The Milwaukee Brewers have always been the odd-man out of the National League Central since its creation in 1994. With the other four teams steeped in history, the Brewers always seemed to be the young upstart squad in a division full of younger players trying to get shipped out before August and older veterans trying to keep it competitive as the sun sets on their careers. Okay, that sounds dark and makes playing for the Brewers seem like a long drawn out suicide, but in reality, that must be what it’s like being a Brewers fan.
The Brewers have seen October baseball only 4 times in their 47-year history, tying them with Montreal/Washington, Seattle, Tampa Bay and putting them just ahead of Colorado (3) and Florida (2). That means that the Brewers make the postseason just under every 12 years. However, in 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers have begun the second half of the season poised to make a run for the playoffs, and it’s something you should be taking note of.
The Brewers have suffered some rough seasons in recent years. Of course, there was the 2011 Postseason push and Ryan Braun’s MVP win in that same year. What followed was the year and a half long PED Circus that followed the Brewers star player. Braun tested positive for PEDs in December of 2011 but decided to challenge the results of the positive test. An appeals committee overturned the result, marking the first time that a player had successfully challenged a positive drug test result and won. That following year, Ryan Braun would lead the National League in home runs (41), runs scored (108), total bases (356) and OPS (.987) Braun also found himself 2nd in the NL in RBIs (112), slugging percentage (.595), and hits (191), but 3rd in batting average (.319), and 4th in on-base percentage (.391), and stealing 30 bases.
The following year would find Braun suspended for 65 games due to his involvement with the Biogenesis lab and his PED usage. Braun put out a statement following the suspension’s announcement saying, “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”
Braun was the star that Milwaukee was waiting for. He was drafted fifth overall in 2005 and finally, his talents had seemingly come to fruition, but he had to climb back out of the hole he dug himself. He had to face two years of scrutiny from fans, critics and other players, something that never went away no matter how far he tried to get away from all of the noise.
The Brewers also went through a shift in the chain of command. In 2015 after only a month’s worth of baseball manager Ron Roenicke was fired and Craig Counsell, who ended his career as a Brewer, as well as on the top of the “All Star Batting Stance Team.” was brought on to manage. Counsell was a huge gamble, considering how little experience he had managing prior to his first season, but one that has the potential to pay off in the future. Counsell’s playing career found him alongside Jim Leyland, Gary Sheffield, Cliff Floyd, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, etc. Counsell is a two-time World Champion, even scoring the winning run for Florida in 1997. That’s something the Brewers could definitely use, someone who understands winning, and how to get to the postseason.
However, you gotta play 162 games before you can play for the ring, and let me tell you, the Brewers playing some fantastic baseball in 2017. How fantastic? Well, if you saw the BRewers and the cubs tied up a week before the trade deadline, please raise your hand. I thought so.
It’s astounding, not to mention that the Brewers have had this success while fielding a team with the lowest payroll in the entire league. Honestly, the Milwaukee Brewers are my favorite team to watch so far this year, and trust me, they’ll be yours, too. Why? Because why not.
First off, let’s talk about the key points of the All-New Brew Crew. And what better place to start than with Eric Thames. When phenoms from the Korean and Japanese leagues come over to the States, it’s normally for an insane amount of money and is accompanied by lots of pomp and circumstance. When Masahiro Tanaka came to the Yankees it was as if he was the greatest pitcher since Roger Clemens. Daisuke Matzusaka was a huge signing for the Red Sox, and when he didn’t pan out, he was an even bigger disappointment. However, something we rarely see is a Non-Asian born player, leave the MLB and come back better than ever.
After five years outside of the MLB, Eric Thames did exactly that. The guy showed up and showed off in the beginning of the season, smacking 13 dingers and hitting the ball at a .345 clip. However, Thames then cooled off in the next two months. A lot of people saw this as Thames’ past struggles coming back to haunt him, but since the All Star Break Thames has been looking like his April self. This is a guy who can hit and hit with power. Thames’ April was so strong that he hit .165 in June and still held a .248 average going into the break. Eric Thames is a dangerous weapon. At times he seems like Chris Carter 2.0, but Eric Thames brings something to the Brewers lineup that Carter couldn’t… fear.
Eric Thames is not your average number 2 hitter, if anything he’s a solid cleanup guy, but there he is. Number 2. Why? Well, he’s giving front end protection to Ryan Braun, not to mention that Travis Shaw has been on fire this past month. Thames does a lot more for the lineup, than just hit dingers, he’s an imposing figure you always have to keep your eye on. He’s bringing the mental game of hitting back to Milwaukee, and that’s an invaluable gift to this team.
We just touched on Travis Shaw, so let’s talk about him. I knew Travis before he was Brewer, during his tenure as the Mayor of Ding Dong City at Fenway. The Brewers acquired Shaw from the Sox along with three minor leaguers (#9 Prospect 2B/SS Mauricio Dubon, #27 Prospect Josh Pennington, and a player to be named later) for relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg. At the time, the deal was a good one it seemed. Here’s what I said at the time:
“Travis Shaw, affectionately known as the Mayor of Ding Dong City, struggled to find his place on the Red Sox team in 2016 even though he beat out Pablo Sandoval for the Opening Day start at Third. Travis has promise, he has potential, but he was never going to grow in Boston. First base? Gotta play Hanley. Third base? Gotta play Pablo. Travis was stuck in a difficult infield, and the Red Sox front office did the right thing by shipping him off to Milwaukee. He’s going to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Brewers and I am very thankful to have been able to watch him play for the Sox.
