The 1987 Brewers have gone down in franchise history as “Team Streak”. The 1987 team established the “Team Streak” identity early in the season. Right out of the gates, they won their first 13 games, which still ties the 1982 Atlanta Braves for most consecutive wins to start a season. After dropping to 13-1, the 1987 team ripped off four more consecutive wins to bring their record to 17-1, the best record for any American League team through the first 18 games of a season. After making it 20-3, “Team Streak” lost 12 straight games. On May 13, 1987, after their eighth straight loss, the Brewers fell out of first place and never found their way back. During the rest of the season, “Team Streak” burnished their reputation by going on a six-game winning streak once, five-game winning streaks four times, a six-game losing streak once, and four-game losing streaks twice. Of course, Paul Molitor sealed the “Team Streak” identity by going on a 39-game hitting streak after the All Star break.
It’s only 14 games into the Brewers’ 2013 season, but I’m more confused than ever on what to expect from them. Are they more like the team that started the season 1-5 and featured a respectable offense, but horrendous pitching? Or are they more like the team that followed up an extra-innings win in St. Louis with a series sweep of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants? Through 14 games, this team already has one five-game losing streak and an ongoing four-game winning streak. And that doesn’t even factor in the Brewers’ most surprising streak of the season – the 32 consecutive scoreless innings that occurred in Chicago and St. Louis. Even with the injuries to Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez, no fan expected this offense to slip into the deepest, darkest offensive funk in franchise history. So, should Brewers fans expect these momentum swings to continue or not? Are the 2013 Brewers a candidate to turn into “Team Streak 2.0”?
I’m going to cross my fingers and say “No”. That said, the 1987 Brewers did finish 91-71, a record even the most optimistic 2013 Brewers fan would love. What I mean is that I expect this team to find a more even keel as the season progresses. The Brewers’ offense exemplifies the almost schizophrenic start to the season for the team –
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The start of the 2013 season has presented the Brewers with just as many challenges off the field as on. Injuries to Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Narveson, Ryan Braun, and Jean Segura have driven the Brewers to juggle their roster and line-up continually. No one expected Yuniesky Betancourt to be an everyday player or Blake Lalli and Josh Prince to be the bats off the bench this early in the season. Yet, that’s exactly where the Brewers are and, now that they have settled into their roles, all three players made significant contributions during the series against the Giants. With the return of Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart, offensive production should stabilize and help keep the team from completely disappearing, like it did in St. Louis. Even after the offensively dismal St. Louis series, the Brewers are averaging 4.07 runs a game.
Of course, the Brewers are also giving up an average of 5.36 runs a game to start the season. It doesn’t take a sabermetrician to know that giving up five runs and scoring four runs is not a recipe for success. Yet, in terms of runs against, the pitching numbers are trending in the right direction –
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After getting taken to pound town through the first two series, the Brewers’ pitching has improved. The team has not only pitched better but has also reshuffled personnel to address problems. Regarding the first point, the 4.33 runs allowed a game, over the last two series, isn’t great for Brewers’ pitching but it is league-average. Starting with the series in Chicago, Brewers’ starting pitchers have six quality starts over the last eight games. Yesterday, Nicholas Zettel gave some love to the Brewers’ bullpen in his column. To update his breakdown with Thursday’s numbers, over the last six games, Brewers’ relief pitchers have a 2.04 ERA – 17.7 IP, 4 R, 13 K, 6 BB (one intentional), and 1 HR.
In addition, the Brewers have not been afraid to address their pitching problems. Jim Henderson replaced John Axford as the team’s closer, though some might argue this didn’t happen soon enough. Since being shuffled into lower leverage situations, Axford has pitched better – allowing no runs and only one hit over his last three outings. The team also inked K-Rod to a minor league deal as extra insurance, if the bullpen goes off course over the next month. There’s also the issue of Mark Rodgers, who is in extended spring training in search of his lost fastball velocity. Eventually, the Brewers will have to find him a spot in the bullpen or expose him to waivers. Finally, after Mike Fiers’ spring training struggles followed him into the regular season, the Brewers sent him back to Triple-A after making only one start and pitching a total of 7.1 innings. Instead, the Brewers have handed the fifth spot in the rotation to Hiram Burgos, their minor league pitcher of the year in 2012. For 14 games into the season, that’s a good amount of activity involving the pitching staff – not to mention Chris Narvson’s eventual return from the DL. The message from the Brewers’ management seems clear, do your job well or we’ll find someone else who will.
I respect Doug Melvin, Ron Roenicke, and the rest of the organization for seeking solutions and not sitting on their hands to see what streak might happen next. Through the first 14 games, the Brewers were a team plagued by injuries, inconsistent play, and off-field issues. As the dust settles, they are 6-8, the exact same record they were last year with a healthy team and Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in their starting rotation. Now, the offense is starting to swing it, as expected, and will improve once Ramirez and Hart return to the line-up. The starting rotation has pitched better the last two turns, and the organization has additional bullpen arms locked and loaded if there are further struggles. All these factors lead me to believe that the team’s performance will stabilize, compared to the start of the season.
In 1982, the Brewers started 23-24 before firing Buck Rodgers. The next day, June 2, Harvey Kuenn was hired and coached his first game. From there forward, the Brewers went 72-43 and Harvey’s Wallbangers were born. Unlike “Team Streak,” a team’s identity isn’t always established from day one. Sometimes, teams take a while to find their personality. With so many balls in the air, there are still a lot of unknowns for the Crew this season. Don’t be surprised if it takes the Brewers some more time to seek out who they’ll be in 2013.