Hey, look! The Brewers are nearly in the playoffs now! Nyjer, Prince and Ryan are on the cover of Sports Illustrated, bouncing like Ritalin’d teens at a Big Time Rush concert. Or like Big Time Rush themselves. Milwaukee (Wisconsin even!) is really excited and the greater American sports journalism community is very happy for us, and will deign to pay attention to a small market Midwestern team until someone on the Red Sox or Yankees sneezes or whatever.
Except that if the Brewers don’t make their presence known in the playoffs, everyone outside Wisconsin will portray the team as a flop, a loud pretender built to fail. Here’s why they’re wrong and stupid.
The Brewers are probably, conservatively, the third best team in the National League. I’ll give the second slot to Atlanta because they’re in the same division with the tiresome but great Phillies, setting aside the fact that the Braves are also in the same division with two teams the Brewers swept on the road (the Mets, the Marlins). The Phillies will be tough, maybe impossible to beat. They’re a big, expensive team with a rotation that’s almost endearingly nerdy until you see the price tag… $62 million, more than 2/3 of the Brewers total salary.
Picking the favorite between the Braves and Brewers right now, though, is tough. The Crew will have home field advantage in the playoffs, so Dan Uggla and co. will have to deal with our nefariously dimmed scoreboards. The Braves’ pitching (starters and relief) will probably be a bit better than the Brewers’, but the Brewers’ hitting will probably be a bit better than the Braves. Assuming Roenicke sits Yuni when he’s being normal Yuni and not Ultra Yuni.
Whatever happens, whoever wins, both teams have filled their rosters nicely and at about the same cost (approximately $90 million.) The assumption may be that the Braves are in a better position in the long run, given that Milwaukee shipped out its farm to get itself a better-than-average starting rotation.
I wonder how true this is, though. While the Brewers’ attendance certainly fluctuates a bit from year-to-year –depending on how the team is doing– the Braves can barely fill seats in the 9th largest city in the country during one of their better seasons in recent memory. Obviously, they’ve got a much more lucrative television deal, and
Papa Ted Turner’s Liberty Media’s unlikely to seal up the coffers anytime soon, but can they sustain the team indefinitely if no one’s going to games? I’m honestly asking. I have no idea.
Sure, Wisconsin’s likely to lose a little interest in the team if and when Prince leaves to retire from fielding to the American League; but most of the team’s core is tied down past 2012. And assuming the Brewers win the division, I seriously doubt the state will roll its collective eyes just because they failed to win something bigger. Ryan Braun has hitched his wagon to the Brewers’ horse until he’s 37 –sorry, bad metaphor– and I think Wisconsinites appreciate that a potential hall-of-famer actually wants to spend the bulk of his career in Milwaukee. That kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Derek Jeter is in New York, and Troy Tulowitzki is in Denver. Those are big, fancy cities that are rarely the butt of bad jokes made by cynical, half-clever people. (Also, apparently Denver is built on a cloud or a mountain or something. Who wouldn’t want to live there forever?)
It seems to me that Braun’s not a bad person to build a franchise around. From what I can tell, he’s a hugely positive influence on everyone around him. Hell, if Prince sticks around, I’m sure we’ll partly have Braunie to thank for it.
Plus, the Brewers have a surprising dearth of bad contracts at the moment. Randy Wolf looked like a minor bust last year, but he’s more or less earned his $10 million in 2011 (although the discrepancy between his ERA and FIP is slightly concerning. That can’t be due to stellar defense, can it?) Yuni will probably be gone unless a ruthless shortstop assassin strikes the rest of the majors. And there has been no dumb attempt to tie Casey “Enigma” McGehee to a silly, long term deal.
Melvin’s Canadian sense of financial caution bodes well for this team’s future, methinks. Sure, the farm is a little bare, but guys like Wily Peralta and Taylor Green could well become more than competent replacements for familiar, more expensive faces. Yes, I just called Casey McGehee’s face expensive. What of it?
Cubs fans obviously have reason to fret. There’s a good chance half that team will be elsewhere come 2013, for the simple reason that few dudes on that roster are worth what they’re paid. And I have to wonder if the Cardinals aren’t about to wildly deconstruct if and when Pujols and La Russa make their inevitable dramatic, alligator tear laden exits.
True, the Reds still exist. And the Pirates could be kinda scary next year, maybe. But I’m fairly comfortable with the 2012 Brewers competing against this enervated NL Central. And if they stay near the top for a few years, there’s always a chance for postseason magic. Right?