Last night, the improbable 2017 Brewers, these never-building nobodies, continued their hunt for a playoff spot by hanging on to a wild win versus Cincinnati. This victory not only kept Milwaukee alive in the National League Wild Card, where the club trails the final spot Colorado Rockies by 1.5 games, but also alive in the division since the Cubs lost. It is extremely improbable that the Chicago Cubs lose out and the Brewers win out, thereby forcing a final game for the division, but that would be a very “hey, this is baseball” thing to happen in the 2017 season. (In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections, season simulation Number 4813 foresaw this exact scenario).
|PECOTA Simulation 4813||Result||Wins|
|Brewers||NL Central Champ||88|
|Phillies||NL East Champ||93|
|Dodgers||NL West Champ||99|
|Cubs||NL Wild Card 1||88|
|Giants||NL Wild Card 2||86|
|Cleveland||AL Central Champ||90|
|Yankees||AL East Champ||87|
|Angels||AL West Champ||84|
|Rays||AL Wild Card 1||86|
|Twins||T-AL Wild Card 2||83|
|Astros||T-AL Wild Card 2||83|
Of course, the Brewers win also brings the club thoroughly into “winning season territory,” beyond the mere .500 win total (81) or the “well, I guess they won one more game than .500″ mark of 82 wins.
Now, with five games remaining in the season, these 2017 Brewers are fighting for their playoffs lives, improbably fighting for a divisional shot, and perhaps most improbably, fighting for a slot among the Best Brewers Teams in Franchise History. Let’s have a look:
|Best Brewers Teams||Record||Playoffs?||RS / RA Wins|
|2011 Brewers||96-66||Lost NLCS||90.1|
|1982 Brewers||95-67||Lost World Series||96.9|
|1981 Brewers||62-47||Lost LDS||86.3|
|2008 Brewers||90-72||Lost LDS||87.3|
Obviously, the cynical Brewers fans will point out that the fact that this team is one of the best in franchise history reflects the losing nature of the franchise, rather than the strengths of this 2017 club. I think that’s a cop out, for several reasons; first, this team clearly features some key young- and prime-aged players getting ready for a contending run (hopefully); second, this team clearly features one of the very best pitching staffs in Brewers history, including both the starting rotation and the bullpen. This last fact will be true by runs prevented (even if the team allows 50 runs over the last five games, they will remain a significantly better than average club; they are currently on pace to prevent 60 runs), as well as by WARP.
The historical Baseball Prospectus pitching statistics show that Jimmy Nelson (3.95), Zach Davies (3.57), Corey Knebel (2.22), and Chase Anderson (2.13) each have more than 2.00 pitching Wins Above Replacement (WARP); no other Brewers team has accomplished that, ever! If one is inclined to complain about the offense, and call this team one-dimensional, well, sometimes very good baseball teams are one dimensional, and it just happens that this Brewers club actually is lead by pitching instead of the club reputation for being offense-first (CSV retrieved September 27, 2017).
|Most 2.0 WARP Brewers||Pitcher 1 (DRA)||Pitcher 2 (DRA)||Pitcher 3 (DRA)||Pitcher 4 (DRA)|
|2017||Jimmy Nelson (3.56)||Zach Davies (3.87)||Corey Knebel (2.45)||Chase Anderson (4.13)|
|2007||Ben Sheets (3.93)||Yovani Gallardo (3.77)||Chris Capuano (4.42)||-|
|2006||Chris Capuano (3.14)||Dave Bush (3.10)||Ben Sheets (2.54)||-|
|2005||Ben Sheets (2.61)||Doug Davis (3.58)||Matt Wise (2.73)||-|
|1997||Ben McDonald (3.14)||Scott Karl (4.58)||Doug Jones (2.38)||-|
|1994||Bob Scanlan (3.63)||Bill Wegman (4.10)||Ricky Bones (4.76)||-|
|1992||Bill Wegman (3.04)||Chris Bosio (3.77)||Jamie Navarro (4.22)||-|
|1991||Bill Wegman (3.16)||Chris Bosio (3.77)||Jamie Navarro (4.06)||-|
|1995||Teddy Higuera (3.25)||Moose Haas (3.50)||Danny Darwin (4.12)||-|
To provide context for the significance of this pitching accomplishment, consider the fact that the Brewers have five 2.0 WARP position players in 2017, as well. However, by comparison, Brewers teams have had five or more 2.0 WARP position players in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 1996, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1987, 1983, 1982, 1979, 1978, and 1972, according to Baseball Prospectus Team Batting Statistics (CSV retrieved September 27, 2017). So, indeed, this pitching performance is special for the Brewers, and makes the 2017 club a true anomaly in the history of the franchise, a true pitching-first ballclub.
The 2017 Brewers are already one of the very best clubs in franchise history, and each win as the season closes should hopefully keep the team in the playoff hunt and solidify this historically good standing within the franchise.
There will be an entire offseason to assess this club in terms of what’s next, but it should be immediately clear that this 2017 team is somewhat of an anomaly. There are no real stars (only Travis Shaw has reached the 4.0 WARP level), and the club’s identity is in the rich assemblage of depth players who just needed a chance to play. Manny Pina, Hernan Perez, Jesus Aguilar, Keon Broxton, Jonathan Villar, and maybe even Eric Sogard fit this mold as players producing 1.0 to 2.0 WARP in 2017; not one of these players is a standout, or perhaps even a member of the next “planned” Brewers contending core, but together they are worth nearly 8.0 WARP to the club. The offseason will be the occasion for deeper dives into the talent of this club and their likelihood of continuing success with this roster, but two things are certain:
(1) This Brewers club is a team in the truest sense, with a real identity across the diamond. I hope that when the club is building “planned” contenders, they do not forget the lessons learned when seeking ignored or unproven avenues of talent. Hopefully the next “planned” contender does have a productive Lewis Brinson or Corbin Burnes, named by the club as the 2017 Minor League Players of the Year, but it would not be all that bad to have a 2017 Manny Pina, 2017 Chase Anderson, 2017 Jimmy Nelson, or 2016 Jonathan Villar coming along for the ride as well.
(2) Let’s hope these Brewers continue to win out, because this pitching-first club with a deep and lights out bullpen and two notably better than average starters (Anderson and Davies) could wreak havoc in short form playoff series. All Milwaukee needs to do is get there, so get there! Go Brewers!
Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USAToday Sports Images