The Milwaukee Brewers are not exactly one of the more celebrated major league franchises. In fact, if you take the time to sift through the team’s history, you’ll most likely come away from the experience puzzled, sympathetic, and perhaps a bit numb. The franchise started out in 1969 with the mistaken identity of the Seattle Pilots, otherwise known as the team Jim Bouton wrote his memoirs while playing for. Ninety-eight losses later, the franchise decided that the wins would never come in that location, so they moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and cut their losses down by a whole game.
It wasn’t until 1978 that the Brewers finally posted a winning season at all, in fact. To further add to the team’s ongoing identity crisis, they were moved from the familiar environment of the American League to the National League Central Division in 1998. In either league, whether playing in Seattle or Milwaukee, the Brewers have made it to the post-season only four times in 44 seasons of baseball, peaking in 1982 with an appearance in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. They went on to lose in seven games.
The point is, this is a somewhat tortured franchise. When they sold the farm to acquire C.C. Sabathia for the stretch run in 2008, it was their first playoff appearance since that World Series loss in 1982. They won 90 games in that ’08 season, and another 96 in 2011, making the playoffs each year. This recent era of success is a welcome change for an organization that will never be able to convince its fans that watching Bernie the Brewer make his way down the slide after a Ryan Braun home run is just as exciting as wearing an over-sized cheese hat and celebrating an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass. And yet, if you’ve been paying attention to recent quotes from the front office and ownership, it appears that this era may well be drawing to an abrupt end seemingly before it even began.
Does anyone else find this prospect a little disappointing? Even as an admitted fan of a certain NL Central rival that is responsible for ending two of Milwaukee’s last three playoff runs, I always found the Brewers to be a fun team to watch, and an easy one to root for. What’s not to like? They have two of the game’s best players, one on each side of the ball, in Braun and Zack Greinke. The latter heads a starting rotation that is both talented and deep, complimented by pitchers like Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo. The former is, quite simply, one of the very best and most complete players in the game, period.
It’s not like the Brewers don’t have the pieces. As a whole, the offense hasn’t been especially unproductive this year, even without the big bat of Prince Fielder in place. The team has a cumulative .730 OPS, good for sixth in the National League, and that’s even considering their surprise breakout performer, catcher Jonathan Lucroy (.969 OPS), somehow broke his hand while reaching for a suitcase. The resulting injury may wind up keeping him out of the lineup for as much as six weeks.
Considering the offense is still very capable and the starting rotation has a chance to be great, it’s strange to see this team languishing in one of baseball’s weaker divisions. Going into June 29, Milwaukee found themselves sitting at 34-41, seven full games back of the division leading Cincinnati Reds, and five and a half games back from the third-place Cardinals. Looking at the talent on this roster and the difference between the actual record and expected record based on run differential (36-39), it’s clear this team is underachieving. They’re capable of better performance, and it may just be a matter of time before things fall into place.
The question, of course, is whether or not ownership is willing to bet on a second half rebound. It sounds as though the team must make a move quickly; if the trade deadline approaches without progress in the standings, some of those talented pieces may well be auctioned off to the highest bidder at a frenzied pace. After years of win now mentality, the farm system is essentially depleted, especially when it comes to offense. It’s understandable for the Brewers to refocus on building from within, but it must be frustrating for the fan base to know that such a decision would effectively slam shut a window that was only recently opened in the first place.