The Bright Spots in Bad Brewers Seasons
We’re one-sixth of the way through the 2017 MLB season and, all told, I think most of us would admit it’s going better than we expected for the Milwaukee Brewers. Sunday’s win was their 13th in the season’s first month, equaling their total from 2015 and 2016 combined.
It remains to be seen, however, if this Brewers team is actually better than most expected, or simply better at beating the Reds: Through 26 games they’re 6-1 against their rivals from Cincinnati and 7-12 against everyone else. The Brewers have won just one series against a non-Reds team, a two-game sweep of the tailspinning Blue Jays. If this pace keeps up, Milwaukee will finish the season 16-3 against the Reds and 53-90 against everyone else for a final record of 69-93, four games worse than last season and just a game better than 2015, when the rebuild appeared to bottom out.
Even bad teams, however, occasionally get the best of another team in the season series. Here’s a quick look back at some poor Brewers teams from the past and the rivals that brightened their sad days a bit:
2002: Brewers 56-106 overall, 10-7 vs Cubs
It’s hard to be really good against any team when you’re en route to 106 losses, but one lone bright spot in the worst season in franchise history was the Brewers winning seven of their first nine against their division rivals from the north side and ten of 17 overall. This Cubs team, of course, wasn’t very good either: They lost 95 games, fired manager Don Baylor mid-season and saw general manager Andy MacPhail step down in July.
If Glendon Rusch had been able to play his entire Brewers career against the 2002 Cubs he might be remembered completely differently: He made four starts that year against Chicago and won all four games, posting a 2.96 ERA over 27.1 innings, compared to a 4.97 mark against the Brewers’ other opponents. Chicago was also the highlight of Jeffrey Hammonds’ lone full healthy season in Milwaukee, as he hit .350 with a .426 OBP and .525 slugging against them in 11 appearances.
1970: Brewers 65-97 overall, 11-7 vs White Sox
The Brewers’ first year in Milwaukee was a long one, but again it was a Chicago-based franchise that made it seem a little better. The White Sox provided the Brewers with their first win (in their fourth game overall) and their only glimpse of .500 with a 3-3 record following a doubleheader sweep on April 12. Chicago went on to go 56-106, the worst mark in the 117-year history of their franchise.
Left fielder Danny Walton padded his numbers a bit against the woeful Sox, batting .310 with a .412 OBP and .619 slugging and seven of his 37 extra base hits. Pitchers Lew Krause and Marty Pattin piled on, posting identical 2.57 ERAs over a combined 49 innings of work. Pattin pitched 21 innings against Chicago in just two outings: A 12-inning complete game on July 7 and a more traditional nine-inning CG on September 27.
1977: Brewers 67-95 overall, 7-3 vs Mariners
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Milwaukee stole the Seattle Pilots away from their original city following the 1969 season, in 1977 the Brewers also beat up on the expansion Mariners in their first American League season. This year the Brewers and Mariners combined for 193 losses but neither was the worst team in their own division: A top heavy AL lead to four teams with 95 losses or more, the Brewers, Mariners (64-98), Athletics (63-98) and Blue Jays (54-107).
This was before Robin Yount was an elite offensive player, but he still looked pretty good against a bad Seattle team, batting over .300 with an OPS (on-base plus slugging) almost 150 points higher than his season mark. Sixto Lezcano and Sal Bando also had hot bats against the Mariners, hitting a combined five home runs in the two teams’ ten meetings.
2015: Brewers 68-94 overall, 7-0 vs Phillies
Getting back to the more recent past, the Phillies helped the Brewers right the ship a bit during one of the rockier years of the Miller Park era. Milwaukee took four straight at Citizens Bank Park in the middle of an eight-game winning streak in June and July of that season, then invited Philadelphia in and swept them in August. The Phillies weren’t very good against anyone else, either, finishing 63-99.
During a season of turnover and trades, Brewers both new and old had no issue hitting against Philadelphia. Six different Brewers posted an OPS above 1.000 in the season series. On the mound, Taylor Jungmann faced the Phillies twice and allowed just two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings for a 1.46 ERA, as compared to a 4.04 mark against his other opponents.
Back in the present, the Brewers and Reds won’t see each other much for a while: The two teams don’t meet again until single series in June and August before facing off six times in September. Odds are only one of the two teams is looking forward to those encounters.