Let’s run the clock back a year. It’s July 21st, 2014, and the Brewers are frantically trying to hold off the storming Cardinals, having regained a half game lead in the division with a 5-2 win over the Reds. Brewers fans, nervously scoreboard watching as the Pirates sit just 2.5 games back as well, are wondering what sort of moves Doug Melvin plans to make to bolster the pitching staff and find a left handed hitter to plug holes that have allowed the rest of the NL Central to climb back into the race. Brewer Nation is nervous, having watched what once seemed to be a healthy division lead evaporate, but fears of missing the playoffs haven’t yet begun to take hold for even the most cynical fans; the shade of the horrors of the oncoming September collapse is creeping but remains in the shadows, just beyond our peripheral visions.
Now bring it back to the present. The surging Brewers have won 16 of their last 22 games, but at 41-52 still find themselves decidedly out of the playoff picture, and are one of a small handful of teams universally regarded as sellers at the trade deadline. After a decade-long commitment to winning now that resulted in only two playoff appearances and only one series victory, the farm system is weak, and the Brewers are expected to make a big push to trade most of their veteran players for whatever they can get in an effort to further bolster a recovering minor league system.
The Brewers rather famously got off to a 20-7 start last year, the best start in team history and one that put them in the driver’s seat for most of the year in the NL Central race. This season began just slightly worse, when they all but obliterated their playoff hopes with a disastrous 8-19 start over that same span.
But what about after those aberrational starts? Let’s take a look:
|2014 Milwaukee Brewers||2015 Milwaukee Brewers|
|First 27 Games:||20-7||8-19|
|Next 66 Games:||32-34||33-33|
So the difference between a solid World Series contender looking to buy at the deadline and one of the worst teams in the league due for a fire sale is … a month’s worth of games in April? It seems silly to judge these teams based on a number of games that amounts to about 16% of the season. More likely, last year’s team was significantly worse than we may have thought early on, this year’s version is quite a bit better than their record has shown to date, and the true talent level for both years is right around that 82-80 mark that the 2014 squad wound up with.
None of this is to say that the Brewers were wrong to go for it last year, or that they shouldn’t be sellers at the deadline this year. Often, all it takes is for an average team to get hot for a month to find your way into the playoffs. Remember the 2007 Colorado Rockies? They sat just four games over .500 on September 15th and were just another NL West also-ran, but went on to win 20 of their next 21 games, including a walk-off win over San Diego in game 163, to find themselves in the World Series. On the flip side of that coin, as we’ve seen this year, a disastrous stretch of bad play like the Brewers experienced this April is more than enough to knock a borderline team out of contention.
That being said, if you thought the Brewers were a legitimate threat to win the World Series in 2014 (and we did), then there is little reason not to believe that going forward under the right circumstances, because it’s essentially the same team. For that reason, and especially given the Brewers recent surge, do not be shocked if the Brewers hold on to their assets that could help them win in the very near future at the trade deadline. Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers and Adam Lind – the Brewers’ four most valuable trade chips outside of the blistering-hot Gerardo Parra – are all under team control next year in one way or another: Gomez and Lucroy are on team-friendly contracts that run through 2016, Lind’s $8 million club option next year is almost certain to be picked up by whatever team he’s playing for at year’s end, and Fiers won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2017. All of this give Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin the flexibility, if they so choose, to make one last run with this core in 2016, and should the fall flat again, trade them next July for a smaller but still substantial bounty.
There are holes that would need to be filled if the Brewers’ meant to compete as early as next year. Matt Garza remains under contract through 2017 (with a vesting option for 2018 that bears discussing sometime soon if he remains with the team), but he isn’t likely to offer a ton of value to a contender going forward, and his contract will make him difficult for the Brewers to move. Kyle Lohse is a free agent after this season, and he’s clearly outstripped his usefulness as a major league starting pitcher. The Brewers have some young talent in Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann in addition to Fiers, but that’s certainly not the kind of rotation that wins you a playoff series. The Brewers will also have to find a third baseman Ramirez retiring after this season, a position at which their farm system is totally bereft of talent. This is neither an endorsement nor a denouncement of a potential effort by the Brewers to try to reload for next year; I present this as a mere statement of fact. If they wanted to fill those holes, they would need to do so through free agency – to gut the already thin system again for an outside shot at a wild card spot in a spectacularly tough division would be a franchise-crippling mistake that I’m willing to trust Attanasio won’t make, no matter how great his drive to produce a team that can fill seats on a yearly basis.
