Ah, yes. Their fans knew it was coming, the organization knew it was coming, but none of that makes the unraveling any easier. Four games after the mid-season break and the Brewers have watched their first place lead in the NL Central shrink from 5.5 games to 1.5. The Chicago Cubs, given a shot of new life after acquiring Jose Quintana from the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox, have been firing on all cylinders since returning from the break, while the Brewers have found new ways to lose games.
The fallback to reality was inevitable, but it doesn’t make the ground feel any softer when we land on it. When the Brewers first took the lead in the NL Central race in May there was some soft grumblings about how this team wasn’t very good but had just had a winning streak early on. Then, as they continued to win, the fans began to shake their heads in disbelief, having been tricked by these Brewers before and refusing to start believing when it was only June. Then the calendar flipped to July and the Cubs were still struggling while the Brewers were maintaining a decent lead in the standings. As the All-Star break neared and the Brewers held tightly onto their 5.5 game lead, fans used the days without baseball to allow themselves to hope that maybe, just maybe the Brewers would be able to hold off this disinterested Cubs team and continue their rebuilding process into the playoffs.
Fans were refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the Brewers are still a rebuilding franchise. The team wasn’t meant to win now, it never was. General Manager David Stearns wasn’t going to trade away the valuable farm system that he had so shrewdly rebuilt over the last two years because this years’ team was competing in their division. This was not the year to go all-in; this was not the year to cash in their chips. Fans clamored for the Brewers to trade for pitching help, all the while knowing that it would go against every fiber of Stearns’s being to trade young talent for a rental player. See, rental players are for teams that need to win now. The Brewers, meanwhile, are in a compete now and win later mode.
The Brewers certainly could regain their spark after this disastrous start to the second half, but that would be another minor miracle. A .500 team at the end of the season would be above what even the most optimistic fans were thinking heading into this year, so why be disappointed with it now? That wouldn’t mean that the Brewers failed, it would mean that they did better than they were supposed to and now the future years look even more promising than they did prior.
Could 2017 still see the Brewers finish atop the standings? Of course, but fans need to accept that that was never the goal. Finish strong, retain confidence heading into the next season. Who cares whether or not the Brewers win 80 games or 90 this year. You don’t go all-in with a pair of nines; let’s wait for the right hand.