Brewers Head into June with Momentum
One never would have guessed it from the way they’ve played for most of the last week, but the Milwaukee Brewers will turn the corner into June on Thursday with a winning record and need just one win or a loss each for the Cubs and Cardinals to finish May atop the NL Central.
Every stretch is a key stretch for a surprising first place team, as any prolonged slump creates the risk they’ll fall into a hole they can’t dig out of. For examples of this, all one needs to do is look at some of the teams on the Brewers’ schedule between now and the end of June:
· Despite a win over the Brewers on Monday (featuring just the 17th bases loaded walk to a pitcher in Brewers franchise history) the Mets are still just 22-27, good for second place in the NL East but tenth in the National League.
· Next week the Brewers host the 22-31 Giants four times. On April 3 FanGraphs had San Francisco with a 73% chance to make the playoffs, but they had fallen below 20% just three weeks later and have been below 10% for a week now.
· The Padres entered the season with low expectations and squashed them early, losing 10 of their first 15. They’re the NL’s second-worst team at 20-33.
· The Pirates have climbed back a bit since their 14-22 start but still sit well below .500 and in last place despite recent efforts and a win on Monday.
· The Braves are well on their way to a clunker season to open their new ballpark, sitting well below .500 with FanGraphs playoffs odds that have never exceeded 3%.
· The Reds were in sole possession of first place in the NL Central following a win on May 7 but are 7-12 since and appear headed back towards the last place finish most analysts predicted for them.
That’s six teams with greatly diminished or nonexistent playoff hopes, and the Brewers face them all before June 30 (when they close out the month with a series against the woeful Marlins). All told, 23 of the Brewers’ next 33 games are against sub-.500 teams, and in some cases “sub-.500” is one of the nicer things one can say about those clubs. The Brewers have a very real opportunity to get hot, and recent history would suggest they almost have to get hot in this stretch to make a realistic postseason run.
The MLB season is long and within it teams find various paths to contention. It stands to reason, however, that the easiest path to 90+ wins is to beat up on bad teams. The last two Brewers teams to make the playoffs very clearly show how it’s done.
The 2011 team finished 30 games over .500 at 96-66 but over half that margin was a result of 12-3 records against the woeful Astros and not-quite-as-bad Pirates, two non-contenders that gave the Brewers a clear boost towards their first division title in the National League. The 2008 team got an even larger boost from a couple of weak opponents, going a combined 20-1 against the Pirates and Giants and 70-71 against everyone else.
A few weeks ago we discussed that the 2017 Brewers got off to a good start down a similar path by winning six of their first seven against the Reds, a team they’ll face 12 more times this season. Over the next few weeks they’ll have several more opportunities to find another bad team to use as a stepping stone if they’re going to continue their Cinderella run.