Fall is still officially four days away, but as soon as the days start getting shorter, autumn always hits me like a ton of bricks. It’s arguably the greatest season in a state that prides itself on presenting all four of them in all their glory year after year. There is no better time to be a Wisconsinite than the months of September and October, and while it’s only happened twice in my lifetime, there is perhaps no sports moment that brought me as much joy, and subsequent heartbreak, as the Brewers did during their 2008 and 2011 playoff runs. It’s just the greatest thing ever…
… and we’re still so far removed from it happening again.
I don’t know how many of you were fortunate enough to tune in to the Brewers 5-4 victory at Wrigley Field this past Thursday, but it was the closest thing to a playoff-like atmosphere the Brewers will see this year. A rowdy sell-out crowd filled every corner of Wrigley field as the Cubs looked to rubber stamp their season long dominance by clinching the NL Central with a win over the Brewers. As arbitrary as the milestone was, given how early in the year the Cubs were trying to clinch the division, you could tell that everyone in the building wanted to party, and the Brewers were looking to play spoiler.
It was awesome; like, on the edge of your seat awesome. Down 2-0 early, Keon Broxton put the Brewers on the board with a solo home run to center. Later that inning, the Brewers took advantage of a two-out error to plate two runs and take a 3-2 lead, only to watch the Cubs pitcher plate the tying run with his first major league hit. The fans were loud; pop flies to center field drew about as much noise as a home run does in Miller Park these days. There were close plays, defensive gems, momentum swings, and incredibly dramatic at-bats. The Brewers took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth, when Tyler Thornburg was called upon to lock down a four-out save against the best hitters on the best team in baseball. Thornburg bent but did not break. 5-4, Brewers win. Cubs would clinch the division around midnight with a Cardinals loss on the west coast, but by that time, most of the sell-out crowd was already asleep. The Brewers played spoiler. For just one night, it felt like the playoffs.
Any team that enters a rebuilding phase over the next decade or so will undoubtedly be compared to the Chicago Cubs, who slowly and painfully rebuilt their roster into the World Series favorites they are today. How quickly people forget how bad the Cubs were for the first part of the decade. They lost 91 games in 2011, 101 in 2012, 96 in 2013, and 89 in 2014 before they rose to the top of the Division last year. That’s four years of baseball that’s equivalent, or worse, to what Brewers fans watched this year. But do we really have three years to go?
David Stearns wasted no time in piecing together a top-ranked farm system. He also looks like a genius for bringing unexpected talent such as Junior Guerra, Keon Broxton (whose season came to a disappointing end on Friday), Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar to Milwaukee, all four of whom have performed well ahead of expectations this year. The Brewers six-pitcher starting rotation has the best ERA since August 22nd- that’s incredibly encouraging, especially for a team that is all but mathematically out of the playoff hunt! The Brewers just took 3 out of 4 games at Wrigley field against the favorites to win the world series, and their only loss came on a bottom of the ninth 1-run loss. Do we really believe that this team has to lose 100 games next year for the process to work?
I suppose only time will tell; but some days I wake up and think the future is now. Thursday’s win against the Cubs was one of those days. But then I hear all these rumors about the Brewers trading Ryan Braun this offseason and I start to wonder if we’ve only just begun the stripping down phase of the rebuild. The Cubs chose to get worse on a number of occasions in order to be better when it counted, and look at them now. While it sucks today (and has sucked all year) wouldn’t it be nice to be a Cubs fan right now? You can just sense what the Cubs fans are going through right now – no matter how sick to your stomach it may make you. They’re having fun, because their team is unbelievably good.
There’s just two weeks left until the regular season comes to a close and we hang it up for the year. As I begin what will likely be a three week reflection on the 2016 season as a whole, know this: Thursday night’s Brewers’ win reminded me what it felt like to watch playoff baseball. For anyone who loves and appreciates the game of baseball, there’s nothing in the world quite like it. It’s most certainly worth the wait.