This week, SB Nation wanted to know which teams were the best to never win a championship across every sport. We’ve been asked to dive into that topic and share the best Brewers teams that fit that mold, but since there have been precious few Brewers teams to even fit that description (1982, 2011 and 2018, there, done), we thought we’d take a different tact.
We’ll expand it a bit further and look at the best Brewers teams to never make the playoffs. After all, there’s plenty of near-misses in the local nine’s history, especially during those long years between playoff appearances in 1982 and 2008. So here’s a closer look at some of those teams who just missed out on a chance to compete for a title.
1987 — Third-Best in the AL
The 1987 Brewers are a historic bunch. While there were still remnants of the 1982 AL Pennant winners like Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Cecil Cooper, there was also an influx of new and fresh faces, including Dale Sveum, Juan Nieves and BJ Surhoff. Together, they put together some of the most significant accomplishments of team history that would be remembered for years.
As a team starting to mesh, the Brewers finally got back to their winning ways for the first time since 1983. The roster finished at a robust 91-71, but it was still seven games back of the mighty Detroit Tigers, who walked away with the East in hand. As was the case in 1978, if the team had been in the West, they would have likely been facing the Tigers for the playoffs as the best team in that division was the Minnesota Twins that finished at an 85-77 record (and go on to win the World Series). However, the Brew Crew was still behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the East, setting them up for the third-best record in the that year’s AL.
The ‘87 Brewers were a team of legend for those growing up in Milwaukee in the miserable 90s and early 2000s. Aside from being a good team, it’s also the season Juan Nieves threw the Brewers’ only no-hitter. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s hard to remember who was all apart of that moment, especially behind the plate. On April 15, 1987, Nieves faced 31 batters, walking five and striking out seven. The final out is the play that goes show the most, as Robin Yount and to make a dive in right-center to keep the ball from falling and clinch the first and only Brewers no-hitter. Still can’t remember who caught that game.
Every April, we’d also be regaled on broadcast with tales of the 13-game win streak to start the season. Still, we hear about the Easter Sunday miracle comeback, where the Brewers were at risk of losing their streak going into the bottom of the ninth down 4-1 against the Texas Rangers. Rob Deer hit a game-tying three-run homer to set up a Dale Sveum two-run walk-off to win it and send the fans home happy.
Paul Molitor was magnificent in the ‘87 season as well. He finished fifth in MVP voting after going .353/.438/.566 with 16 homers, a league-leading 41 doubles and 45 stolen bases. More importantly, he put up the seventh-longest hitting streak in MLB history and best for the Brewers at 39 games. Those numbers came in just 118 games, as Molitor was injured for most of May. Had he been healthy, there’s a good chance he would have won MVP and could have even been the difference in the Brewers making the playoffs.
Robin Yount joined Molitor on the MVP ballot, finishing at 18th. Yount hit .312/.384/.479 with 21 homers. At this point in his career, Yount was a full-time center fielder and two years out from winning his second MVP.
On the mound, the Brewers’ best pitched was easily Teddy Higuera. Higuera threw 261.2 innings for a 3.85 ERA, striking out 240 and winning 18. I know wins don’t matter to us, but it was unfortunately a highly valued stat back then, and part of the reason Teddy finished sixth in Cy Young voting that season.
The rest of the Brewers’ pitching staff couldn’t compare. Milwaukee finished 9th of 14 teams in ERA at 4.62. It probably would have been fairly close to the bottom without Higuera and Dan Plesac, who threw a 2.61 ERA in 79.1 innings as closer, well above anyone else in the bullpen.
This Brewers team also just lacked the boom previous lineups had. Milwaukee was the second-worst team for homers with only 163, replacing the Wall Bangers with base stealers. The Crew led the league in swiped bags at 176.
Perhaps with one more pitcher and even a full season of Paul Molitor, this could have been a team we’d be talking more about, besides for a few great memories in April.