What makes a winner? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Newsflash: the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers need to play better against winning teams. Last night, the Brewers lost a 3-1 battle to the New York Mets that looked closer than it was, with the Brewers once again mounting late scoring opportunities that did not result in runs scored.

This is a common refrain among sports fans, always clamoring for their home nine to show-up against teams that matter in games that matter: “X need to play better against winning teams.”


Even though the Brewers need to improve their performance against winning clubs, their 2012 NL Central division fate might already be doomed due to their future games against losing teams. As much as fans want their teams to beat the opponents that matter, in the original Wild Card era, most division winners and Wild Card teams fattened up against losing squads.

Excluding the 1995 strike-shortened affair, there were 64 National League playoff spots during the first Wild Card era (isn’t it weird to think that we’re in the second Wild Card era?). While it shouldn’t be surprising that the vast majority of those clubs collected at least half of their wins against losing clubs, a sizeable portion of those 64 playoff teams built their win totals on the strength of beating losing clubs.

Overall, 54 of 64 NL playoff clubs from 1996-2011 collected 50% or more of their victories against losing clubs. Beyond that, 27 of those clubs collected more than 60% of their victories against teams with winning percentages south of .500. Within that group of clubs, there were still greater feats, as 16 teams collected more than 65% of their total victories against losing squads (6 of those going beyond 70%!)

So, what are the 2012 Brewers’ chances of building a great winning percentage thanks to playing losing squads?

First and foremost, the 2012 Brewers are among the 8 National League teams that have played the most games against teams at or above .500:

Houston 25
Chicago 24
Arizona 24
Pittsburgh 23
Cincinnati 20
Milwaukee 19
New York 19
Philadelphia 18

The 2011 Cardinals feasted on losing teams, collecting nearly 67% of their victories against teams below .500.

As you can see, there are some bottom dwellers in this category, but also some teams that would be expected to compete, too. Not surprisingly, most of these clubs — even Arizona, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and of course, Milwaukee — do not have particularly great records. This is a real problem for the 2012 Brewers, as there are several other clubs that currently boast losing records even though they built their roster to contend.

(On the other end, check out the current division leaders; only Washington has played even 40% of their games against winning team (going 9-6 in those 15 contests). On the other hand, St. Louis and Los Angeles are fattening up on losing clubs. St. Louis, in particular, has already played 28 contests against the weak NL Central).

The 2012 Brewers have approximately 70 potential games against teams with losing records remaining on their schedule. That includes games against several clubs that are in a position similar to the Brewers — losing clubs that could be expected to compete for their division. Therefore, when the Brewers play the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Rockies, those games will arguably occur against losing clubs that are not your typical <.500 team. Other fringe clubs, such as the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates, could also be winning clubs by the time the Brewers play them; again, those clubs could present a real challenge to the Brewers.

On the other hand, the Brewers have 23 games remaining against fringe contenders. These clubs are currently winning, but are straddling the .500 barrier in a way that makes them potential losing-clubs when the Brewers eventually face them. Depending on how the cards fall, the Brewers' future games against the Giants, Reds, and Marlins could be against <.500 clubs, or clubs roughly equal to the Brewers' talent level.

Between those different levels of fringe clubs, the Brewers have a good chance of accumulating approximately 86 games against losing clubs in 2012. Unfortunately, that places them in a difficult position, compared to a club such as the Cardinals. Not only has St. Louis already played 25 games against <.500 teams, but they have 72 games remaining against potential <.500 teams (including, of course, the Phillies, White Sox, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Brewers). They also have approximately 13 games remaining against the Marlins and Giants. The Cardinals have a very real chance at 60 victories before one even needs to consider how well they play against winners.

The 2003 Marlins collected fewer than 42% of their wins against losing teams.

Could the division math be so simple? The Cardinals have a schedule that potentially yields them 97 games against teams with losing records; the Brewers have 86 games against potential losing clubs. (The Reds are a sneaky team in this regard; they have only played 14 games against losing clubs thus far, but they have another 80 games scheduled against potential losing clubs). The Pirates, a fringe contender that could swing either above or below .500, have approximately 68 games remaining against potential losing teams.

This should not be viewed as complaining; it should not be viewed as excuse making. It should be viewed as a basic opportunity, or one explanation of the recipe for a winner: obviously winning teams take talent, but teams can only play the schedule ahead of them, and the difference between a team that takes a division and one that falls short might be as basic as who was on the calendar.

The next time you hear a sports fan say that they want to see their team beat more winning teams to assess the quality of their favorite club, tell ‘em the opposite — you’d rather see your team pile on against losers, just like the majority of playoff teams during the Wild Card era. No matter how much people want to believe that Division champions achieve their status due to merit, the circumstances faced by those teams will also influence their path.

I have a lot of fears about the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. One is that they put it all together too late, or continue to fire on different cylinders for too long. Another is that they put it together, but as they outplayed their run differential by 6 wins last year, they fail to collect as many in-the-nick-of-time victories this year. Another is simply that their schedule is too tough; perhaps too many of their games remaining against losing teams are scheduled against teams looking to contend, just like the Brewers. There are so many fringe teams in the 2012 National League, the remaining season looks like it’s going to be a real fight. Can the Brewers pull it together to go round-by-round?

