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Step Away From the Ledge

I know, it's brutal to watch our favorite team lose 3 out of 4 to the lowly Reds, and worse to be sitting a mere 2 games up on the Cubs not so long after we had an 8.5 game lead.  But man, the tone around here has made it sound like we've just been eliminated from the race.

One of the many frustrating things about baseball, of course, is that even the best players aren't successful that often.  The best teams lose plenty of series and win only 60% of their games.  Playoff teams come up on the losing end 70 times in a season.  Some of those games make those playoff teams look dreadful.  The best sluggers strike out four times in a game some days, and the best closers occasionally blow saves.  

What particularly irks me is that when a good team starts losing, everyone comes out with their pet theory about why the team is suddenly bad.  I don't mean to pick on anybody in particular, but I've read that:

  • We're too young and inexperienced.
  • Our veterans aren't pulling their weight.
  • We don't make enough contact.
  • We don't play enough small ball.
  • We don't hit with runners in scoring position.
  • We can't get a clutch hit.
  • Our bullpen is falling apart.
  • Our starters don't go deep enough into games.
...the list goes on and on.  

I don't care to address those individually, because as criticisms of the team lately, they all have the same problem.

The Brewers team you see right now is the same Brewers team that gave us an 8.5 game lead on the Cubs five weeks ago..

Sure, we lost Sheets; yeah, we got a new set-up guy.  Whatever.  Plugging in Gallardo and continuing to get production from Braun cancels out most of the ill effects of losing Sheets.  Otherwise, the starting rotation, bullpen, and lineup is basically unchanged from that point.  

One of the effects of delving deeper into understanding baseball stats is that you realize that no one game, or one week, or even one month,  amounts to a hill of beans in evaluating talent.  Bad days--even bad months--are just that.  Geoff Jenkins is not going to hit .180 for the rest of the season.  Jeff Suppan isn't going to go the rest of the season without a quality start.  If you want to know how this team is going to perform down the stretch, I recommend looking at each player's PECOTA cards (or ZiPS, or whichever system you prefer) instead of their season stats to date, or worse, their results over the last two weeks.

If any of that list of criticisms above were actually true (and some of them may be), if they mean anything, they were equally true back when we were dominating the division.  Anything that "crops up" in a short period of time in baseball is noise.  It's worthless.  It's that simple.  If those complaints are right, somehow the Brewers have won 55% of their games despite those problems.  Unless you think the Crew has been the recipient of unprecedented luck thus far, they'll probably continue to perform at about the same level.

My point is this.  Before the season, it was clear the Brewers and the Cubs would be in the thick of things until close to the end.  It was also clear that neither team was much better than the other.  It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that 100 games into the season, the two teams are two games apart.  It'll probably be close right to the end.  The fact that the Crew has lost 5 out of their last 7 doesn't tell you any more about this team than the 3 out of 5 they lost to kick off the season.  

The team that lost 5 out of 7 is the same damn team that has us in first place with the third best record in the league.  No, the team is not perfect, and there are plenty of things that will keep it from ever becoming perfect.  But the fact that those things have come up and bit us in the last few days doesn't mean that we won't continue to win games at a ~.550 clip, or that we can't continue to play better baseball than the Cubs.