Now is the time when every honest-hearted fan of a plucky, surprisingly good small market team starts to panic. Which is another way of saying that I’m panicking hard, like it’s my job. I think I may have actually woken up panicking about the Brewers a few nights ago, which is troubling for about thirty reasons. (Reason #7: there is absolutely nothing I can legally do to make the Brewers win more games. Reason #23: panic is inherently troubling.)
The numbers are the numbers, and you’ve surely seen them repeated many times before, but I’m going to do it again for the sake of my own emotional wellbeing. As things stand, there are 12 games left in the season. If the Brewers go 8-4 (which feels nigh impossible lately) it’s a lock. If they go 4-8 (which feels nigh inevitable) the Cards will have to go 9-4 to tie. If the Brewers go 5-7, the Cards have to go 10-3. Etc.
I think those numbers are right, but the particulars don’t matter all that much. The point is that losing the division is possible, but not likely.
The remaining schedule is stacked with teams, like the Rockies, whom Milwaukee should be beating. As we saw on Wednesday, that doesn’t mean anything in itself. There’s a certain joy to being a spoiler, a freedom that comes with… um, having nothing left to lose. (Sorry.)
The season has surely become something of a chore for those clubs lucky enough to have a statistically backed hold on their respective divisions. It’s probably a chore for everyone else too, but there’s a special weight that comes with the feeling of, “Ugh, haven’t we won yet?” You aren’t playing games to win something, but to not lose what you now feel entitled to. It’s something I like to call the 2K7 Pats Syndrome. Every game increases the potential depths of embarrassment.
It’s worth noting, maybe, that the last few games have taken some of the shine off of the team’s cohesion. Well, that’s the narrative at least, but I wonder if it’s a bit of a silly media construction. A few weeks ago, the consensus was that the Brewers were awesome and fun and scary. So, presumably, any half clever member of the national sports media has tasked himself with finding a chink in the armor; if he can’t find them, he’ll make them out of whole cloth.
So K-Rod and Prince are now agitators, faithless reprobates who’ve abandoned their teams to worship future paychecks. Or something. Prince says he’s “probably” leaving, and K-Rod is mad that he hasn’t had a chance at a save. Sure, this is stupid timing on both their parts, but it’s pretty clear that Prince has been badgered about his pretty obvious future plans all year. It should shock absolutely no one that he “probably” won’t be a Brewer next year, and people should stop asking about it. It’s a boring question he can’t give an honest answer to until the season’s over.
Nor should it shock anyone that K-Rod doesn’t like being a set up man, given that it’s pretty clear he was promised opportunities to close when he joined the team. Isn’t that what Doug Melvin said out loud and in front of a microphone, after all?
Obviously, people are upset about the lack of tact here, the impropriety of two key members of a winning ballclub making a selfish fuss before their team has actually won anything. But it’s fairly clear that Prince and K-Rod were goaded into saying things they shouldn’t by naggy reporters desperate to get a quote. And moreover, to repeat, neither said anything surprising or controversial.
Still, it’s annoying, and it plays right into the sweaty, cowardly hands of the Brewers-are-collapsing crowd (check your hands, they’re totally sweaty and cowardly, right?) It is also, essentially, just an annoying inconvenience.
The Brewers are exclusively playing sub-.500 teams from here on out. The last six games of the season will be played at home, and the last three are against the extremely beatable Pirates. No one of importance is on the DL, and both Weeks and Gomez will presumably be close to 100% very soon. Sure, the hitting looks lackluster, but it’s worth noting that team BABIP has been .278 for the last two weeks. Given that it’s at .293 for the season, it seems a readjustment is likely.
Maybe most importantly, the pitching still looks good. Losing games makes pitchers look worse than they are, and over the same two weeks the team’s ERA (3.20) and xFIP (3.36) have been fifth best in the majors. The pitching is not the problem, and the hitting can only get better.
So, yeah, panic is natural when things tighten up, but there are plenty of reasons to think recent performances are an aberration and not the new normal. Not that a chipper attitude is likely to help, but it might make the next few weeks a bit more pleasant.