It feels like half of Milwaukee’s fanbase has been waiting for the sky to fall. After being in first place for a couple months, the novelty of this team of nobodies topping the World Champion Cubs in the division has died down. Especially since the Brewers rode a 5.5 game lead into the All-Star break, at least for myself personally, a lot of that unbridled optimism from May and June has started to turn into tension and nervousness. Every loss feels like it could be the beginning of the end, and any string of losses — like the six-game streak that was mercifully ended on Saturday — feels like the other shoe has finally dropped.
It’s natural for Brewers fans to feel this way. 2017 is starting to feel eerily like 2014, when the Brewers jumped out to a 20-7 record and a 6.5 game lead in the division in late April. The 2014 squad played sub-.500 baseball for the rest of the season and finally collapsed in late August and early September. The swoon started in earnest on August 20, the start of a 3-14 stretch that sent the Brewers hurtling from 1.5 games up in the division to third place and trailing by six games.
That 2014 collapse hurt so much not just because that team played so well and with such energy early in the season, but because that team was clearly at the end of a competitive window. Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez were both on their way out, and the club lacked the impact high-level prospects to replace them with any sort of speed. The 2014 collapse not only felt like a horrible end to a season that started out so promising, but also like the prelude to yet another period of perennial losing. We already lived through the 1992-2006 stretch of sub-.500 squads. Even a losing stretch that lasted half as long would be tough to bear.
I think it’s important to remember that, other than the fact that they jumped to first place out of the gate, this 2017 club bears little resemblance to that 2014 squad. This team wasn’t only not supposed to win, they were supposed to be tanking, one of the worst teams in the National League. This team has big-time talent in the pipeline and is not set up for the present, but built to win in the future. If anything, it’s like the 2007 club: a team that had a strong April and tried to contend ahead of schedule, but ended up reaching a peak and making the playoffs twice over the next four seasons.
That 2007 team was a solid 47-33 at the All-Star break, but they played just .500 ball after a 25-11 start. After the break, they went 34-40 with a -17 run differential, more or less what people expected from a team with some strong young hitters but a shallow pitching rotation and a horribly inconsistent bullpen. In the end, they were overtaken by a strong Cubs team that underperformed expectations but pulled it together just enough in the second half to win the division.
One point of optimism for the 2017 squad: Their performance isn’t as characterized by a great April as the 2007 and 2014 squads were. This Brewers team has gone at least .500 in every month. They have performed well despite being without some of their best players for most of the season between injuries to Ryan Braun and Eric Thames. They have big-time talent to call-up for the second half of the season, and they have the prospect surplus to make a trade to improve without mortgaging the future.
But either way, I think it’s worthwhile for Brewers fans to already look at the 2017 season to a success. This team has wormed its way so deep into Cubs fans heads that they have been scoreboard watching since June. They have put themselves in a position to win that nobody could have possibly predicted before this season. If you were told that in the last week of July, the Brewers would be six games over .500 and in first place, wouldn’t you take that and run with it? That’s how I’m going to look at the rest of this season, and I’m not going to let the idea that the other shoe is bound to drop dominate my mindset any more.
Photo Credit: Eric Hartline, USAToday SportsImages