It has been a long time since there was this much optimism surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers. The last time the franchise made the playoffs was in 2011 after an offseason that included the significant additions of Shawn Marcum and Zack Greinke. That team went on to win a club-record 96 games, defeated the Diamondbacks in a five-game NLDS on a walk-off hit in the deciding contest, and came within two games of making the World Series.
Fans around Milwaukee had been lulled into a rebuilding slumber during the 2015 and 2016 seasons as the club won 68 and 73 games and openly tore apart the MLB roster. Manager Ron Roenicke was replaced by local son Craig Counsell, and so too was GM as Doug Melvin as he shifted to an advisory role and David Stearns was hired - at the time the youngest executive in the league. Fan favorites like Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy were dealt away to competing teams while our local nine focused more heavily on the nebulous concept of building up the minor league system to win sometime in the future.
But those same fans were jolted awake with by the surprise contender that Slingin’ David Stearns and his front office assembled in 2017. The Brewers spent much of the early portion of year in first place and stayed in the playoff race until the very end, not getting eliminated from Wild Card contention until the second to last day of the regular season. No one pegged the Brewers to finish as even a .500 ball club prior to the start of the 2017 season, but the team quickly captured the hearts and minds of the fans on their way to 86 victories and a second place finish in the division.
After seeing what their group of players was able to achieve last year, the ownership and front office group decided early on in the 2017-18 offseason that it was time to shift gears. Taking a long view of the overall landscape in the National League, Brewers’ brass decided that the competitive situation was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Only seven or eight teams figure to be actually competing for a playoff spot on the Senior Circuit this season, helping the brain trust to conclude that “a win in 2018 is just as important as a win in 2020.”
This past offseason was perhaps the slowest in MLB history, but that didn’t stop the Brewers from making two of the most impactful moves any team executed all winter. On the night of January 25th, word broke that the team had dealt four prospects - including three top-100 level players - to the Miami Marlins for All-Star outfielder Christian Yelich. Not even two hours later, more news leaked: Milwaukee was bringing home center fielder Lorenzo Cain (who was a part of that Greinke trade) on the largest free agent contract in franchise history - five years and $80 mil guaranteed. Those two transactions loudly announced that “The Rebuild is Over.” The deals invigorated a hungry fan base, who showed up in droves a few days later and set a new attendance record at the annual “On Deck” winter fan-fest.
Chicago’s signing of Yu Darvish makes them the clear favorites in the NL Central, but Milwaukee is projected to be right there in the mix of teams battling for a Wild Card berth. And who knows? Maybe they can surprise those damned Cubbies and steal a division title. With their two new impact bats in the lineup, the offense figures to be much improved from the middling run scoring totals they put up last season. The biggest question mark will be how the starting rotation holds up until the midseason return of Jimmy Nelson - and if there is still an addition or two to be made to that group before the season begins.
Pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale Baseball Park today, marking the beginning of the 2018 Major League Baseball season for our Milwaukee Brewers. After a couple of painful rebuilding years, the earnest conversation surrounding the Cream City Nine has shifted to how good this team will be during the upcoming season and the possibility of deep of a run into October.
It has been 136 days since the final out of Milwaukee’s 2017 season. It’s time for baseball begin anew, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.