In assessing this pesky Milwaukee Brewers team, I find myself asking a simple but powerful question- why not?
Why can’t these Brewers be for real? Why can’t they build upon their solid first half and win the National League Central? And who’s to say that the Cubs are bound to turn it on at some point?
The Brewers are an unknown largely because they are unexpected. This was supposed to be year three in the midst of a Cubs-dominated era, a season in which Chicago would defend their World Series championship with ease. The Cubs’ only priority would be to win another championship, and with the majority of last year’s cast reassembled it seemed entirely possible. Surely, the NL Central crown was just a formality.
But the Brew Crew have made it abundantly clear otherwise.
Unlike the Cubs, it’s difficult to find a glaring weakness on the Milwaukee roster.
They’ve scored the 6th most runs in baseball thanks to a powerful attack that is capable of putting the ball over the fence at any moment. Although the club ranks 16th in baseball with a .255 batting average, the Brewers are second in the Major Leagues with 138 home runs. This comes in front of clubs such as New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Washington Nationals who are receiving more notoriety due to their well-known stars.
Travis Shaw and company are out to change this perception.
Shaw, a Red Sox castoff, is having a career year. A lifetime .265 hitter, Shaw is batting .299/.367/.570 19 home runs and 65 RBI’s at the break, making him an obvious All Star snub. Shaw is like many of his teammates, doubted by others before given a chance in Milwaukee. The Red Sox moved on from Shaw in favor of Pablo Sandoval at third base. That’s a move Boston General Manager Dave Dombrowski would likely want back.
But despite Shaw’s presence, it’s first baseman Eric Thames who leads the power laden Brewers in home runs with 23. Thames spent the last five years playing in South Korea.
Thames’ success is a microcosm for the entire season thus far for the Brewers. He was brought on by Milwaukee to replace Chris Carter, last year’s National League home run leader. Not much was expected of Thames, and though many were excited to see how he might progress in his return to the United States, his arrival was just that- a transition. A roadblock, even. Because at the end of the day, the Brewers were supposed to be Chicago’s little brother. But after pounding the Cubs to a score of 11-2 last Thursday, Milwaukee sent a very real message that they are here to stay.
It seems that the main reason nobody believes in the Brewers quite yet is because they are caught up in Cubs nostalgia. Most baseball fans expect the Cubs to go on a dominant stretch and surpass the Brewers by season’s end. Like last year’s World Series title, it seems like a formality.
But it isn’t. I’d even argue that it’s more likely the Cubs do not turn it on. A look at the Cubs beyond what we expect of them reveals that they are simply a mediocre baseball club. And the Brewers, with the game’s 6th best offense and 8th best pitching staff, are a good one. A better one than the Cubs.
There’s a number of factors as to why the Cubs aren’t that good this year, and they all add up to a less than ideal outcome on the North Side.
The first thing is that with all of the big names the Cubs have on their team, it’s really easy to forget how important Dexter Fowler and David Ross were to the clubhouse. The value of these players goes beyond tangible stats, even though Jon Lester has a 4.25 ERA without Ross as his personal catcher, the first time he’s had to pitch to someone else in quite a while. Fowler and Ross were glue guys, crucial leaders on a mostly young team.
The second is that the veteran arms on the Cubs are obviously fatigued. Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Arrieta are all putting together their worst seasons in recent memory. This can be credited to the fact they all had to pitch deep into October last season.
Third, we might have over-hyped them to begin with. For all the love that guys like Kyle Schwarber have received, he’s only a career .210 hitter and Javier Baez has a measly lifetime .290 on base percentage.
And last, the World Series hangover can be real, especially for a situation like the Cubs just went through. Between all the press rounds, congratulations, and fan fare that team receives after winning a championship, it’s easy to lose sight of the upcoming season. It appears that is what’s happened for the Cubs.
And so here are the Brewers with only one All-Star (closer Corey Knebel), a bunch of no names, and some castoffs, they are prepared to steal the NL Central.