It’s cloudy, it’s rainy, and it’s cold. On this gloomy autumn day, the Brewers completed their 162nd game of the 2016 MLB season, bringing an end to another chapter of their franchise history. Tomorrow, their players will return to Miller Park, clean out their lockers, and go their separate ways, left to sit and watch the 12 teams worthy of extending their season into the playoffs.
This season was complicated. It was the first season in recent memory, and certainly the first season as the author of the Sunday Cycle, where I woke up on Opening Day and saw no chance for the Brewers to make the postseason. It was the first time I’ve been a fan of a team that decided to publicly admit they were rebuilding. Never before were my expectations so spectacularly low.
I’m going to try to recap this season and my thoughts on the future of this ball club in five segments. I’ll start with the individual players, covering this year’s winners and losers. I’ll then dive into reasons for both optimism and concern for the future of this team, and finish the year off with some bold predictions before shutting down the laptop for the long winter ahead.
Braun batted .305 with 30 home runs, 91 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases. He re-established himself as one of the premier 5 tool players in all of baseball, and he goes into the off season with no health concerns. He is now statistically the most productive Brewer in franchise history.
Villar was exactly the type of lead-off hitter the Brewers desperately needed, showing more plate discipline than Carlos Gomez and more speed than nearly every lead off hitter the Brewers have seen in the past decade. Villar led all of baseball with 62 stolen bags, and fell just one HR shy of becoming the fourth player in baseball history to steal 60+ bags and hit 20+ home runs. Villar struggled mightily on defense, and will need to work hard this off season as he settles in somewhere other than the shortstop position. At just 25 years young, the Brewers have found themselves a solid young player to start building around. I hope he’s in Milwaukee for a long time.
What Junior Guerra was able to accomplish this year as a 31-year old rookie was nothing short of a miracle in baseball terms. In 20 starts, Guerra went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA, with 100 strikeouts vs. 43 walks allowed. I can promise you everyone in baseball is as perplexed by Guerra’s season as I am. Had he not gone on the DL for just shy of a month, Guerra could have made a real case for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Given his age, and the Brewers’ current rebuilding state, I would not be surprised to see Guerra traded this off season. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a job well done for both Guerra and David Stearns, as well as the Brewers coaching staff.
Honorable Mention- Chris Carter (NL Leading 41 home runs, but set the Brewers franchise record for strikeouts), Keon Broxton, Tyler Thornburg
Jimmy Nelson: Not going to lie, this one hurt. Bad. Jimmy Nelson struggled mightily this season, posting an 8-16 record with a 4.62 ERA. He had issues all year getting out of the first inning of games. We’ve been waiting a long time for Nelson to develop into the premier pitcher we all thought he was going to be after he dominated at the AAA level in 2012 and 2013, but here we are after two and a half MLB seasons and Nelson just isn’t there. Rest assured 2017 will be a career defining year for Jimmy Nelson. 2013 seems like a lifetime ago- it’s time for Nelson to put up or shut up at the major league level.
Scooter Gennett and Domingo Santana: I bucket these two together because both players began the season as the clear starters for their positions, and both will enter the off season fighting for that spot in 2017.
Gennett was slightly above mediocre, batting .265 with an OBP of .317. But with Orlando Arcia’s arrival at the Major League level, the Brewers will need a place to put Jonathan Villar, and it doesn’t look like that spot will be third base.
As for Santana, his .440 slugging percentage and .348 OBP weren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but the Brewers are absolutely stacked with minor league talent in the outfield, and much of that talent will be competing for 25-man roster spots next Spring. Santana was okay this year, but the Brewers could theoretically have 4-5 different prospects competing for his spot next year. Hopefully being “okay” won’t cut it for much longer on this team.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Garza (#theworst), Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ramon Flores
Why I’m optimistic
By winning an otherwise meaningless game in Colorado this afternoon, the Brewers finished their season with a 73-89 record, narrowly avoiding the dreaded 90-loss mark that seems to somewhat artificially separate the bad teams from the terrible teams in baseball. How quickly we forget that many baseball pundits picked this team to lose over 100 games.
By starting the season 11-18, the Brewers quickly eliminated almost any hope of seriously contending for a playoff spot. By the time the August 1st trade deadline passed, they were without a number of their highest performing players, namely Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy. Yet despite all of this, and facing a daunting schedule filled with playoff teams, the Brewers finished the season 26-22 after August 1st. Their starting pitching rotation maintained the best ERA in all of baseball for over 30 days during that stretch. Manager Craig Counsell managed to keep the environment in the clubhouse competitive, and it showed in the way this group played. They started to string together good wins against good ball clubs, and they will be able to take some real momentum into the off season as a result.
Why I’m concerned
At the start of this season, I wrote that I was all-in on the Brewers rebuild process, even if that meant a couple of 100 loss seasons before competitive baseball returned to Milwaukee. Why would anyone want to go through something like that? Take a look at the Cubs: that’s why.
The Brewers exceeded my expectations this year. They played better baseball than I thought they were going to, which should be a good thing… right? Here’s my concern: I don’t want the Brewers to lose focus. I don’t want this organization to pretend that a 73 win season is something to be proud of. Better than expected? Absolutely. But good? No. Not at all.
The Brewers are still years a way from being a championship caliber team. They need at least three to four more players hitting .285+ in their lineup. They need to find a way to win games without relying on the home run as their sole form of run production. They need an ace, and preferably one that grows up in their minor league system. They’ve got pieces, and they’ve got promise, but they’re not there yet.
I don’t think the Brewers have to lose 100 games to rebuild the “right way”, but I do think there will be a point in time where owner Mark Attanasio opens up the pocket book and starts going for gold via free agency. I don’t want that time to come until the Brewers really are ready for it, which won’t be for a couple more years. I hope the Brewers keep the focus on the long term, and don’t allow their moderate level of success this year to cloud their long term vision.
And finally, some (somewhat) bold predictions
-Ryan Braun will be a Brewer on Opening Day in 2017 (I’ve gone back and forth on this, but it’s what you print last that really matters).
– The Brewers will lose 90+ games next year, and will dip below 2 million in attendance in the process.
-Craig Counsell’s contract will be extended this off season.
-Ed Sedar will be relieved of his coaching duties this off season, after 25 years with the Brewers.
-The Cubs will not win the World Series.
That’s a wrap on Season Three of the Sunday Cycle, folks! Thanks to any and everyone who took time to read my weekly ramblings on my favorite baseball team. As I’ve said so many times this year, the pain of rebuilding will all be worth it when we’re packing up our coolers for our playoff tailgates. And as always in baseball, there’s always next year. Only 183 days until Opening Day!