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Milwaukee Brewers 2017 Season In Review: Part 1 - Mystery To Me

What an eventful year!

MLB: Winter Meetings
hey! Isn’t that Craig Counsell?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I re-read my 2016 Brewer review and found something I liked: the album reference. And something I didn’t: the incredibly dry and boring article. Jeesh. Hope this one is more interesting!

I love me some old Fleetwood Mac (pre-Buckingham/Nicks for those of you old enough to remember) and Mystery To Me was a great album, and expresses well what we were thinking about the Brewers for 2017 - year two of the rebuild was going to be another step up the ladder, and a .500 season would have been a rousing success in our eyes. We was wrong! 2017 was an elevator ride to the next level, as Milwaukee came up just one game short of a Wild Card play-off birth.

Here are some names for you: Quinten Berry, Michael Blazek, Paolo Espino, Neftali Perez, Nick Franklin, Matt Garza, David Goforth, Jared Hughes, Jhan Marinez, Tommy Milone, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Wily Peralta, Yadiel Rivera, Rob Scahill, Anthony Swarzak, Carlos Torres, and Neil Walker. That’s seventeen guys that made major league contributions (and I use that word loosely for several of them) last year that we won’t see again this season (in all likelihood). That’s about 400 game appearances that will be taken by other players. 2018 will not be a replay of 2017, and there are more changes to come.

JANUARY: We were all agog over Eric Thames, the November 2016 signee from the Korean leagues. Kyle took a look at various projections from three systems (ZiPS, Steamer, Clay Davenport) and the numbers averaged to about 470 at bats, a slash of .268/.343/.514 for an OPS of .857. He finished the season at .247/.359/.518, OPS of .877. Maybe these guys know something - projecting from a distant, small major league career and the unknown of going from Korea to the majors proved to be child’s play.

Jaymes ran a series on who might be the closer for the Brewers in 2017 (pre-Neftali Feliz’ signing), and his first feature was on Corey Knebel. Nicely done! (He also later included Wily Peralta and Carlos Torres, so we won’t hire him as the new GM just yet.)

ESPN did a piece on each team’s next potential Hall of Famer, and the Brewers’ candidate was: Mauricio Dubon. So he’s got that going for him.

Then the Brewers made Jaymes’ closer series (temporarily) moot by signing Neftali Feliz, and one prescient analyst didn’t think he was going to do all that well...

And lastly, Jaymes took a look at Mark Attanasio’s efforts to buy the Carolina Mudcats. The process took awhile, but did eventually come to fruition.

FEBRUARY: Prospect guru Keith Law got our hopes up that Corey Ray’s struggles in 2016 hadn’t tarnished his prospect status by ranking him as the Brewers’ top prospect. Sigh.

Ehire Adrianza’s stay as a Brewer lasted less than a week, as the waiver claim for Jesus Aguilar from Cleveland was successful and lead to Ehire’s placement on waivers. Good call, Mr. Stearns!

We took the time to vote on our starting rotation faves and didn’t do so hot, although it’s hard to say whether Junior Guerra would have been OK if he hadn’t gotten hurt a few innings into his opening day start. We also included Wily Peralta. Our choices of who we expected to see in the rotation had Matt Garza in over Peralta. Our options might not even be as good this time around, unless something else happens before Spring Training.

For the second month in a row, ESPN proved they don’t know squat about baseball and even less about the Brewers by giving them a C- grade for their off season moves. The E (for Entertainment) has certainly become the byword of ESPN.

PECOTA projected the Brewers to win 76 games. Missing by ten is outside of your margin for error.

Chase Anderson lost his arbitration hearing and was given a $2.45 mil deal for 2017. Arbitration judges often are wrong, too!

Manny Pina was locked in a three way battle for playing time going into spring training last year with Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac, but by the end of the season he was sharing the job with Stephen Vogt. Kyle got this one right.

Jonathan Villar made a tactical error in turning down an offered extension with the Brewers. Instead of increasing his value for his arb years, Villar took a serious step back in his production during the 2017 season and is in danger of becoming a part-time player in 2018. Or the Comeback Player of the Year.

MARCH: The Brewers played Cactus Cup games in March and once again failed to bring it home. But 2016 second round pick Lucas Erceg gave us hope with a power surge while taking advantage of his invite to Spring Training. He walked off the Reds on March 1st, and drilled two dingers against the Indians 5 days later.

A not-as-prescient forecast about the Milwaukee rotation contended that the Brewers’ starters would be their biggest weakness. Breakout campaigns from Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson, along with a solid season from Zach Davies, helped keep the team in the mix all season.

Jesus Aguilar had a great spring, with his over-all hitting forcing the Brewers to keep him on the roster when the season started. He then was solid all year, and figures large in the 2018 plans for another competitive season.

Josh Hader was among the second round of roster cuts, but would rejoin the team and become a very valuable member of the Crew’s bullpen, relying on a 94.3 mph fastball for 81.5% of his deliveries to strike out 12.84 per nine innings of work.

The World Baseball Classic continued in March, with several Brewers playing (or not playing - see Villar, Jonathan) and competing with their home countries. The U.S. was the surprise winner, which doesn’t mean all that much in the cosmic scheme of things.

Kyle gave us a great position by position analysis of the team, and a final summary, which led him to predict a 77 win season. See, even smart people can be wrong!

