A few days ago, Derek made such a fantastic point I felt compelled to tweet it to my 4,000 twitter followers. In his excellent prologue to the Brewers' 2016 season, he reminds us that, for the 2016 Brewers, in-game decisions will use a different set of logic. In fact, a lot of what the Brewers do this season will use a different set of logic. Fans will need to embrace an alternative perspective if they plan on surviving the season. The good news? We're Brewers fans, so we're probably equipped for this better than most other sports fans out there.
I personally believe the Brewers will be a little more competitive than a prototypical "rebuilding" team, but there's a possibility they lose a ton of games, especially if they continue aggressively selling on the trade market early in the season.
The Brewers aren't going to be 100% focused on winning. A lot of Brewers fans will hate that. Hell, I kind of do. It's a downer. But if you want to enjoy baseball and remain a Brewers fan this season, your natural fandom instincts may fail you.
Yes—In-Game Decisions Will Use Different Logic
Why rephrase it when it's put perfectly in the first place:
It's the seventh inning and the Brewers have a 3-2 lead. The starting pitcher was clearly struggling in the sixth inning and now he's about to face the heart of the line-up. Do you keep him in or pull him knowing the bullpen has been really effective?
Most years the answer is pretty obvious. You pull him because the back-end of your bullpen gives you the best chance of winning. But wins in 2016 aren't what's important for the Brewers. Wins in 2018 and beyond are what's important. That starter you're about to pull is young and inexperienced. Sooner or later he's going to need to be left in a tough situation to learn how to find a way out. And the Brewers are going to need to know if that's a thing he can figure out. Because if he can't, maybe he's not the guy you're going to want pitching in those situations when the wins do matter.
We've talked about tangentially related topics throughout the offseason. For example, we knew Jonathan Villar and Domingo Santana were guaranteed roster spots no matter what happened in spring training because the Brewers need to find out if they're fit to contribute as full time regulars. The next couple of seasons are for learning these sorts of things. That's what's important. Because that's what is going to determine when the Brewers will be competitive again and what other decisions they'll need to make (eg. free agent signings, trades, etc).
So don't be surprised when starting pitchers stay in "too long," and left handed hitters start against left handed pitchers, and relievers come into games when you least expect.
If you believe the premise of every decision is maximizing the probability of winning the baseball game, you'll be calling for Craig Counsell's head by June. He won't be managing primarily to win games. If you can't learn to accept that, you're in for a long season.
Tomorrow's Conversation Shouldn't Be About Today's Final Score
Don't get caught up in wins and losses. I don't personally consider this completely unique to watching rebuilding teams, specifically. This goes for anyone. Baseball is less about the final score than it is the people, the camaraderie, the moments, the little things, and all that romantic crap.
Winning is more fun, for sure, but that doesn't mean every loss need be forgotten and repressed. Some great things are going to happen even in losses, and you'll have to cling to them with a grip of death if you want to get through the season without falling into intermittent depression.
Opening Day was a good example. You could make a fair argument that it plain sucked, and the Brewers should put it in the past and forget about it. It's fair, but I beg to differ. There's some positive to be pulled from the 12-3 loss. Aaron Hill and Ryan Braun made a couple sweet defensive plays. The Brewers' offense made one of the best pitchers in the league sweat. Scooter Gennett hit a no doubter home run off of excellent LEFT HANDED PITCHER Madison Bumgarner. Proof:
Let's not forget Scooter Gennett is still sort of a prospect (he's not dead yet). I think many of us have become pretty pessimistic about his long-term prospects because of his incredible failure thus far vs. LHP. If Scooter can rocket up to even below average vs. LHP he might become a long term solution at 2B for the Brewers.
...Or a Great Trade Chip!
Get used to this one. When any non-rookie Brewer making anything more than the league minimum does something good, donate an increasing percentage of your joy to how that will look once he's wearing another uniform. Remember, the win share the Brewers get from someone like Gennett producing now is better utilized in 2017 and beyond. If the Brewers can trade wins now for wins later, they'll do it.
Look—this doesn't mean you can't be happy when someone like Chris Carter, Jon Lucroy or Gennett do good things, because they're pointless. They aren't pointless. The better a potential trade chip performs, the better the return in a trade becomes. We still win, folks. It's okay to think about it differently.
Injuries Can Be...Okay?
I'm a little squeamish admitting this, but as a fan, an injury isn't the worst thing ever. Let's not kid ourselves, as fans, we are typically most concerned with how injuries affect the performance of the team (barring life threatening stuff, of course). In 2016, an injury doesn't mean the season is threatened, because there's no expectation of winning to begin with.
The Brewers have been in this if-healthy-maybe-playoffs mode for seemingly forever, with no legitimate depth to support hope for an elite kind of season. It's pretty stressful if you're hoping for a playoff season. Every grimace and twitch is a heart attack. Even at their best in 2011, the Brewers needed near perfect health in the starting rotation—and they got it.
The 2016 Brewers will constantly have multiple players waiting their turn for a shot at just about every position. An injury opens a door for someone else champing at the bit for a shot in the big leagues. Learn to like watching new players and root for unlikely success stories. We are likely watching the early stages of a few excellent long-term Brewers careers. Enjoy it.
In a few years you can snobbily spout off to your fairweather friends about how you stuck it out through the tough times. How only you witnessed the meteoric rise of Ariel Pena. It feels really good, trust me.
Ditch Day-to-Day Ups and Downs—Think Big Picture
This ties in with divorcing yourself from the only-wins-matter mentality, but they aren't identical ideas. I'd advise against "gearing up" for baseball every day. If you're one of these people who screams at the TV over sports, the Brewers will be a serious threat to your health this year. If you await every pitch with bated breath, you're doing it wrong. Think about baseball in terms of series and weeks instead of innings and games.
You can be excited about baseball, of course. Just relax, adjust your standards, and remember some of the Brewers' struggles are kind of part of the plan.
Remember, Sometimes the Other Team Just Does Better
Here's another one any sports fan should absorb and accept. Your favorite team is the center of your sports universe, but they aren't the center of the sports universe. Just yours.
Maybe Chris Carter swung and missed because the pitcher set him up perfectly and threw a really great slider. Maybe Wily Peralta couldn't get Buster Posey out because he golfed a buried slider and it dumped into right field. Posey just did better. It's not Wily's fault. Buster Posey is a really good player.
This Doesn't Mean You Can't Be Pissed Off
Feel free to disregard everything I've just said and watch the Brewers however the hell you want. You are well within your right to be annoyed if someone like staff ace Junior Guerra blows a lead in late innings because the skipper wanted to see how he'd handle a high leverage situation. It sucks. Losing sucks. So this season might suck for you. You may choose to be bitter and lament the unraveling of the world.
But it's your choice. It really is. I implore you to tweak your perspective and help make things a little less miserable for yourself and the rest of us.
Thanks in advance.