He Was Wrong, but That's All Right
Brewers, Twins exceed expectations of subpar performance in recently ended season
When you make predictions, you ideally want your prediction to be proven correct; this is a point of personal pride, perhaps an indicator of clairvoyance or a badge of expertise. However, when your prediction involves the mediocrity of your favorite Major League Baseball teams, you somewhat hope to be proven wrong, even if your prior words remain on the Internet and printed pages throughout the future.
Thankfully, I was way wrong.
Sure, the good times did not last: The Brewers continued their tendency to lose versus teams below them in the standings, they hit some rough stretches, and a Cubs team that underperformed for the first half of the year finally went into acceleration mode beginning in August.
When previewing this past MLB season, neither the Milwaukee Brewers nor the Minnesota Twins were considered playoff-caliber teams. To be fair, I was far from the only prognosticator to expect a sub-.500 record and another October of watching, rather than participating in, the postseason for each team.
The Brewers’ arch-rival Chicago Cubs were seen to have another shot at another crown, and those pesky St. Louis Cardinals would probably again be above the Brew Crew. While the Brewers surprised most everyone with 73 victories in 2016 as they began their rebuild process, win regression was the likeliest outcome this year, even with the progress of young talent keeping them on track for a winning record next year and maybe the playoffs by 2019. I was admittedly bullish, pegging their 2017 win total at 79, but that would still not be enough for October baseball.
Then Eric Thames began hitting numerous home runs in his return to MLB from South Korea. As Thames’ homer binge fell off, fellow new acquisition Travis Shaw lived up to his nickname as The Mayor Of Ding-Dong City. Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson quietly became one of the most-effective starting pitching duos in all of baseball. Mid-season pick-ups played key roles. Remarkably, the Brewers had a five-and-a-half-game lead in their division at the All-Star break.
Sure, the good times did not last: The Brewers continued their tendency to lose versus teams below them in the standings, they hit some rough stretches, and a Cubs team that underperformed for the first half of the year finally went into acceleration mode beginning in August. Even though the Brewers finished 86-76, they were still six games behind the Cubbies at the season’s end; however, they came oh-so-close to qualifying for a Wild Card spot, being eliminated in their second-to-last regular season game.
Who in March predicted that outcome? Likely no one.
The same applies for the Twins, who hung near the American League Wild Card threshold, seemingly gave up on the season in late July by trading away two key pitchers, and then proceeded to play some of the best baseball in the country for the next few weeks. To be fair, approximately half the AL finished with around 76 wins (I kid, but this was a down year for quality around the league), but Minnesota won when they needed to, and blasted past expectations for slight progress beyond their 100-plus-loss 2016 campaign.
They went one-and-done in the Wild Card game to the Yankees, but they can claim to be a playoff team, and their approach to hitting and base-running markedly improved throughout this past year. Thus, Brewers legend and Twin Cities native Paul Molitor earned himself a contract extension as the Twins skipper. With him staying at the helm, and another hometown manager in the Milwaukee-area’s Craig Counsell for the Brewers, I think I can safely predict that playoff potential will be part of the plan come next year.
I am feeling hopeful about my predictive abilities, so let’s throw in a quick assessment of our state’s NBA team. The Milwaukee Bucks finally got back to the playoffs this prior spring, and while they only lasted one series, you felt as though the positive trend line would continue as they hit the hardwood this autumn. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished in the top ten for 2016-17 MVP voting; many of last year’s players are back, and talking to someone I know who covers the Bucks, they are already displaying a particular maturity. Can they be NBA champs in their final Bradley Center season? Likely not, with such excellence around the league, but they should win more games than last year.
And if past is prologue, my prediction just underestimated a magical playoff run to come. You’re welcome.