suspension of reliever Will Smith for blatantly using a combination of sunscreen and resin (also known as a “foreign substance”) to improve his grip on the ball. When the dust had finally settled, the Brewers were losers in both road series, albeit to decent opponents. It was a week that may have been enough to finally end the hopes of the small few who still thought this team could make a miracle run to get back into contention, and I wouldn’t blame many of you who sit here on Sunday night more frustrated with the Brewers then ever.
Not me, though. I saw something different this week.
Even though the scoreboard and the growing distance between the Brewers and every other team in baseball may defy me, I sit here on Sunday night with an emotion I haven’t felt towards the Crew this entire season: optimism.
This was one of the first weeks where I was able to sit down and watch at least a part of every game, many of them in full. I think that’s what I needed to start to understand just what this team is up against. Take today’s starting lineup, for example. The infield consisted of Jason Rodgers, Luis Sardinas, Hector Gomez, and Adam Lind, with Martin Maldonado behind the plate; that’s four of the five in the infield that were supposed to be supporting players this year, most of them backing up former All Stars. The trio of Rodgers, Sardinas, and Gomez have all held their own at the major league level even though they’ve been rushed into a position where they are being relied upon on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some bumps in the road. Even though Sardinas is batting a cool .333 in his nine games in the majors, he committed a brutal mental error in the infield today that cost the Brewers a run in a 2-1 ball game, on top of a base running error last night. Jason Rodgers has been forced to play third base for the first time in his career, a move that has come with some ugly throwing errors. These guys are young and ripe with inexperience, something Brewers fans are going to see a lot should the organization enter a full rebuilding phase.
It was encouraging to me that almost all of the games this week were one or two plays away from swinging in the Brewers favor. With a lineup of bonafide AAA players, it’s impressive to even get that close on the road against some decent teams. They have been able to hold their own without Jonathan Lucroy and Jean Segura, which is impressive. While it was brutal to see the Brewers lose, it was fun to watch them play and keep it close. Even though I enjoyed the youngsters doing their part to keep the Brewers in the game, the biggest source of my optimism this week came from a certain former MVP: Ryan Braun.
Braun is on an absolute tear right now. He is batting .302 over the past 25 games, with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs. He is batting .429 with RISP and has started to spread his hits around to all areas of the outfield, something he was unable to do all of last year with his thumb injury. He is starting to look like the old Ryan Braun, which should have Brewers fans elated for one singular reason: TRADE VALUE. If the rumor mills are true, the Brewers have stated they are unwilling to take even a slight hit on Braun’s contract, meaning that only the big payroll teams who can take on a 100 million dollar contract will be in play for Braun this July.
The ONLY way Braun can get traded to one of those teams is if he continues to play this well. This is truly the best possible thing that could be happening to the Brewers right now. Braun’s individual success could be more important in the long run to the Brewers organization than wins and losses this year. If you subscribe to the belief that this team needs a complete overhaul, ridding themselves of Braun’s contract would be a colossal step in that direction – it frees the team from their $100 million dollar commitment and purges them from the burden of Braun’s PED scandal.
Don’t get me wrong, it was tough to watch the Brewers lose two one-run games in a row this weekend. Watching the Crew dig a bigger hole for themselves week after week is already taking it’s toll on this fan base, and it’s only going to get worse throughout the long summer months. That’s why it’s so important to take a step back from the wins and losses and look at the bigger picture: the surging bat of Ryan Braun coupled with youngsters stepping up is what’s on the horizon for this club. That’s what’s keeping me optimistic.