The experts and critics finally started to believe in the upstart Brewers and that was exactly what it took to suck the wind right out of this young team’s sails. To this point they hadn’t been the streaky, up and down, roller coaster team Milwaukee fans are used to. They have been extremely confident and persistent.
Now it seems that confidence in themselves has become their own worst enemy. They aren’t that same reckless, forearm bashing, shirt ripping off team that sparked the attention of baseball fans all over the country. You still see home runs, but you don’t see the over the head slow claps and the electric smiles that lit up every player’s face, including the guys stuck way out in the no man’s land of the bullpen in the first half of the season.
These are still the same guys who defied manager Craig Counsell’s pleas to not make a dangerous throw to end the game after a tremendous spinning defensive play, the hitters that battled Zack Greinke through multiple pitches and launched bombs to deep left center, baserunners who pirouetted past fielders to get out of a pickle, or pitchers who set records with dynamic off-speed pitches in crucial situations.
This team who has lost three out of the last ten since the All-Star break, and is all of a sudden under fire by the same exact people who were optimistically weighing out how hard it would be to beat the Dodgers in a playoff series, is built out of exactly the same guys who were 9-2 in eleven games before. They have had some injuries, but little else has changed.
National radio hosts are discussing whether or not it is smart for the Brewers to go out and make a trade to bring in more talent. Talent is obviously not the issue. This team was beating very good teams on a regular basis in the beginning of the season when they were still hoping to get people to believe in them. Now after sitting idle for a few days with 50 wins under their belt, they have been exposed for the inexperienced overachievers that we all knew they were when the season started, but seemed to forget for a minute when they were winning. Try to remember that even after a monumental collapse, they are still in first place. They are currently equal in record to last year’s World Series winners.
They didn’t get to this point by going out and bringing in superstars. They got here by acquiring players barely anyone had heard of and getting them to play like children on a playground. Baseball is a game of momentum, slumps and streaks, and so far the excitement had been in the Brewers camp. The key for Counsell, is to get back inside his players heads, and to find a way to get them once again believing in the impossible.
The Brewers skipper should be a front runner for manager of the year for how he has handled this squad so far. He has endlessly manipulated his lineup and bullpen to keep getting wins even when they struggled. He has kept his cool and a mischievous grin through every turn and has the poise of one of the great ones even with his childlike demeanor. Most importantly he built a team that never gave up. However, in spite of the fun the Brewers have had, when the day is done, this is a man’s game, and if you don’t pony up and win when it matters, the fun and excitement are all in vain.
One thing I believe Milwaukee is seriously missing, is a true leader. Ryan Braun is the one you would like to look at, but with his injuries, a slightly tarnished reputation, and the fact that he knows the Brewers didn’t even want him there when the season started, he seems to be looking for the approval of the newer players instead of the other way around. Eric Thames has had his moments, but has been labeled inconsistent and is just a bit too humble and nice of a guy to wear the face of a franchise at this point. Travis Shaw has faced his own personal issues off the field but has the best chance of stepping up as time goes on.
So far, the Brewers have ridden the wave of the younger, less focused players who rely on adrenaline rather then experience, and have leaned on them for a spark and direction. That definitely has its pros and cons, but isn’t the ideal chemistry for a deep postseason run. It’s time someone else steps up, but unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone up for that challenge. The game and attention seems to have gotten inside their head, and against some fans belief, this is a thinking mans game. Over an 162 game season, stamina and determination can be more important than energy and spunk.
The good news is the Brewers are hungry and their front office is determined to win. In what was expected to be a rebuilding season, it’s easy to get caught up in negative thinking rather than realizing that the Brewers future hasn’t looked this bright in at least a decade.
Milwaukee just blew a series against the last place Philadelphia Phillies, now they have the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs coming up. So far this team has played its best ball against better teams. The excitement continues.