For Brewers, the Future May Be Now
the Brew Crew’s rebuilding process is proceeding faster than anticipated
In sports, sometimes you have to bottom-out to top-off, though such a process does not guarantee that you will get back to the top. Lately, some teams in Major League Baseball have realized that their current make-up will not net them a World Series title, so they jettisoned good players, called up prospects, and hoped the reboot works. The process worked in somewhat different ways for the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, the past two champions. The process may be working now for the Milwaukee Brewers – faster than we expected.
If the Brewers were good enough to almost get to the playoffs last year, even with their core future players still mostly in the minor leagues, maybe they should accelerate the rebuilding schedule.
As Athletic Aesthetic looks to the 2018 baseball season, we find the much-talked-about Brewers rebuild to be seemingly ahead of schedule. Expectations for this team were low the past two years, as the remnants of the 2008 and 2011 playoff teams finally ran out of steam with a complete collapse during the second half of the 2014 season. New management was put into place, and the Brew Crew began a renovation to consistently contend for the playoffs.
Sometimes, these rebuilds take several seasons; sometimes, they only take one or two years. Market size and resources usually determine how much downtime will prove necessary, and being a small-market team – albeit one with an owner seemingly ready to spend mucho dinero – that meant patience was a likely requirement of Brewers fans: 2015 was a bad-but-not-horrific season, while 2016 saw the team top 70 wins, more than most thought would happen (yours truly notwithstanding).
Then came 2017. I wrote that the Brewers still had a ways to go before playoff potential would be realistic, but to most everyone’s surprise, Milwaukee camped out at or near the top of the National League Central Division. By the time the campaign had come to a close the Brewers had fallen from a playoff spot, but they missed the postseason by a single game and finished with a winning record.
That sure was a pleasant surprise, but remember: This is a franchise that still treats its sole World Series visit – a 1982 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals – with the gravity most teams treat legendary World Series VICTORIES. A couple of current generations of Brewers fans had not yet been born that year; seeing arch-rivals such as the Cardinals and Cubs recently contend for and win the World Series has lead to an understandable impatience.
If the Brewers were good enough to almost get to the playoffs last year, even with their core future players still mostly in the minor leagues, maybe they should accelerate the rebuilding schedule. One can never be totally sure how long the window of success will stay open. Perhaps the roster improved more quickly than management evaluations suspected; perhaps a big trade for that ace pitcher to once-and-for-all send Milwaukee to a World Series crown needs to happen this season, not in 2020. You can win now.
That presumes they will keep winning now. The 2017 Brewers were a curious mix of veterans playing above expectations with not much contribution from top prospects. Two years in a row, this team has performed better than most predicted; many will now expect this team to get to at least a Wild Card slot, though some baseball data sites see regression in store. I wonder if the computers may be correct.
The chemistry of this team may crystallize yet again, and that is an almost unpredictable factor. Let us also not bury the lead from the off-season: the acquisitions of two top-notch outfielders in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain (the latter a former Brewer minor leaguer). Yet will the remainder of the lineup again do more than we thought they could, or do we now think too much of this particular roster?
I see the 2018 Brewers a little worse than last year: perhaps ending with 80 wins, obviously sitting at home for another October. Meanwhile, despite numerous free agent pitcher pick-ups, the other Upper Midwestern MLB surprise – the Twins, who did score an American League Wild Card berth last year – might fall back to a similar number of victories.
Okay, 2018 may disappoint, where 2017 pleased. However, do not despair. Rebuilds are not always linear; some aspects come quickly, and others take awhile. Patience is frustrating, but it is a virtue – and it is the best way to make 1982 just another season.