Wisconsins Morning News

Gene's Blog: Is Friday night a start for the Crew, or just a tease?

The Brewers need to stack successes to stay alive

One win does not a season make but there was a lot to like about the Brewers 6-1 win over Arizona Friday night.

Certainly not those uniforms but that's a tale for a separate telling.

It starts a homestand with a win--always a good thing--and it abates some of the sting from the 2-4 road trip that preceeded it. The victory was a snoozer fro a change--usually when Milwaukee wins, it never seems to come easy--and it featured a combo of power plus a hit-in-bunches offense we seldom get from the local nine. Plus, there was the Jordan Lyles no-hitter-enhancer although manager Craig Counsell stuck to his guns, removing his starter in the sixth lest he cross the 100 pitch threshold or--gasp--face a hitter for the third time, even with history in the making and his charges up by a touchdown. Guess letting a guy lose his own no-no in the midst of a rout is verboten by baseball's sabermetrics devotees, too.

A Milwaukee win streak is sorely needed at this stage of the season: there's a month of ball to be played and the Brewers have yet to stand out in a division where the three remaining contenders seem adverse to winning this damn thing. Milwaukee is in contention not because of stellar play but because the Cards and Cubs are performing beneath expectations, too. Are the Brewers as currently constructed capable of winning more games than they've lost the rest of the way? Are they capable of repeating last September's out-of-their-collective-minds performance?

Nothing they've done to date would lead you to think so.

Counsell loves to say that teams get the records they deserve and that's certainly true of his just-above-break-even charges this August weekend. They're barely above .500 since the All Star break, avoiding major losing streaks but also failing to string together victories the way contenders do in separating themselves from the pack. What was most disheartening about the recent road swing was that there wasn't just one thing to point to in the four losses--one night, starting pitching failed. The next, it was the bullpen. A team that mashed the ball the last two nights flailed miserably before that.

A broader look at the 2019 Brewers shows that a lot of what fans thought was good at the start of the campaign--the offense and Josh Hader in the 'pen--has been a problem while that which they worried about most--starting pitching--hasn't been all that bad, at least until the last road swing. What we've seen is a club that thrives when it hits round-trippers and dies when it doesn't, plain and simple. Was Friday night's combo platter a new-found hybrid or a single-evening aberation? Not helping matters at the dish: Travis Shaw's collapse, Lorenzo Cain's lack of production (he's playing hurt, isn't he?) and Jesus Aguilar's frustrations (he never put together a full season of wonderment) that ended with his trade to Tampa. Starting pitching has not been a huge concern, even with injuries (Brandon Woodruff, Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies) and inconsistencies factored in. The bullpen that saved Milwauikee's bacon so often down last year's stretch has been a roller-coaster this summer--how do you feel when you see Matt Albers or Jeremy Jeffress on the bump?--and Hader's fall has been a shock to the system. Previously unhittable, his "mistakes" now leave the yard at a frightening clip and are sometimes a threat to local aviation. Big league hitters can handle ANYONE'S fast ball if they know it's coming AND if it's left over the plate--those are meatballs Chef Boy Ar Dee would be proud of, and Hader is serving them up way too often. Location is the problem, he insists, and that the heater is his moneymaker, one he chooses to rely on no matter what. 

It's not all bad. Woodruff and Chacin could be back soon, along with Brent Suter. Hernan Perez is in the clubhouse again to enhance the atmosphere if not the team's collective offense. Mike Moustakas is mashing. Eric Thames is picking his spots to shine. And there's always Christian Yelich. The Athletic's Robert Murray points out that the Brewers get to host the Cubs and Cards seven times before the season's up, two teams that have a hard time winning on the road. Then he shares the bad news: 15 of their 19 games are against Chicago. St. Louis and (gulp) Houston.

"The long season is taking it's toll," Murray writes, "The team is banged up and playing poorly." He points to the just-completed road trip as proof that last  year's late-regular-season success isn't close to happening.

Based and that sample and the results dating back to April that precede it, he's right. Local fans can't anticipate another amazing, wonderous stretch drive the way we expect leaves to change colors every autumn. What happened in September of 2018 was the stuff of team lore, exploits we'll tell grandkids about, the kinds of memories that help supplant the worn-out ones of 1982. 

Can it be duplicated? In baseball, anything is possible. That's why we watch the damn games. Is it a mortal lock? Again, nothing is. 

You get the record you deserve and the way things are going in the NL Central and the Wild Card, the Crew's  just might be enough to land Milwaukee a post-season berth. Goals would be much easier met if we see more of what we saw Friday night at Miller Park instead of the swing-for-the-fences-and-strikesouts-aren't-so-bad-either approach but what would lead you to think that's going to happen on a consistent basis after what you've seen the last five months? The Brewer DNA is set, at the dish and on the bump. Are they bred to have a life that stretches into October?

Let's see how they survive September first.



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