So who did they get in return? Well, they got Tyler Thornburg, otherwise known as “Who is Tyler Thornburg?” Well, Thornburg is the guy who’s going to be the 8th inning set up man for Craig Kimbrel. Thornburg’s 2016 didn’t receive much pomp and circumstance, but that’s probably because of the team he played for. In 67 appearances in 67 games, Thornburg had 90 Ks, giving him a K/9 ratio of 12.1. To give you an idea, Aroldis Chapman has a 15.1 and White Sox Closer Dave Robertson has an 11.9. So Thornburg’s 12.1 is nothing to shake a stick at, making him the best reliever you’ve never heard of.”
Thornburg has thrown exactly ZERO pitches for the Red Sox this season. Travis Shaw has been RAKING. Pablo Sandoval signed a minor league deal with the Giants. So things worked out PRETTY WELL for Milwaukee. Travis Shaw has already eclipsed his 2016 home run total and it close to shattering his other 2016 numbers and we just came back from the break. To say that Travis Shaw is having a breakout year is an understatement. Travis Shaw is the real deal, he was the whole time and now Milwaukee can prosper.
Aside from the two big sluggers on the team, the rest of the offense has stepped up nicely. The youth on this squad is insane. Guys like Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia and Domingo Santana have been nothing but solid contributors all season long. Early in the season, I caught a Brewers afternoon game in between shows. The broadcast booth for the Brewers is top notch, and they described Aguilar’s Spring Training as “he might as well be unconscious.” Aguilar’s first year in the MLB and he’s putting up numbers similar to the likes of Yonder Alonzo, Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland and even Wil Myers. Not an easy feat. Arcia brings more than just his bat to the Brewer, he’s also brought his defense. Arcia is at the top of every defensive category for shortstops, except games played where he’s #2. Arcia is bringing stability to the middle of the Brewers infield, especially with Jonathan Villars ups and downs as of late. Arcia’s bat hasn’t cooled either, slashing .281/.325/.411 with an OPS of .736. In the scope of the league, Arcia’s 1.6 WAR puts him in line with the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Jean Segura and Francisco Lindor.
Domingo Santana has been the biggest surprise of all. Acquired from the Astros in 2015, Santana was a part of the deal that brought Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston. Side note: Houston got Santana from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Hunter Pence. At the time Domingo Santana was a high-level prospect in the Houston system, but never really came to any fruition. During his only call up with the Astros, Santana went 10-for-39 during his 14 game stint. 2017 has been a completely different story. In his career, Santana has acquired a WAR of -0.2, but in 2017 he’s amassed 2.3, giving him the 4th highest WAR on the Brew Crew.
And we haven’t even begun to discuss the pitching…
The top pitcher on the Brewers has been Jimmy Nelson, who’s been borderline lights out. The previous two season have seen Nelson in the top 10 for earned runs, wild pitches, errors committed, walks, Home Runs allowed and losses. Not great. Not great at all. That same pitcher is now top 10 in the league for strikeouts per 9 innings, walks per 9 innings, strikeouts/walks, Innings pitched, ERA and total strikeouts. This is all coming from a guy who issued the most free passes in 2016. It’s safe to say that Jimmy Nelson has figured it out in the 2017 offseason, and he’s been throwing great games for Milwaukee all season long. But having one guy turning it on does not a successful staff make. Nelson has company.
Zach Davies, Matt Garza and Chase Anderson are all having career years for Milwaukee. Chase Anderson had an almost no-hitter this year and has been straight up filthy. Matt Garza has returned to his past successes and will look to continue this stretch. It’s Davies, however, who is really the bright star of this group. Davies is a 24-year-old phenom in the making. In his second full season, Davies is 2nd in the league in wins, which is no easy feat considering the company he has. This kid is a star in the making, and it’s been amazing watching him start to ignite.
No one thought the Milwaukee Brewers would be in the position they’re in now. I’m guilty of that, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I started writing this piece on May 1st. Almost 3 months ago. At first it was just a cute piece about how the Brewers are playing out of their skulls and how that level of play just is not mantainable. At that point they were 13-13.
The Brewers are now 55-51, and are a game and a half behind the reigning World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. A few days ago, Zach Davies shutout the Washington Nationals Red Hot Offense. Last week, starting pitcher Mike Blazek gave up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to start his game. So there’s a definite curve with this team.
I’m not saying the Brewers are going to win it all this year. There’s no way to know that. What I am saying is this: I want them to keep playing like this because it’s fun. Have you ever thrown a shoe at your TV because the backup catcher hit a monster three-run jack off of your closer in the 8th? I have, and it’s all because of the Brewers. This team is playing exciting baseball, and for a sport that can seem dull to the uneducated, that’s a great thing. In the next week, I challenge you to watch a Milwaukee Brewers game and tell me it’s not fun, that no part of you felt excited about this team, for this sport, for this game.
The All-New Brew Crew is the most exciting team to watch, and I hope it stays that way into October.