[editor's note, by Jeff] Jamie wrote this before today's very very disappointing game, but I think everything he says holds just as true now. I wanted to bump it for everyone who missed it this morning, and get some discussion going about the direction of this team. A 4-game sweep by the Pirates might cause some of us to rethink some of our beliefs.
As the Brewers prepare to face the Pirates today and hopefully avoid a sweep at the hands of the NL Central cellar dweller and 3rd worst team in baseball, I can't help but think this is the first crucial turning point of the Brewers' season. Bad streaks happen to the best of teams throughout the year, even horrible ones like being outscored 32-5 by a team like the Pirates after a great series in Philadelphia. I'll admit that it's still early to make final conclusions about the Crew's playoff hopes and even about the team in general, but some things on June 1st can tell us a lot.
The first thing that jumps out at me is where they're at in the standings. Much has been made of the Brewers being possible contenders this year, with all the usual bandwagon jumpers hopping on board. Problem is, they now find themselves below .500, 4th in the NL Central, and 9th (that's right, 9th) in the Wild Card standings. And the road isn't about to get easier. The NL is pretty strong this year, and there figures to be a very tight playoff race come September. The Cardinals seem to be the class of the division again, and look to have the inside track on the title, barring a total collapse. The Reds, as we could've predicted, are on the way down, but at this point are we really sure that the Brewers are a better team than them? Now the Astros signed Roger Clemens, making them even tougher (Joe Sheehan says 3-4 wins tougher) and giving them a pretty good shot at finishing over .500. There are good races between good teams going on in the other divisions, with Atlanta and Philadelphia chasing the Mets in the East, and- like last year- everyone in it in the West. Problem is, things are a little different out there this year, with all the West teams being over .500, led by very tough D'Backs and Dodgers teams.
June will go a long ways towards determining the fate of some players, and the Brewers' 2006 season in general. There are three possible scenarios, each one creating tough decisions for Doug Melvin.
- The Brewers continue to float around .500, finishing June with a record around 41-41. This actually would leave them in the toughest position. In this scenario, they'd still be within striking distance of at least the Wild Card, but would have to go on a tear at some point to be in the thick of the race. Problem is, fans would still want to believe this was a contending team, making trading any of our players a very precarious situation. Do you stand pat with what you have and take the first round pick for Carlos Lee next June? Do you try to go out and get someone, maybe spending some more money to try to get yourself over the hump? Would trading Lee and others be a "white flag" situation?
- The Crew puts together a nice run, maybe a 7-8 game winning streak, and finish the month around 46-36. That would give them a .561 winning percentage, which right now would put them close to the top of the Wild Card standings with the Dodgers. Theoretically this is very possible, with series against Washington, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and the Cubs in June (of course, we thought this series with the Pirates would be a gimme). If this happens, I would think there's little doubt they'd be exploring more trade possibilities to improve themselves for this year, and anything involving Lee would be off the table.
- Worst-case, the Brewers start a free-fall and finish June around 36-46 or worse. At that point, they'd most likely be out of the division and Wild Card races by double-digit games, with little hope of contending short of a monster second half. Unless something miraculous happens in the Carlos Lee negotiations, he'd be gone to the highest bidder before the trade deadline. Guys like Corey Koskie, Brady Clark, and even Geoff Jenkins or Doug Davis could soon be on their way out as well, clearing the way for second half playing time for Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, and maybe Dave Krynzel or Tony Gwynn Jr.