The Brewers' 2012 season has reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
"My poor, brave 2012 Brewers season who, in a shining blaze of bullpen awfulness have died and"
"We're not dead yet!"
"Right. The 2012 Brewers season, who took a fatal wound trying to"
"We're getting better!"
"The 2012 Brewers season who, right when it seemed they would pull through"
"I think we might make it!"
"Fine, the 2012 Brewers season, who, just when we thought they were dead, roared back in glory and"
That just seems like how it has gone over the past few months for Milwaukee. They disappointed all year, falling behind in the division by 19 games and back by 10.5 games in the wild card on August 19, the low point of their season. Or, one of the low points of a season that had plenty of them. Of course, you likely know what happened after that. The team went 24-6 over their next 30 games to come so precipitously close to magically catching the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card spot in the National League.
1.5 games out. That's how close they were. One win and two cardinals losses. Or two wins and one cardinal loss. That's all the difference it would taken to force a tie breaker. With twelve games left in the season at that point, it seemed plausible. Hell, the way the Brewers had been playing, it seemed likely that they would make the postseason. They were the hottest team in baseball. They were unstoppable.
They still had six more games against the best two teams in the National League.
The Brewers had already taken the first of a four game series in Washington D.C., but they had three more games to go. Then they had to travel to Cincinnati. The Cardinals, meanwhile, played the Cubs and the Astros. If the Brewers could keep the wild card close, they had a chance. The schedule roles would be reversed, then. The Brewers would have the "easy" games and the Cardinals would be playing the Nationals and Reds.
The Brewers, obviously, didn't keep the wild card close. Not close enough. Thanks in part to another bullpen melt-down, the red-hot Brewers had a large glass of cold water thrown on them. They won just two of the six games against the Cardinals and Reds and, to add insult to injury, lost their first game to the Astros.
The Brewers season isn't done yet. But, for all intents and purposes, it might as well be.They have five more games remaining in 2012. They are down by five games in the wild card. One Brewers loss or one Cardinals win and the season is, officially, dead.
The Brewers had so much happen this year. They had Zack Greinke pitching lights out, they had a big trade, they had bullpen meltdowns (oh so many bullpen meltdowns), they had big comebacks, they had a 40-30 player and maybe repeat MVP, they had injuries galore, they had slumps and hot streaks, they had a possible rookie-of-the-year, they had young pitchers come up and make a name for themselves, they had haircuts, they had a breakout season. They had just about everything.
And, with a little more luck this season, they could have had the playoffs. They could have been a few games better if Alex Gonzalez hadn't been lost for the season. If Shaun Marcum hadn't missed two months and never truly recovered. If Chris Narveson hadn't been lost for the season. If Jonathan Lucroy hadn't had a lengthy absence from an errant suitcase.
If the bullpen pitched better.
The bullpen is the big one. This season, teams averaged 18 blown saves each with the Brewers being second worst at 29 blown saves. Had the team brought down those blown saves to an above-average 20, they would have nine more wins and a commanding lead for the second wild card spot. If John Axford was as good as he had been the last two seasons, they could have been in contention for another division championship. If Francisco Rodriguez had also pitched close to his career norms all season, this team would definitely be in contention for the division.
Blown saves and average blown saves is a poor way to look at this, but the point still stands. The Brewers bullpen cost this team more than anything else in 2012. Everyone--everyone--struggled. And few moves were made. The Pirates released Juan Cruz on August 23. Juan Cruz, who is just 33 and had a 2.78 ERA this season, could have been had at the prorated minimum. Not that Cruz didn't have his issues. His WHIP was incredibly high and he can, at times, be really bad. But he probably was worth at least a try. At least he had managed to keep runs off the board this season.
A better bullpen and the Brewers would likely be in the playoffs. That's not a ground-breaking thought. But it's the unfortunate truth. It's unfortunate because 50 innings is such a poor sample size, and that's about what you get with most relievers. It's why bullpen numbers can fluctuate so wildly and why many, me included, think spending large amounts of money on free-agent relievers is usually an awful idea. The Brewers might have almost the exact same bullpen next year (probably sans K-Rod) and this same bullpen might be one of the best in the league. It's how bullpens work. Sure, you can have a Nationals or Braves bullpen that obviously is so much better than everyone else. But usually you just have a couple reliable guys and hope that everyone has an "up" season.
So that gives the Brewers hope for 2013, even without Zack Greinke. The offense has been led by big years from Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun this year. Ramirez will probably drop back a little, though Braun is good enough to continue at this level. Jonathan Lucroy might drop back some, but Rickie Weeks hopefully won't go through another three-month stretch of being the worst hitter in baseball. Carlos Gomez has taken big steps forward. Corey Hart will hit. Jean Segura and Norichika Aoki have promise. Mat Gamel could provide a bat.
The starting pitching is starting to look young and promising. Gallardo will lead with Marco Estrada probably having locked up a rotation spot as well. Then they have a, hopefully, well rested Mike Fiers who came on like gangbusters this season. They have Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta, who both pitched well in major league try-outs. They have a returning Chris Narveson. And they might have money to improve on one of those spots if need be.
There might not be Zack Greinke, but he's only one man pitching every five days. The 2013 Brewers could be the good version of the 2012 Brewers. The 2012 season might have ended up being a bust, but at least we got that final, glorious run at the end. At least Milwaukee made baseball fun again, for a little while. I'll take that over squandering in mediocrity the whole season.
The 2012 season isn't over. But it's pretty much over. There was some good and some bad. But it gave Milwaukee something to continue to build on in future years, and we can all look forward to that.