Less than a week away! That’s all that separates us from the return of spring. If you follow us on Twitter/Facebook, you probably have been seeing our countdown on a daily basis (taking different Brewers numbers through the years and applying them to how many days sit between now and April 3).
Baseball is on the horizon and we couldn’t be any more excited.
With that being said, I have to bring up a point that’s been on my mind for a while now. It seems that whenever I talk to folks about the upcoming season, a majority of people are constantly pessimistic. I’ll ask, “So, how do you think the Brewers will do this year?” I’m always disillusioned when I hear fans trash the team in a way that illustrates them as an absolute dumpster fire that’s headed straight towards a top five pick in the Draft. I’ve had at least six people respond to me by saying they’re bracing a dreadful 100+ loss season, or perhaps even (somehow) worse. To all of those people who are thinking that way, why?
This is a team that finished with a record of 73-89 last year. If anything at all, that should garner a little respect in the minds of the doubters who perceive them to conclude 2017 drastically worse. Sure, some key pieces that were flipped at the deadline are missing this campaign (Jonathan Lucroy, Will Smith, etc.). Despite that claim, remember that the Brewers finished with a better record post All-Star break than prior to the Midsummer Classic (I know that that comparison doesn’t completely align with the trade deadline but you should get the point).
There are plenty of intriguing pieces on this Brewers roster — all of which should be enough to spawn a sense of belief that this season won’t be a tank job. In recent weeks, multiple articles have been published that discuss how the Brewers could possibly be the surprise team in the National League this year. However, they don’t go as far as saying that they will be the surprise team.
What’s stopping them?
I know, I know, an easy answer exists. What have the Brewers done to prove that they could even make some noise this year? I suppose it relies on what one’s definition of what exactly making noise is and the path that leads there. This is usually taken into consideration by using the traditional route teams take to earning a playoff spot: make a splash one year by almost making it to October or by sneaking in as a Wild Card and then go on a deep run the following postseason.
That’s usually the blueprint for small-market teams like the Brewers that boast a stacked farm system. But what if this year’s team is a year or two ahead of schedule, despite their future core being situated in the Minors for most of the season? Is it that crazy to think that yes, the Brewers could be contending for a Wild Card spot come late August?
To answer the question above (from my point of view), no; I don’t think it is. In fact, I welcome that train of thought. This team is better than most people think. Want to know the No. 1 reason why? Pitching.
Go back and check out last year’s pitching stats. If you click the yearly total for team pitching staffs, the Brewers are mediocre. However, check out the splits for Milwaukee following the All-Star break. It’s a different story there:
Those numbers were good enough to suffice as the third best pitching staff in all of baseball in the second half of the season, behind only Chicago and Boston.
Am I urging you to expect these same types of performances out of the gates and for the linear progression to continue? Of course not, but I’m saying there’s reason for optimism. Junior Guerra and Zach Davies showed they can hold their own in the starting rotation and crank out positive performances. Now they’re coming into 2017 as two of the most anticipated Brewers players.
Next, Milwaukee holds pieces on offense that get the mind racing. For me, it starts with Jonathan Villar. His play acts as the beating heart of this Milwaukee squad. He came one home run away from a 20/60 season last year. It might be a bit unfair to expect those types of numbers this time around, but it’s justifiable for a fan to expect a similar impact to come from the now (presumably) second baseman.
The same goes for Hernan Perez. He made large strides in his game (a slash of .272/.302/.428 with 13 HR and 56 RBI), while also showing the versatility he provides out in the field (though his outfield could use a little more tinkering). But like Villar, don’t get too hyped over him. Nonetheless, his performance from last season earns some optimism coming into this April.
Then you have the big bats. Will Eric Thames find success the same way he did while playing in Korea? If he does, the Brewers are in for a treat, especially considering the hitter-friendliness of Miller Park. Ryan Braun should also provide a spark in the lineup with his bat as he always does every year. Don’t forget about Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana either, who can both create a combination of solid power flowing from the order.
Last, don’t dismiss Keon Broxton. Once he shored up the issues with his swing and brought his hands down to a position where he could load faster, he tore up the seams on the ball (I still don’t think Darnell Coles has received enough credit for how he turned around Broxton and Arcia). Unfortunately, we were cut short of seeing Broxton’s progression continue due to the brick wall of Wrigley Field when he fractured his wrist. But now that’s a thing of the past. He should be the starting centerfielder on Opening Day.
So what’s the main point I’m trying to get across? In the end, it comes down to two things. First, in regards to the Brewers opening a can of worms and an absolute calamity unfolding this season — no, that’s not going to happen. This team will win at least 70 games. Mark my words. I have them pegged for more, but at the bare minimum, they’ll scrape 70 wins.
No. You know what? I’ll take you one step further. They’ll win at least 73 games, matching their total from last season. This team will be taking a step forward, not backwards (and remember if they were to lose more games than they did last year, it’s not a failure of a season).
Second, to the people saying that this year’s team will be exciting while also ruling out being in playoff contention come late summer — stop! This team can contend come that time of the season. Do I think they’re a lock to claim the second Wild Card? Of course not. I wouldn’t bet more than $50 on it.
But do I think that there’s a chance that they can find themselves in contention come that time of year, perhaps 3-5 games out of the second Wild Card spot come late August/early September?
It’s definitely not as crazy as it sounds.