I've been a Brewer fan my entire life, but I think it's safe to say that we saw a "new generation" of fans that flocked to the Crew once players like Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and especially J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun (ladies...) worked their ways to the major league level and new ownership took over the franchise. 2007 would be my estimation as to when baseball was officially back in Milwaukee. It was a time where the disappearance of the Selig's ownership and a bundle of young talent injected new hope into both die-hard fans and newbies who fell in love with one-year wonder and heartthrob J.J. You-Make-Me-Hard-y. Poignant, but (almost) whatever it takes to bring more fans in, I'm in full support. The point I'm trying to make is that there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Brewers for the first time in 20+ years, but there was something missing. C.C. Sabathia brought us along for a ride no one could've predicted, but even then there was just a "cool, we made it to the playoffs and that's good enough" feeling. I got swept up in this vibe along with the Brewers and everyone else, and the result was a first round playoff exit. The disappointment level that loomed over the state of Wisconsin wasn't even as strong as the moments after a week 6 Packers' loss.
You can't really blame the 2008 Brewers for not fully grasping the opportunity that presented itself by the throat. Sure, some players had playoff experience and even World Series experience, but the majority didn't. It was also nearly a total repeat of what happened in 2007 save for a complete late season collapse. Jump out to division lead, blow division lead, miss playoffs. Thankfully, C.C. was a one-man wrecking crew and avoided the miss playoffs part in '08. 2009 and 2010, the Brewers were led by a man with an American League-style mind set who had no idea what stood two feet in front of his face. C.C. signed on with the Yanks to everyone's surprise. One-time free agent signing extraordinaire Jeff Suppan fizzled and burst. Several players came, overstayed their welcome and left. In fact, when I went back and looked at the 2009 roster, there were only nine current Brewers on the team for the majority of the season, two of which are currently on the disabled list (Fielder, Braun, Hart, McGehee, Weeks, Gallardo, Narveson, Parra*, Stetter*). Hard to believe. One thing that Milwaukee's front office knew they had to do was keep their main core of young talent together for as long as humanly possible while filling in the pieces around them correctly. It's obviously been easier said than done.
Fast forward to October of 2010. Prior to the beginning of the '10 season, there wasn't much optimism surrounding the Brewers and if it was, it was false. Macha would receive the customary grace period and be given another chance to lead Milwaukee back to the post season, but the man was a sitting duck and everyone knew it. Some positives to take away from the season? New talent was discovered (John Axford, Kameron Loe, Marco Estrada), some of it finally arrived (Jonathan Lucroy, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers), some of it figured out its place (Manny Parra, Chris Narveson) and some of it would eventually be shipped away (Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, Brett Lawrie). Towards the end of the season, I was accepting the 2010 team's fate and beginning to turn the page to 2011. A solid bullpen was beginning to formulate and new guys were stepping up unlike in previous years, perhaps giving the Brewers something to build from. But what good is a building when you know the core is about to collapse? Prince would almost undoubtedly be walking after '11 and perhaps even more would soon be lost in the years shortly following. Something had to be done NOW. What the Brewers had for '11 was promising, but not satisfying. Doug Melvin strung together a series of moves, some of them almost out of sheer desperation, and to be perfectly honest, a few of them shocked the hell out of me. To be clear, the first one did not.
October 3rd - Manager Ken Macha is fired
November 4th - New manager Ron Roenicke is hired
December 6th - Star prospect Brett Lawrie is dealt to Toronto for Shaun Marcum
December 19th - Zack Greinke is acquired for a boatload of players, including Escobar and Cain
February 16th - Rickie Weeks is locked down long-term
March 27th - Prospect Cutter Dykstra is dealt for Nyjer Morgan
April 21st - Ryan Braun is locked down long-long-long term
Loads of young talent lost, but some centerpiece-players secured and immediate hope provided. Except it's not just one guy this time; it's several guys. A few of which many didn't know about that would give the Brewers a shot in the arm...and one who would be held to standards close to if not the same as Mr. Sabathia. Instead of a pre-2010 feeling, there was a pre-2007 feeling, only better. The nucleus had matured and gained experience. There was a legitimate 1,2,3 in the starting rotation. The Brewers' strength from a year ago, the bullpen, had its important pitchers returning while a few new ones were thrown into the mix. But then...
Brewers: 13-17 on May 4th
Sure, some players were out and a new man was in charge, but 13-17? And then two days later, 13-19?? What was going on? The Brewers' front office had done almost everything in its power to put a contender on the field knowing full well that this would be the year they would be "all-in", and they were sitting in 5th place. Ahhh...this is where being an experienced fan pays off. I’ll admit that I had my late-April rant after attending my first Brewer game of the year and returning home disappointed (my only loss at Miller Park this year), but April 24th Dave still had this to say:
“We are FINE. All you people jumping off the bandwagon are still free to hop right back on if you so please because this team is going places. You can take my word for it.”
As in life, in sports it’s best to always keep things in perspective.
Greinke returns on May 4th
Zack attack loses in his much-anticipated return from his fluke injury and stint on the DL. He hasn’t lost since. For as much as the Brewers lacked discipline in the first month of the season…for as much as coach Roenicke struggled to understand what he had at his disposal while being given the difficult task of inserting unproven players in positions they had no business being in…for as much as Brewer fans wanted to jump off a cliff because their favorite team was six games below .500 and heading down the path that would return them right back to the late 90s…Zack Greinke had returned. Others followed suit. Roenicke learned what he had and started to mix and match. There was finally some stability. Winning all of a sudden became expected.
Brewers: 29-24 on May 27th
8-17 on the road
So Milwaukee had made a drastic rise and was five games above .500. Everything was clicking, but June 1st Dave had a bone to pick with the Brewers:
“The fact of the matter is that good teams are able to win a respectable amount on the road and then build up a solid record by winning two out of three at home time and again. The Cardinals…have had just as much success at home as on the road. This leads me to believe that the Cardinals will be able to hold their lead on Milwaukee because they will naturally begin to win more at home...UNLESS the Brewers begin to win more on the road.”
Milwaukee was in the midst of a seven game road trip in which they were 1-1. They would finish this road trip 5-2 against two teams who are very capable of making it to the playoffs. The Brewers had answered my call yet again.
Brewers: 34-26 on June 7th
Three game series against the Cardinals (1.5 Games Up) June 10-12
Allow me to apologize for not immediately answering my proposed question. Why is this Brewers team different? Wait…I already answered it. To put it into layman’s terms, this team overcomes adversity. They overcome roadblocks. They have leadership. They have meat in the middle of the sandwich. They have a starting rotation. They have a bullpen. They have an aggressive-minded manager. They have focus. They have experience. They have players who can snap you over the head with a newspaper. They have a confident demeanor, not just a swagger.
They give fans a unique feeling they aren’t really used to having. I can vouch for that. Allow for June 8th Dave to make another brief statement that I hope to ring true:
“I’m not naïve. This team isn’t in first place yet, it’s June 8th and they have yet to prove that they can beat the stiffest of competition, especially within the division, which is another vital key to success. What’s happening right now can change…injury, bad breaks…whatever…but over the next three-plus months, I expect to see a team that continues to overcome whatever is put in their way because of what ‘They have.’”