If the St. Louis Cardinals do not win the National League Central this year, I hope the Milwaukee Brewers do. Perhaps this is not a particularly shocking assessment, as the chief contender outside of these two teams is the primary rival of them, the Chicago Cubs. But even so, the Brewers are a perfectly likable organization, for the most part. I think I’d root for them to advance to the World Series in more than a few levels of the multiverse.
In an era characterized by franchises such as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs being consciously non-competitive in order to stockpile draft picks and align service time considerations for an eventual run at glory (oh, and also to save money that isn’t typically reinvested to the degree that it was saved while fielding teams which ony wins a third of its games), the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t do this. The Brewers made the closest thing they made to an all-in push in recent years in 2011, when they held on to Prince Fielder, a player whom they had little realistic shot at re-signing once he became a free agent following the season, and they traded prospects (one of whom, Lorenzo Cain, became an All-Star in Kansas City and rejoined the Brewers last off-season) to acquire Zack Greinke from the Royals.
The push worked insofar as the Brewers won the NL Central in 2011 before losing in the National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, a baseball team with whom you may be familiar. Unsurprisingly, Prince Fielder departed for the Detroit Tigers, with 2011 right fielder Corey Hart acting as a mediocre replacement at first base. Despite excellent seasons from Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, the Reds and Cardinals ran laps around the Brewers and by the trade deadline, the Brewers sent soon-to-be free agent Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
But this was hardly a massive rebuild. The Brewers knew they were done for that season, yes, but it wasn’t as though they were resigning themselves to mediocrity in 2013. The Brewers never duplicated their 2011 success, but they continued to churn out solid players. Jonathan Lucroy, a nondescript starter on the 2011 team, became one of the best catchers in baseball in the mid-2010s, renowned for his solid offense and terrific defense, including some of the better framing numbers in the game. Carlos Gomez, on his third MLB team, turned into a good-hitting, great fielding center fielder who finished in the top ten in NL MVP votes for a 74-88 Brewers team. Jean Segura, acquired from the Angels in the Greinke trade, emerged as an everyday shortstop.
Mike Fiers became one of the better Brewers pitchers until 2015, when he was traded on July 30 along with the aforementioned Carlos Gomez to the Houston Astros for a package which included two of the more intriguing current Milwaukee Brewers–Domingo Santana, a plus hitter for the past three seasons who remains a part of the Brewers’ outfield rotation in 2018, and Josh Hader, a relief pitcher who has been baseball’s most valuable this season, with an ERA of 1.16 and a FIP of 1.03.
The Brewers haven’t made the postseason since 2011, and they may not make it again this year, though it is certainly not out of the question. As somebody who is not exactly preconditioned to have an opinion either way on the Milwaukee Brewers, I appreciate that there is always something interesting about them. Think about it: what’s the most interesting thing about the Miami Marlins? About the Kansas City Royals? These teams are placeholders; I genuinely don’t understand how fans could possibly watch every game they play. But the Brewers, even when they’re bad, have a handful of players capable of semi-regular highlights.
The Cincinnati Reds are easily the worst team in the NL Central, and they were last year as well. The Houston Astros were in the division basement before they moved to the AL West. The Pittsburgh Pirates, immediately before their recent run of success, had the worst record not only in the division, but in baseball, in 2010. The Chicago Cubs are now synonymous with success, but finished in last place as recently as 2014. The Milwaukee Brewers are the most consistently viable non-Cardinals team, having finished outside the basement of the division in every season since 2004.
There’s something a bit obnoxious about the claim that the worst place a team can be is mediocrity. Being viable is a positive quality. And while it may make evolving into a great team less likely, it is not impossible. That the Brewers sit in a veritable tie atop the NL Central is a testament to that.
Here are the projected starters for this weekend’s four-game set at Miller Park, one of three visiting parks I have visited in person. My observations: Milwaukee fans are very nice, and if you are going to build a stadium in the middle of nowhere, you better offset the lack of downtown nightlife with a great tailgating scene. And their tailgating scene is great.
Thursday: Carlos Martinez (3-3, 2.73 ERA) vs. Junior Guerra (3-5, 2.89 ERA)
Friday: Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.66 ERA) vs. Chase Anderson (5-6, 4.54 ERA)
Saturday: Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.69 ERA) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (6-2, 3.18 ERA)
Sunday: Luke Weaver (3-6, 4.69 ERA) vs. Freddy Peralta (2-0, 2.30 ERA)
All games will be on Fox Sports Midwest and KMOX 1120 locally. Thursday and Friday will start at 7:10 p.m. Central, Saturday starts at 3:10 p.m. Central, and Sunday starts at 1:10 p.m. Central. Hopefully it will be fun and stuff.