Are the Brewers really, truly done this year? Probably, yeah. They were sitting at about the same spot they are now back in 2012, when a seven game losing streak left them 10 games under .500 and 10 games back of the second wild card spot. That late July slide forced Melvin’s hand toward selling, and Zack Grienke was dealt to the Angels. The Brewers, however, would rally all the way back to get within a game and a half of the Cardinals for that last playoff spot on September 21st before finally fading away. So there’s a slight gasp of hope if you feel like holding onto something, but the NL Central was a lot weaker in 2012, when the both the Cubs and Astros lost 100 games and the Pirates were still a year away from breaking their long streak of losing seasons. So the best case scenario, if you’re the impatient type, is a quick reload (though the free agent third baseman class for next year looks downright brutal) for next year.
What will the Brewers do at the deadline this year? At this point, who knows. It’s been a slow starting trade season across the league this year, but with so much parity throughout the league, the Brewers man be one of a very small amount of teams willing to toss in the towel and sell assets over the next week and a half. If you were hoping for a home run return for the likes of Gomez or Lucroy, the promising signs the Crew has shown over the past month has probably wiped that possibility out, if it ever really existed at all. Parra is the Brewers best and most obvious piece, and were he to still be on the team on August 1st, it would not only be shocking, it would be a grievous mistake on the team’s part. Ramirez may be traded, if he wants to be and if they can find a buyer. The Brewers would love to offload Lohse and/or Garza, but will find it difficult to find a contender that believes either can offer value down the stretch. For anyone else on the roster, the Brewers would really need to be blown away to consider moving pieces with multiple years of team control left. Whatever the Brewers choose to do, I would expect the big league team to look substantially different come August 1st.
Yes. In September 2002, Doug took over as the GM of one of the worst franchises in the league; a team that hadn’t had a winning record in a decade and had just lost over 100 games for the first and only time in team history. In the space of three years, Melvin turned a team that was a league-wide laughingstock into, if not a perennial contender, at least a team that was regularly playing meaningful baseball after the All-Star break. The Brewers have posted winning records in five of the past eight years, a feat accomplished only nine times in 34 years of existence prior to his arrival.
Certainly, there have been questionable moves: signing Jeff Suppan, adding Nelson Cruz and Michael Brantley as throw-ins in larger deals, hiring Ken Macha, everything about Bill Hall. But there are also moves that he took a lot of heat for that made him look like a dang genius: trading James Jerry Hardy for Carlos Gomez (and then extending him), Ryan Braun’s first extension, signing Norichika Aoki (and then dealing him for Will Smith). Doug’s job is secure in Milwaukee. Ron Roenicke, on the other hand, may not make it to the All-Star break.
What’s the best food happy hour on Wednesdays in Milwaukee?
Brad, Milwaukee, WI
Ugly’s Pub on Old World Third.
Tailgating is so fun. How can we make watching baseball more entertaining?
Holly, Madison, WI
I come from a place of already thinking that baseball is fun to watch, but I understand the needs of the masses as well and people, I am here to help. Here are some things you can do to make your time watching the national pastime more engaging:
- If you love tailgating well guess what, the fun doesn’t have to stop once you hit the turnstiles! Many ballparks have food and/or drink available for purchase for $1-$30 dollars per item. Wishing you could toss the old bean bags around inside the stadium? Well you just better not, there’s a lot of people in there and someone might get hurt.
- One thing you can do to really kick up your enjoyment of baseball up a notch is to go back in time to when you are five and leave your family behind and get raised by my dad instead. My dad loves baseball and I bet he could instill the same love in you, if you’d just let him.
- You can try a little bit of friendly wagering with your fellow fans! “Say, chap, I forecast that our local baseball squadron will successfully tally a run in this very inning. What say you to a little bet? I’ve a sixpence that says the old boys will be able to do it.”
- You can pretend that the offensive team knows the baseball is a bomb while the defense has no stinkin’ idea, and then marvel at the fact that those dummies keep running straight toward it while the offense keeps obviously trying to get the dang thing as far away from them as possible. Stand up and yell, “KABOOM!” every time the ball is caught to let everyone know that the center fielder is now ‘dead’, and must be replaced.
