2011 was a magical year for the Milwaukee Brewers. Doug Melvin assembled an outstanding group of pitchers and his club rode superstar-level performances from Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to a franchise-record 96 victories. The Brewers made their deepest postseason run in a generation, walking off the Diamondbacks in five games in the divisional series before bowing out in the NLCS after six hard-fought games with St. Louis.
But 2011 was also the end of an era. Fielder hit the free agent market after Milwaukee’s run concluded and the franchise has not played October baseball since. Sure, there has been four winnings seasons in the last seven (2012, 2014, 2017, 2018), but fans around the Cream City have endured more heartbreak than joy. There was that epic 2014 collapse. The failed contracts of Kyle Lohse and especially Matt Garza. The awful start in 2015 that spurred significant organizational changes - a new manager, GM, and direction - and kicked the now famed rebuild into gear. There were more than 20 trades beginning in July 2015 through the 2016-17 offseason. Nearly the entire 40 man roster was turned over. We endured watching Elian Herrera, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Ramon Flores as everyday players. Remember Alex Presley, Jake Elmore, Shane Peterson? How about Chris Capuano’s swan song?
All of that seems like a distant memory now. The outlook started to look bright much sooner than expected, thanks to the late trades by Melvin and the deft dealings of David Stearns. Bolstered by the additions under-the-radar additions of Travis Shaw and Eric Thames and a better-than-expected performance from the pitching staff, the Brewers came out of their rebuild and won 86 games in 2017. They stayed in the playoff picture until the penultimate day of the regular season before a loss to the Cardinals eliminated them from contention. With expectations raised, Stearns and company set out to get the franchise over the hump in 2018.
His offseason did not disappoint. Stearns swung perhaps the most important trade in franchise history on January 25th, landing Christian Yelich from Miami in exchange for an elite package of prospects that included Lewis Brinson. Mere moments later, Lorenzo Cain was signed to the largest free agent pact the team has ever doled out, $80 mil guaranteed over five seasons. Jhoulys Chacin was signed to a two-year deal to give the rotation a boost, and Wade Miley inked a minor league contract that has paid off in spades.
This season has featured its share of ups and downs, to be sure. The club was flying high in May, but a grueling stretch of 21 games in 20 days before the All-Star break took its toll. The team was swept in a five game series in Pittsburgh and lost seven in a row at one point. Josh Hader’s hateful tweets were brought to light while he was on the biggest stage of his career at the Midsummer Classic. Jimmy Nelson never got on a mound, Brent Suter was lost to Tommy John, Miley missed long stretches of the season, and 2017 stalwarts Corey Knebel, Domingo Santana, and Orlando Arcia all spent time in the minor leagues.
But this tight-knit squad has endured. Cain, Chacin, Miley, and especially Yelich, have all performed beyond what anyone’s reasonable expectations were. Milwaukee may have the Nationl League’s MVP in Yelich, who is now up to .978 OPS after his five walks last night. Cain, Ryan Braun, and Erik Kratz have been pillars in the locker room. Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader may be the most feared bullpen duo in the Major Leagues. And the deadline acquisitions made by Stearns - Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Joakim Soria in July then Xavier Cedeno, Curtis Granderson, and Gio Gonzalez in August - have all had their moments in the sun.
After getting ousted in St. Louis last year, the Brewers had a chance at redemption last night at Busch Stadium. They captured the first two games of the series, and one more victory would clinch a postseason berth. Chacin was as steady as he’s been all year, delivering five innings of one-run ball before turning things over to the bullpen. Travis Shaw delivered two RBI singles, plating Yelich twice after he reached base on a free pass. Hader and Jeffress were there to finish things out at the end, though a little bit of luck (or some stolen Cardinals Devil Magic) was needed when pinch-runner Adolis Garcia tripped around third base and was tagged out at home trying to score on an error by Moustakas. The 2-1 triumph gave Milwaukee their first sweep in St. Louis since 2009, their 92nd win of the season, and their first shot at the playoffs in seven long years.
"Remember how special this feels, and do everything in your power to make sure this isn't our last celebration."#RyanBraunForever— Brew Crew Ball (@BrewCrewBall) September 27, 2018
The team celebrated late into the night, enjoying their well-deserved champaign shower in the St. Louis visiting locker room. Their work isn’t done yet, however, with the NL Central crown still in play. A season-ending sweep at home against the Tigers would go a long way towards helping knock the reeling Cubs off their perch atop the division. But regardless of what happens during their final three regular season games, the Brewers will, at worst, play host to the 2018 NL Wild Card game.
Special seasons are made up of special moments, and there have been plenty of those along the way. Perhaps the most exciting thing of all is that while 2011 was the end of an era, this year, this run, and this core of players feels like the dawn of a new age of Milwaukee baseball. So let’s celebrate our team and our town during the off day today, and then pack the seats at Miller Park this weekend to support our beloved Menomonee Valley Nine as they charge towards the playoffs and beyond.