Brewers Enter All Star Break on a High Note
The Brewers entered the All Star break with a series of high notes: A 5-1 homestand, a blowout win over the Cubs on Thursday and a series win over the Yankees combined with the Cubs’ recent swoon has Milwaukee taking a season-best 5.5 game lead into the break and singing a happy tune. The Brewers collected win #50 more than a month ahead of last year’s pace, a clear demonstration of just how much their rebuild continues to be ahead of schedule.
It’s worth noting, however, that if the Brewers had won 50 games before the All Star break in 2016 they still would’ve been four games behind the 53-35 Cubs in the National League Central. The surprising Brewers are on pace for 89 wins and hold the best mark in the division so far this season, but going 89-73 would not have been good enough to win the Central in any of the last nine seasons. The eventual division winner has reached or exceeded 90 wins in 16 of the 19 years since the Brewers joined the NL in 1998.
That trend seems likely to continue going forward, as many of the Brewers’ top rivals have reasons to believe they’ll be very good in the years to come. Certainly the Cubs project to be much better than their 43-45 start most years for the foreseeable future. The Cardinals have demonstrated the development and financial wherewithal to be taken seriously as a contender on an annual basis. The Pirates have a rapidly maturing farm system that could put them in contention to contend again in the near future. Only the lowly Reds don’t have a clear vision for near-term success, but even they have some pieces that could allow them to trend in that direction.
The Brewers’ recent run of success has sparked a great deal of conversation about the possibility of “going for it:” sacrificing some of the young talent accumulated during the lean years of the rebuild to put the team in a better position to contend in the short term. That conversation received a serious jumpstart on Friday when Jon Morosi reported hearing that the Brewers were looking into two of the deadline’s most valuable potential movable parts, White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana and Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray. Many fans aren’t excited about the possibility of moving the organization’s most heralded talents, but those same fans may do well to recognize that the Brewers’ window to win may never open wider than it is right now.
To date, the best five-year window of Brewers baseball in franchise history came from 1978-82. Milwaukee posted a .570 winning percentage over that time, winning an average of around 92 games per 162 contests. Even if the Brewers’ rebuild is allowed to continue unabated and they experience that same level of success over the next five seasons, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll be the best team in the NL Central in any of those years. The depth of competition they’ll face over that time is simply too great.
Meanwhile, any significant improvement to this year’s team could dramatically increase their chances of “stealing” a division title in 2017, a year where just one NL Central team enters the All Star Break at or above .500. This doesn’t project to be the best Brewers team of the next decade but, if they can make the playoffs and avoid having to play in the Wild Card game, it might be their best chance to make a deep postseason run.
It remains to be seen what the Brewers will do in the weeks and months ahead and how they’ll leverage the assets at their disposal. Certainly, though, the possibility of “going for it” is growing in apparent merit.