Negative seven. As in the Bucks, after the deadline deal that sent Knight to the Suns, finished the season seven games behind the Bucks as constructed prior to the trade: they were 30-23 at the time of the trade and finished the year 11-18, failing to finish above .500 for the fifth consecutive year. In the short term, this trade was disastrous. It made them a worse team on the basketball court, as Knight represented the only legitimate scoring threat on a nightly basis; certainly Giannis and Middleton have their big games, but neither is anything close consistent. It completely disrupted their rhythm and spacing as teams no longer had to worry about a point guard who could shoot; defenses collapsed to the lane and Giannis was unable to find any real estate to work his magic. From a fan goodwill standpoint, it couldn’t have come at a worse time; with a huge push for a new arena underway and the Bucks coming off a 9-1 stretch, the city was absolutely buzzing with excitement about the NBA. Then the trade, the Bucks lost six of seven, MCW looked lost, and the excitement was gone, the Bucks drowned out by the Badgers tournament run and Brewers spring training; it was just more of the same from a team that has won two playoff series since 1989 (both in the same year). Prior to the trade, the Bucks were a major upset threat in the East, but that is likely no longer the case.
That said, the idea that perhaps some of MCW’s shortcomings in Philadelphia might be corrected simply by getting onto a better team with more weapons proved correct. No longer the lone scoring option, Carter-Williams saw significant bumps to his effective shooting percentage as he was able to be more selective with his shots: though his three-point shooting percentage continues to plummet, he cut his attempts to just 1.1 per game (he averaged 3.0 three point attempts with Philly this season). His per-36 assist numbers fell, and if he’s not going to be able to shoot from outside, he’s going to have to provide more scoring chances for his teammates. But going forward, there’s hope that although it shot their exciting 2014-15 season to hell, the trade could provide future dividends.
Is it still acceptable to have Blurred Lines as my ringtone?
Andrew, Madison, WI
The fact that you’re asking me this question mean you already know the answer, Andrew. Do the right thing.
What’s the deal with airplane food?
Nicholas, Milwaukee, WI
There are NO deals on airplane food, no sir. That stuff’s expensive as all get out! But if you’re really hankerin’ for a pre-packaged sandwich on your flight, you better come correct with the plastic, because most airlines no longer accept cash for on-board transactions. Imagine that! Not accepting cold hard cash as a form of legal tender. What is the world coming to? I’ll tell you what, it’s all going to hell in a hand basket. You better just pack up your valuables and head for the hills, because this society is falling apart.
Will you marry my mom so she isn’t ‘illegal’ anymore?
Mellie, Milwaukee, WI
No, I would only ever marry for love and I’ve never met your mom, though I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. Also, I’m kind of seeing someone at the moment, and she might not like it if I was married. I could ask her about it though. Don’t they let folks take a test about who were the presidents and where is New Jersey or whatever to become a citizen? Maybe she could sign up for that test. Or maybe we could all just relax and let people live where they want who cares.
We have previously covered what defines a boy band, so let’s take a look back at that to begin (excerpted from Travis’s Mailbag #1):
- You need a collection of boys making music (you know, because words mean things)
- No instruments. If I so much as see a guitar string, you’re out (sorry, Hanson)
- If you weren’t managed by Lou Pearlman, that’s not a good sign (if you were managed by Lou Pearlman, that’s not really great either)
- No writing your own music. Are you kidding me? Out of the question. Get real.
Unfortunately, 98 Degrees was adamant that they wrote much of their own material. Because of this, 98 Degrees does not qualify as a boy band. However, even allowing it for the sake of argument, their best song, “The Hardest Thing”, isn’t fit to lick to boots of Millennium or No Strings Attached.
Absolutely not. You don’t see me strollin’ around the city rocking nothing but my dang Jockey’s, do you? Put some damn pants on. I have previously discussed this issue with others, but feel it’s important enough to have it written here: if you are wearing leggings like they’re just regular old pants, you are not adequately covered on your bottom.
Will Wisconsin make the Sweet 16 next year?
