Having a five and a half game lead in the National League Central--and winning two of three from the New York Yankees in what has usually been a house of horrors for the team--is it time to believe the Milwaukee Brewers could actually make the playoffs this year?
The ragamuffin assemblage of twenty-somethings and castoffs from other teams is the most interest story in baseball this year. The slightly-better-than average April start didn't really get too many people excited. The bullpen meltdowns of May threatened to undermine morale--but the plucky Brewers kept finding ways to win the next game. The usual June Swoon failed to materialize--as the Brewers actually expanded their lead in the division during the month. And now they head into the All Star Break winning eight of their last ten.
Brewers fans have reason to not go jumping on the bandwagon just yet. In 2014 the Crew led the NL Central by more than ten games in the first half of the season--then completely fell apart, finishing third. missing the playoffs and barely finishing the year above .500. And that was a veteran team with a healthy Ryan Braun and starters that could go more than five innings without wearing down.
But the 2014 team didn't have a Cubs team that was sleepwalking through a post-World Series championship. And the Cardinals that year weren't as old and injury-plagued as they are now. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are weaker this year as well--so it's entirely possible that the 2017 Crew is the best of a bad lot--and could hold on to win this thing.
I'm not ready to order playoff tickets just yet. Friday night's game at Yankee Stadium where the Brewers committed five errors in just four innings shows that they are still weak in the fundamentals of the game. And the 9th inning bullpen implosion of Saturday afternoon reveals a weakness that gets compounded as the games really start to mean something in September and October.
Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, Craig Counsell has definitely clinched the National League Manager of the Year award. And General Manager David Stearns deserves NL Executive of the Year for finding such free agent gems as Travis Shaw (who is a definite All-Star snub) and Stephen Vogt--both of whom couldn't hit a lick until they got to the Brewers.
Of course, an unexpected Brewers pennant chase will become secondary in importance to Wisconsin sports fans as of July 27th. That's the date the Packers open training camp. From that point on, video of Aaron Rodgers standing around with a red jersey on will replace Brewers highlights at the start of the sportscasts--and discussion of what "over-achieving" white guy might make the roster will dominate sports talk radio. Hopefully the first place Brewers enjoyed their brief time in the Wisconsin sports spotlight.