The Brewers have been, despite my expectations, a delightful team to watch thus far in 2017. Not only are the Brewers still playing .500 baseball a solid 20 percent of the way into the season, but when they’ve been at their best, they’ve been playing an explosively fun brand of baseball. Between their power hitters, speed demons, and even a couple of defensive wizards, the Brewers have been highlight machines. They’re usually good for an entertaining watch even when they don’t manage to pull out the win.
At 17-16 through last night’s win over Boston, the Brewers are in a great spot in a competitive National League Central. They’re just 1.5 games behind the revolving door NL Central team leader, be it the Reds (a team the Brewers are already 6-1 against) or the division’s presumed favorites, the Cubs and Cardinals. Despite the close race in the standings, though, projections are not looking kindly on the Brewers’ postseason chances. Baseball Prospectus PECOTA-powered projecteed standings see the Brewers as a 63-68 team the rest of the way with a 14.6 percent chance of playing into October. FanGraphs is even more pessimistic, giving them just 4.2 percent playoff odds and seeing Milwaukee as a .453 club the rest of the way.
I think this club can continue to hit. Eric Thames may not be the second coming of Barry Bonds, but he has a masterful command of the strike zone and ridiculous raw power. The rest of the lineup has enough power and speed to keep putting runs on the board. But the pitching staff? It has already been exposed over and over as the club’s weak spot. Junior Guerra is still out for another month. Chase Anderson and Matt Garza are the only starting pitchers with an ERA under 4.80, and multiple relievers — Jhan Marinez, Carlos Torres, and Neftali Feliz — have been disastrous.
Still, not bad for a rebuilding club! But this Brewers team exposes what I think is one of the major flaws of the whole philosophy behind the idea of rebuilding phases. This is a team that has some fantastic players, but it has some seriously glaring flaws. It also has the lowest payroll in the league, and it’s going to be hard to ignore that has-been or never-have-been pitchers continue to blow some of the excellent games this offense is capable of producing.
Seasons that open like this, I think, are the perfect argument for rebuilding teams to take chances on mid-level veteran free agents. Ideally, these would be players looking for a short contract to relaunch their career, players who won’t be a huge drag on the ledger sheet should the signing fail to pan out, but who could be a significant contributor should some other pieces fall into place. Players like Charlie Morton, Wilson Ramos, Santiago Casilla, and Andrew Cashner have all been productive for less than a $20 million commitment. The Brewers could have been more aggressive on players like this without putting their ability to spend in the future in jeopardy, and had those veteran signings produced on a losing team, they would have been ideal trade chips come summer or the next winter.
Perhaps I’m overreacting a bit. This team is nothing more than a .500 ballclub after just over a month. They could easily go on a major losing streak and go from contender to pretender in an instant. But they could very well continue to mash and look a few pitchers away from a playoff squad for the rest of the year. We know how small competitive windows can be in Milwaukee. It would hurt to see the team lose a chance at opening one this year because the front office was too thrifty.