WILD CARD ERA PLAYOFF TEAMS:
Year Team Total Wins (Record vs. <.500) / % of total wins / total games vs. <.500 teams
World Series representative in bold

1999 Astros 97 wins (77-35 vs. <.500) .794 / 112
2006 Dodgers 88 wins (69-36 vs. <.500) .784 / 105
2010 Reds 91 wins (71-38 vs. <.500) .780 / 109
2006 Cardinals 83 wins (62-52 vs. <.500) .747 / 114
2011 Brewers 96 wins (69-32 vs. < .500) .719 / 101
1999 Diamondbacks 100 wins (70-35 vs. <.500) .700 / 105

2009 Cardinals 91 wins (63-39 vs.<.500) .692 / 102
1999 Mets 97 wins (vs. 67-35 vs. <.500) .691 / 102
2010 Braves 91 wins (62-38 vs. <.500) .681 / 100
2002 Cardinals 97 wins (65-42 vs. <.500) .670 / 107
2011 Cardinals 90 wins (60-42 vs.. <.500) .667 / 102
2002 Diamondbacks 98 wins (65-29 vs. <.500) .663 / 94
2011 Diamondbacks 94 wins (62-36 vs. <.500) .660 / 98
2006 Mets 97 wins (64-41 vs. <.500) .660 / 105
2006 Padres 88 wins (58-55 vs. <.500) .659 / 113
2000 Cardinals 95 wins (62-30 vs. <.500) .653 / 92

1997 Braves 101 wins (65-23 vs. <.500) .644 / 88
2010 Giants 92 wins (59-29 vs. <.500) .641 / 88
2011 Phillies 102 wins (65-35 vs. < .500) .637 / 100
1999 Braves 103 wins (65-39 vs. <.500) .631 / 104
1998 Astros 102 wins (64-27 vs. <.500) .627 / 91
2007 Cubs 85 wins (53-40 vs. <.500) .624 / 93
1998 Cubs 90 wins (56-37 vs. <.500) .622 / 93
2005 Padres 82 wins (51-51 vs. <.500) .622 / 102
1997 Astros 84 wins (52-41 vs. <.500) .619 / 93
2002 Braves 101 wins (62-37 vs. <.500) .614 / 99
2002 Giants 95 wins (58-32 vs. <.500) .611 / 90

2010 Phillies 97 wins (57-37 vs. <.500) .588 / 94
2009 Rockies 92 wins (54-27 vs.<.500) .587 / 81
1996 Padres 91 wins (53-22 vs. <.500) .582 / 75
1998 Padres 98 wins (57-30 vs. <.500) .582 / 87
2001 Astros 93 wins (54-33 vs. <.500) .581 / 87
2009 Phillies 93 wins (53-33 vs. <.500) .570 / 86
1998 Braves 106 wins (60-26 vs. <.500) .566 / 86
1997 Marlins 92 wins (52-36 vs. <.500) .565 / 88
2005 Astros 89 wins (50-38 vs. <.500) .562 / 88
2004 Cardinals 105 wins (59-24 vs. <.500) .562 / 83
2008 Dodgers 84 wins (47-37 vs. <.500) .560 / 84
2000 Braves 95 wins (53-34 vs. <.500) .558 / 87
2000 Giants 97 wins (54-23 vs. <.500) .557 / 77
2004 Astros 92 wins (51-29 vs. <.500) .554 / 80
2000 Mets 94 wins (52-32 vs. <.500) .553 / 84

2008 Brewers 90 wins (49-24 vs. <.500) .544 / 73
2001 Diamondbacks 92 wins (50-27 vs. <.500) .543 / 77
2001 Cardinals 93 wins (50-34 vs. <.500) .538 / 84
2008 Phillies 92 wins (49-24 vs. <.500) .533 / 73
2005 Cardinals 100 wins (53-32 vs. <.500) .530 / 84
2004 Dodgers 93 wins (49-26 vs. <.500) .527 / 75
2003 Cubs 88 wins (46-29 vs. <.500) .523 / 75
2004 Braves 96 wins (50-30 vs. <.500) .521 / 80
2007 Phillies 89 wins (46-31 vs. <.500) .517 / 77
2001 Braves 88 wins (45-32 vs. <.500) .511 / 77
1996 Cardinals 88 wins (45-30 vs. <.500) .511 / 75
2007 Diamondbacks 90 wins (45-25 vs. <.500) .500 / 70

2009 Dodgers 95 wins (47-32 vs. <.500) .495 / 79
1997 Giants 90 wins (44-42 vs. <.500) .489 / 84
2008 Cubs 97 wins (46-22 vs. <.500) .474 / 68
1996 Braves 96 wins (45-30 vs. <.500) .469 / 75
1996 Dodgers 90 wins (40-36 vs. <.500) .444 / 76
2003 Braves 101 wins (44-18 vs. <.500) .436 / 62
2003 Giants 100 wins (43-22 vs. <.500) .430 / 65
2003 Marlins 91 wins (38-23 vs. <.500) .418 / 61
2007 Rockies 90 wins (36-31 vs. <.500) .400 / 67

2005 Braves 90 wins (33-21 vs. <.500) .367 / 54

1995 Dodgers 78 wins (55-43 vs. <.500) .705 / 98
1995 Rockies 77 wins (51-34 vs. <.500) .662 / 85
1995 Reds 85 wins (52-37 vs. <.500) .612 / 89
1995 Braves 90 wins (54-31 vs. <.500) .600 / 84

Images:

http://sportributor.com/news/3706-10082011-cardinals-vs-brewers-2011-nlcs-series-preview.html

http://blog.zap2it.com/pop2it/2011/10/st-louis-cardinals-win-world-series-david-freese-named-mvp.html

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/421772-best-and-worst-seasons-in-miami-professional-sports-history

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