Year 2 of the David Stearns rebuilding project has gone better than anybody could have predicted. The first year was always going to be a year in which the Brewers would finish near the bottom of the standings, but the second year is only supposed to see a slight uptick in the standings for rebuilding baseball teams. Except General Manager Stearns has proven that he doesn’t need that much time to build a team competing for the playoffs. After an offseason filled with a few relatively unknown signings (his biggest acquisition was Eric Thames who had most recently been playing in Korea), this Brewers team is sitting comfortably atop the standings of the NL Central.
Travis Shaw, Corey Knebel, and Jimmy Nelson all should be representing the Brewers in the upcoming All-Star game, but Nelson and Shaw were the odd men out after each team was given its all-star representative. Shaw has been hitting near .300 for the season and has been a major coup after he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox, along with a few other players, for reliever Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg has yet to put on the Red Sox jersey after being forced to the disabled list. Stepping up to fill the shoes Thornburg left behind was Knebel, who had struggled in the major leagues his first 3 seasons. Knebel left those struggles in the past, though, and has struck out a batter in 41 consecutive appearances on his way to amassing a 1.11 earned run average. While Knebel made the jump in his fourth year, Nelson is proving that his fifth season was the one for him. The 28 year old Nelson has been the anchor of the Brewers starting pitching staff, going deeper into games than he ever has before and striking out batters at a far higher clip than in previous seasons.
The real question is how long the Brewers can hold off the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have been a real disappointment so far this year, struggling to get above .500 while sitting in second place for the majority of the season. The star power on the Cubs is undeniable, but the Brewers have them beat in roster depth. Manager Craig Counsell likes to use the Brewers positional players as interchangeable parts, and so far this year he has looked to be a master mechanic. Frankly, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cubs finally find their way as the season draws closer to the end and overtake the Brewers once the cooler weather sweeps in. The Cubs are the defending champions and haven’t lost anybody that truly damaged their roster, but many of their players aren’t playing up to the potential they showed the previous season.
The Brewers may be able to hold off the Cubs, though the odds are falling less and less in their favor as the season goes on and they are unable to build on their lead in the standings. Whether they make the playoffs or not, this season has been an undeniable success.