Kevin, Madison, WI
It’s hard to answer a question like this, since we have no idea what the bracket will look like, and what sort of match-ups the Badgers will face, so we’d have to forecast not only how well the Badgers will play but where they and every other team would be seeded, and which teams would go where. Rather, we can more easily answer, “Will the Badgers be one of the best 16 teams in the country next year?” To which we can safely answer yes. The Badgers will have a tremendous amount of talent and production to replace, perhaps more than Bo Ryan has ever had to previously. But to repeat a bunch of facts that you’ve heard a thousand times: The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth or failed to advance to the NCAA tournament under Ryan, and have advanced to the tournament’s second weekend in four of the past five years. A solid core of Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Vitto Brown should be enough to keep them among the country’s elite teams; count on all of them to make big leaps going into their junior seasons, as almost all of Ryan’s kids do.
Is it acceptable that I listen to Creed even though I’m an atheist?
Mellie, Milwaukee, WI
No, it is 100% not acceptable that you listen to Creed, though it has nothing to do with your belief (or lack thereof) in Christ or in any other deity. It is unacceptable because Creed makes really bad music, and you should listen to better music. Here is a short list of bands that are better than Creed:
1. The Silver Lining – This is a three-piece band I formed with my friends Sven and Jordan in college. We had one original song and we also did a pretty good cover of “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. We once played a show for up to three people. It was approximately seven minutes long.
2. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem – Pictured to the right.
3. Pink Floyd – Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true.
4. CrossRoad – My mom’s Christian praise band, which plays every other Sunday at Bethlehem Lutheran Church and is currently seeking a drummer.
5. The Chuck E. Cheese’s Animatronic House Band
Or you could just listen to Taylor Swift, the official singer-songwriter of Bucky’s Beer Cheese Co., and have done with it.
Why does everyone hate Nickleback?
-Mellie, Milwaukee, WI
I think it’s about time we sit you down and have a musical intervention.
It’s fine. I would have preferred, if they were going to re-brand, that they rewind the clock and bring back the sweater buck, but the trend in sports logos is to make your animals meaner looking and more polygonal; the sweater buck just isn’t cut out for the harsher times. I wish they’d used a bit more blue; we’ll have to see what the jerseys look like, but from Jabari’s hint at the unveiling, it sounds like there’s only going to be a touch of it. Perhaps an alternate blue jersey somewhere down the line? I could get down with that.
Speaking of the unveiling, what in the world was that? The painters were cool but man, just stick a DJ up there or something! That dude squeaking away during “Uptown Funk” reminded me of every karaoke night where some jabroni goes up there trying to bite off more than he can chew, a feeling that was solidified when they immediately followed with “Don’t Stop Believin'”. #OwnTheFuture? That song is 34 years old.
I get why they did it now: new owners, a new arena (pretty please??), a new team identity that comes with a return to relevance. I just feel bad for all the people that dropped big money on brand new Jabari and Giannis gear that’s now obsolete 3-5 months later. This is why I always try to stick with buying retro gear when making purchases; that stuff never goes out of style.
What’s with LAX?
Chuck, Milwaukee, WI
I know, right?
Do you think Martin Guptill is overrated or do you think he’s New Zealand’s only hope of making the Cricket World Cup this year? With his salary alone they could get 2-3 top notch players, and their at bats wouldn’t be so one hit focused. New Zealand is never going to get above their 5th place international ranking and catch powerhouses like South Africa and Pakistan if they don’t start playing team oriented cricket.
-Greg and Ryan, Denton TX and Greenfield, WI
The New Zealand national cricket team had their most successful showing ever at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, finishing as the runner-up to rival Australia in heartbreaking fashion at the event the two counties co-hosted in March. They should have no trouble qualifying to the next Cricket World Cup in 2019, and they’ll hope to build on the progress they made this year.
While Guptill, ranked 22nd in the world among batsmen, is certainly a key component of the All Blacks’ success, he’s certainly not their only hope. Thought Guptill and fellow top-order batsman Ross Taylor, both 31, may not be with the team in 2019, 24-year-old phenom Kane Williamson may already be the best player on the Kiwis’ national team, and he’ll be joined by all-rounder Corey Anderson, also just 24.
Of course, player salaries don’t enter into the equation of the make-up of the national team. To keep pace with Pakistan and South Africa, not to mention the hated Australians, New Zealand will need to continue to develop young players domestically through youth programs designed to find the next diamond in the rough.