The wait is over. The sun is desperately trying to peek out in Milwaukee, the grass inside 1 Brewers Way is being groomed to perfection, and the sweet sizzle of Brats and Sauerkraut taunt the open air. Brewers Baseball is here, and we can expect the same product as every year: Bold Predictions, a competitive team until mid-August, and a season that ends with a 3rd place by our names in the Central Divison standings.
If you look at the history of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise, you’ll find a wealth of great feats, records, players, and lore. What you won’t find often in the history books is a World Series, but you’ll find a single pennant, a pair of Division Titles and Playoff Appearances separated by almost twenty years each. In fact, besides 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011, the Brewers season has always ended on the final day of the regular season, and apart from these brief playoff runs, Attendance Records, and 7th-Inning Sausage Races, what do we have to show for our run as a club? As far as I know, we are the only team that has banners for PLAYOFF APPEARANCES, not titles, because we don’t have anything to show for it.
And I get it, Championships are hard to come by. Sports weren’t designed to be easy, and when you gather 30 teams with the best ballplayers in the world for one season, only one team can win, and the Brewers, for reasons valid or not, have never had a chance to be that team.
But why does this year feel different? And why does it have to be?
The reasons to be optimistic are easy: Look at the team we are fielding this season. Offseason trades brought us the likes of Christian Yelich, a Gold Glove Fielder and Silver Slugger to pair with Lorenzo Cain, a 2015 All-Star and World Series Champion with Kansas City. Add them to a mix of Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun, and the blades of grass in Miller Park should hardly see any baseballs touch their surface. The infield trots out a familiar squad of recognizable faces: Travis Shaw solidifies a position the left side of the infield and adds a strong bat to a formidable lineup and Hernan Perez adds depth holding the 3rd baseline. Orlando Arcia commands the infield, while Eric Sogard and Jonathan Villar create double play opportunities for Eric Thames and (potentially) Ryan Braun. Chase Anderson takes the hill on Day 1, while Zach Davies, newly acquired Jhoulys Chacin and Brent Suter complete the four-man lineup for now. Corey Knebel again anchors the bullpen, and Manny Piña will help direct the Crew from behind the plate.
Make no mistake, we’ve had good players before. Prince Fielder, anyone? Zack Greinke? Jonathan Lucroy? Plenty of others could be named – but even with these guys, we haven’t crossed over the hump, and rebuild after rebuild through the 80’s and 90’s, 2000’s and up until now, the promise has been the same. “We’re going to be better, we have to be better.” We watch stars leave for bigger paychecks elsewhere and settle for mediocrity summer after summer while whispering to ourselves,”Oh, as long as we can beat the Cardinals at Home or the Cubs in Chicago, then that’s a good day”. This can’t fly any longer, and we’ve taken the steps to get us to the next level. We have a team and have made moves that make us competitive. And for the Milwaukee Brewers, the time has to be now.
The best way I’ve ever heard it put is by Tim Allen of 105.7 The Fan in Milwaukee. He’s an avid fan of the club, one who says he “lives and dies at every pitch” and has hosted a post-game show for the past 10 years. He’s dealt with nearly every rebuild the team has gone through in his life, the Championship years and the constant 2nd and 3rd out of 6 in the Division years. When David Stearns was about to come onboard to lead the club, he ranted on air about how as a fan he couldn’t stand to see another tear down to see the Brewers get back to 81-81 ball. To get brought up and then taken down when the talent dwindles and recedes is disheartening, arduous and laborious. This rise can’t fall short again. He wants a Championship, heck, he needs a Championship. We need a Championship. I’ve mentioned this already – the Brewers have been to the Playoffs four times ever. We’ve had baseball in Milwaukee for 48 years and have seen a Championship run only four times.
Yet, this year feels different, doesn’t it?
In October, Mark Attanasio and the Brewers brain trust decided that 2018 was just as important as 2020 in this edition of “Rebuild the Brewers”. Major additions in Yelich and Cain were made to upgrade the offense and defense of the club, and during the 2017 Trade Deadline, the Brewers were in on major talks for Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana, Justin Verlander, and while we didn’t get those guys, being in those talks signalled that we were about there. I guess no one told David Stearns that small market teams can’t play with the high spenders. The guy who looks eerily similar to Ryan Braun has found a way to find value in every trade. As marginal as flipping Thornburg for Shaw seems at the time, these trades have positioned the club to make some noise is a weaker National League this season. He’s sent major pieces of our farm for these players (Brinson, Harrison, Diaz) but the chips are on the table, and it’s time for the Brewers to go all-in. The bingo phrase for Baseball heads is “young, controllable talent”, which the Brewers have a profusion of. Yes, a big-time pitcher would add depth and needed talent to our lineup, but barring injuries, the nine we amble out each half inning should contend with the best this summer.
So should we clear some space by the 2011 Central Division banner in Miller Park? That’s yet to be seen, but this can’t just be another year. A team is defined by its rings, its titles, its prosperity – and the Brewers don’t have much to show besides a fan base that adores them despite these lack of accolades. This team has hope, more hope than usual, and it can’t go vanquished any longer.
Maybe I’m asking a lot of the team that is perpetually in third place, but please, let’s make the games in September mean more than the final result of the Sausage race this year.