Swinging for the Fences Again

The Brewers have beaten conventional wisdom in recent seasons. CAN that trend continue in 2019?

Luc Anthony

What can be expected of the team that consistently beats expectations? Perfection? More wins than games played?

Coming off the 2018 campaign that ended just short of the World Series, most baseball fans in Wisconsin – the Brewers fans, still the vast majority statewide despite the notable Twins clan here in the Chippewa Valley and those Cubs rooters who always remind you they are Cubs rooters – see an approximately repeat performance as the baseline for the season to come. The rebuild is long over. The reigning National League MVP and the league’s Manager of the Year runner-up are on the payroll. Josh Hader is throwing strikeouts. And of late, this team always does better than you think.

What was to be a decrepit 2016 season for the Brewers garnered 73 wins and a finish out of last place. In 2017 they vaulted beyond .500 and ended a game shy of the playoffs. We know how well they did last year. The trends say they should now win the World Series, or else something is wrong.

As Athletic Aesthetic looks at the lay of the baseball land in 2019, we must acknowledge the exceeding  of the past several seasons’ worth of conventional athletic wisdom about the franchise. Since Craig Counsell’s first complete year at the helm of the Brew Crew, the team has notched more victories than the consensus public forecast. What was to be a decrepit 2016 garnered 73 wins and a finish out of last place. In 2017 they vaulted beyond .500 and ended a game shy of the playoffs. We know how well they did last year. The trends say they should now win the World Series, or else something is wrong.

What some of us who follow the team may say is “wrong” may simply be the law of averages. Think realistically: Will Josh Hader set more single-game strikeout records without his left arm accompanying the baseball to the plate on one of his fireball pitches? Hader will be good, but can he again be quite as scary? Meanwhile, MVP Christian Yelich hit home runs in 2018 at a rate unseen in his career. Typically he gets a lot of hits, and a lot of them are line-drives; last year, a good number of those landed on the opposite side of the fence. Perhaps this year he keeps landing hits, only in the field of play.

FanGraphs is one of the best analytical websites in baseball and sports in general, and they project an 83-79 third-place finish for Milwaukee, a fall from their 96-67 division championship. FanGraphs’ extensive number-crunching says the Brewers have a good offense and a sub-mediocre pitching staff – true, this was the team that went to its bullpen really quickly into the postseason, though in part that was due to the sublime quality of the relief corps. Maybe a whole set of players played above-par in 2018? Then again, a good number of Brewers outplayed their perceived ability in 2017, and FanGraphs set its 2018 Brewer projection at 79-83.

Intangibles may be the reason the True Blue Brew Crew keeps getting better, and may stay strong despite vacillations across the roster. I asked some members of the Chippewa Valley media to predict what we’ll see on the diamond in the coming months – from Major League Baseball to the high school baseball and softball fields of the Chippewa Valley. Starting with Milwaukee, expectations are strong but not wild – likely around a first-place finish in what is shaping up as a historically tough N.L. Central Division, though without a visit to the World Series. The drought continues for a 37th season.

For prep baseball in western Wisconsin, the Big Rivers Conference is always solid, with Eau Claire North and Memorial again in title contention, perhaps being challenged by Chippewa Falls or River Falls. Altoona and Fall Creek should be near the top of the Western Cloverbelt and Dunn-St. Croix conferences, respectively.

McDonell has been the only champion in the history of the WIAA Division 5 state tournament – OK, there has only been Division 5 softball in Wisconsin for two years, but wins are wins, and local media expects more wins from the Macs. Wins in the BRC are a near-given at Chi-Hi, and the Cardinals should dominate the Big Rivers again in 2019. Look for some good Mounder softball coming out of Elk Mound as well.

The icy core of the snow mountains from this winter may last into June, but by that time the grass will have long been tread with athletes – including a 15th summer of Eau Claire Express collegians. Like a certain major league team in Milwaukee, things can only get better.