Monday, July 24, 2017

Brewers Sliding After Unexpected First Half

At the All-Star break, the Brewers were 50-41 and 5.5 games up in the NL Central, both their high-water marks of the year up to that point.  They even extended that to 11 games over .500 with two wins out of the gate against the lowly Phillies.  But since that day, the Crew has dropped 7 of their last 8, including 1-6 so far on this road trip against two sub-.500 teams.  Couple that with a unfortunately timed hot streak by the Cubs and the two teams are now deadlocked for the division lead.  After spending 3.5 months building a 5.5 game lead, it has completely evaporated in the span of a week.  It doesn't get any easier for them either.  Next up are the Nationals who are a running away with the NL East and yet again a favorite to win the pennant.  Then they return home to face the two teams chasing them - the Cubs and Cardinals.  Then it is off to Tampa Bay and Minnesota who are both right in the thick of the AL Wild Card race.

There are a lot of things you can point to for why the Brewers are in a slide now.  Ryan Braun has been in and out of the lineup and playing through a number of maladies all year.  Junior Guerra and Zach Davies have been nowhere near where they performed a year ago and their best pitcher and hitter - Chase Anderson and Eric Sogard - have been on the DL since June (Sogard was activated on Saturday).  The Brewers were about 6-for-a-million with RISP in Pittsburgh, a problem that has plagued them in years past.  Bullpen explosions caused then 2 games on the road trip and almost a 3rd.  Perhaps it is just the young guys tensing up now that they are actually playing meaningful games, or just the results of an overworked bullpen finally catching up with the team.  Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes are among the league leaders in appearances, and the team is on pace for 2nd all time in relief innings pitched in a season.

The solution in years past would be for Mr. Attanasio to sign a blank check and hand it to Doug Melvin to get whoever he needed to.  Mark has never been afraid to spend money and go for the kill.  But this year is a little different.  Most experts, fans, and even myself, figured the Brewers were at a minimum another year away from contending, more likely even 2 or 3 years off.  The team performing much better than expected has certainly been fun to watch, but has also thrown a wrench in the carefully laid rebuild plans.  David Stearns is now faced with the difficult decision of either trading away some of the key pieces he has traded for in the last 2 years, or staying the course and perhaps risking losing out on a great opportunity this year.  I think a lot of smart Brewers fans would not want to lose sight of having a competitive team for a 3-5 year window and throw it all away on something that isn't a sure thing.  But on the other hand, playoff opportunities for this franchise are few and far between and I would completely understand wanting to go all in this year.  More than likely there is some middle ground there where a few prospects are "untouchable" but Stearns will be willing to listen on anything that could help this team without mortgaging the future.  I think he is smart enough and not shortsighted to throw away what he has built, but he also has to answer to millions of fans and a hungry owner who will stop at nothing to win.  I certainly don't envy his position and I will be on the edge of my seat for the next week leading up to the trade deadline.  We've been linked from everyone from rental bullpen guys to elite pitchers like Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Brewers 53-48, --, -4.5 WC (3 @ Nationals, 3 v. Cubs, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 41-57, -10.5, -15.0 WC (1 @ Indians, 2 @ Yankees, 4 @ Marlins, 3 @ Pirates)

Twins 49-48, -2.5, -1.0 WC (3 @ Dodgers, 3 @ Athletics, 2 @ Padres)

Erik - 11 (+23 worked)
Peter - 27

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