The end of March marked the end of Scooter Gennett’s Brewer career, as the Reds claimed him off of waivers after Milwaukee was unable to find a trade partner. Scooter proved everyone wrong, OPSing .874 with 27 homers, 97 RBI, and a four homer game. That may be one of the most unlikely things I’ve ever typed.

APRIL: After a 17-17 Cactus League campaign that saw Milwaukee finish 3½ games behind the champion Angels, the Brewers tried to bury their disappointment as the Championship Season started. The hitting stars were Manny Pina and Eric Thames, and Thames took baseball by storm (and led the world in PED testing) 11 homers in 84 ABs, compiling a 1.276 OPS. Pina slashed .375/.423/.563 while starting 15 games out of the 26 played. The team went 13-13 with Wily Peralta posting 4 wins despite an ERA north of 5. Neftali Feliz saved 6 in 7 opportunities, but his ERA was close to 6 and he lost 3 games. Chase Anderson was 2-0 in 5 starts with a 2.10 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.

Two constants of the full season that were invaluable were the Series Previews from Jaymes and Brad Ford’s Daily Prospect reports. Jaymes’ previews weren’t just a who and when; they gave in-depth analysis of what the opposition had been up to. Brad’s daily prospect report kept us abreast of how the future was shaping up (or down) down on the farm.

John Lackey endeared himself to Brewer fans by accusing Eric Thames (in a snide way) using PEDs. Apparently Thames wasn’t the only abuser, as Lackey led the league with 36 homers allowed.

MAY: A 15-12 month had us smiling at the early season success that we knew couldn’t last. Did you know that Corey Knebel struck out 27 in 12.2 innings in May? I didn’t, but now we all do. Did you know that Junior Guerra returned for 2 starts in May and went 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA and 1.1 WHIP? Eric Sogard came up from AAA after proving that his knee was OK and had the month of his life, slashing .400/.571/.686, OPS 1.257, with 2 dingers in 35 at bats. That didn’t prove to be sustainable, unfortunately. Keon Broxton had 5 doubles, 2 triples, and 5 homers for the month. Unsustainable as well. The worst hitter on the roster was an injured Ryan Braun, who was limited to 2 hits in 16 at bats for a slash of .125/.222/.188...sure, a small sample size, but the Brewers were 15-12 despite that.

Kyle started the month off by alerting us to the possibility that the Brewers might very well be better than the pundits (or we) expected. And he was right.

Wily Peralta continued to be...well, bad, with a 1-3 month and batting practice stats. Kyle again gave us another glimpse of the future with a warning that this was the new normal for Wily. Will it stay that way for him this season for the Royals?

The Brewers’ Mothers’ Day win over the Reds featured one of our favorite homers of the year, a go-ahead shot by Manny Pina. Never gets old.

May 21st had the Cubs cancel a game due to beautiful weather, which led to lots of back and forth all season. Baseball needs to have the umpiring crew make ALL game cancelling decisions. Has that been brought up before?

Chase Anderson was the highlighter on May 27th, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning and besting Zach Greinke and the D’Backs 6-1 at Miller Park. Rock’s sigh of relief was audible 10 miles away.

The Brewers had a 1½ game lead in the division on Memorial Day. Really.

JUNE: The Brewers kept their heads above water with a 15-14 month. Stephen Vogt joined the Brewers late in the month, claimed on waivers from the A’s. He got into 3 games and had 2 homers and 4 RBI in his first 7 at bats. That’ll get the home town fans behind you! Travis Shaw belted 8 long balls and drove in 21 to lead the offense, and Hernan Perez had 5 roundtrippers himself in 95 at bats. Josh Hader joined the squad and worked in 6 scoreless games, allowing just 1 hit in 8.1 innings. He did walk 7...effectively wild, I guess. Chase Anderson was 3-1 with a 1.56 ERA, with a WHIP of just 0.72 over 34.2 innings.

Some tough losses on the month, as they blew two ninth inning leads against the Dodgers, and struck out 26 times in the 12 inning loss when Jimmy Nelson out-dueled Clayton Kershaw. Domingo Santana’s seventh inning homer off of the Dodger’s ace was negated by Yasmani Grandal’s game tying ninth inning shot off of Corey Knebel. The Dodgers contributed 16 strikeouts for an NL record 42 k’s for the game.

Brett Phillips made his big league debut on June 5th when Travis Shaw went on the paternity list after the birth and subsequent health issues of his new daughter. Maverick showed off his arm for the first time in the show in his first game.

The Brewers selected Keston Hiura in the amateur draft, adding a solid hitting infielder to their system. Hiura came with an injured elbow that had limited him to DH duties while at UC Irvine. Hiura hit well in rookie ball and at Appleton and was able to rehab and play some in the field at the end of the season, avoiding surgery.

Mid-June saw Brandon Woodruff called up for his major league debut, only to see him scratched from his start due to a hamstring injury suffered while stretching prior to the game. Aw, shucks.

Lewis Brinson also made his big league debut, but struggled to a slash of .097/.200/.161 in 31 at bats over 13 games. Wait ‘til next year!

Jimmy Nelson had the Brewers first complete game in two years in a 2-1 win over the Padres on June 18th.

And on June 28th, the Brewers took a big hit when Chase Anderson injured his obique and was lost for seven weeks.

So there we have it - a six month whirlwind tour of a the first half of 2017, a very interesting season. I had a blast going back over the season, and it was tough to pick and choose what to include and what to exclude. This was too long as it was. If you made it this far, thanks! I’ll see if I can get the second half done before the 2018 season starts.