In Baseball, Hope Doesn't Always Spring Eternal
as season opens, it’s hard to imagine Twins or Brewers sticking around until fall
The high temperature was around 60, the sun was shining, and my wife and I spent a Sunday afternoon grilling burgers and eating outside. The only thing missing from the scene was the background voice of Bob Uecker on the radio calling a Brewers game. Alas, this was a mid-February weekend – almost too early for Major League Baseball games, and definitely way too early for weather not requiring a jacket, but this all reminded us that the joys of spring were soon to be upon us.
The question if you are a western Wisconsin baseball fan is largely the same as last year: Will the enjoyment of listening to the legendary Uecker be the sole consistently high-quality aspect of our two local MLB teams? As Athletic Aesthetic looks towards the 2017 baseball season, there are reasons to think that the franchises playing my favorite sport may be figuring out the problem that sent them towards regular slots near the bottom of national power rankings. Yet – for at least another season, or maybe two – you can pretty much plan to spend your October sporting dollars at some place other than Miller Park or Target Field.
Baseball acumen – and money – got the Cubs their World Series title last autumn, proof that even the seemingly most-cursed franchise in American sports can find a way to win.
In fact, optimism is more warranted if you are a Milwaukee Brewers fan. The team struggled to meet expectations in the last decade, making the playoffs twice but finally falling apart by 2015. Their patchwork of a roster was not the type to compete with playoff regulars like the Cardinals and the then-growing Cubs juggernaut, so eventually David Stearns became the new general manager, while the rebuilding Brew Crew was feared to be in jeopardy of setting a franchise record for losses last season.
I was one of the only people who thought the Brewers would win more than 70 games, and for a change, I actually correctly predicted something in sports: They surprised with a solid 73 victories. Ryan Braun, despite many a trade rumor, is apparently staying in Milwaukee for years, and the many prospects Stearns has acquired are likely to have higher Major League prominence yet this season. True, they will not regularly tally the 24 runs scored in a recent spring training game, but their offense may be better than you think.
Pitching is the block between a Cinderella run at the playoffs and more matriculating through the morass of the National League bottom. Some of their starters are decent, but a real MLB ace is still being awaited. The bullpen is a sore spot, and 11-8 games may be the norm this summer.
I still see the Brewers on track to be a legitimate Wild Card contender by about 2019, though a surprise spurt into August and September playoff contention à la the 2015 Twins would not be out of the question. What is out of the question is the 2017 Twins emulating their two-years-ago selves. While setting an in-Minnesota record for most losses last year (not counting their pre-1961 years as the Washington Senators), the Twins made questionable decisions with prospects, while other newbies reached the majors and slumped. Joe Mauer is still there and, while decent, commands a massive salary for an above-average first basemen. The notion of a Cy Young-caliber pitcher results in laughter.
Despite the Twins saying Target Field was a necessity to stay financially competitive, their division-winning days in the ‘Dome in the 2000s have been supplanted by cellar-dweller languishing in their new revenue-generating ballpark during the 2010s. Apparently baseball acumen can still be the prime factor in winning percentage; their newly hired director of baseball operations will have to display as much to bring more playoff pennants atop the left-field upper deck.
Baseball acumen – and money – got the Cubs their World Series title last autumn, proof that even the seemingly most-cursed franchise in American sports can find a way to win. Then again, their GM – Theo Epstein – also oversaw the end of the other prominent sports curse with the Red Sox’s 2004 championship, so maybe the Brewers and Twins just need to give him a godfather offer. If the condition of arrival would be Theo doing color commentary with Ueck, surely a Brewers fan wouldn’t mind. They gotta get up, get up, and get outta here to October somehow.