Week in Re-brew looks at the Milwaukee Brewers’ prior week. In the process, it also may or may not wander into other territory. Today is definitely one of those days. Enjoy.
Did you hear that? It’s the sound of another Brewer hitting the IL.
Last 7 days: woof (2-5)
Next 7 days: a day off (dayoff? day-off? is this a Russian word, dayov?) Cardinals (three), Braves (three)
When something’s not right in your body, you know it. You feel it. You can’t not notice it; you reorient yourself to try to minimize the discomfort. You daydream of what it’s like to be well and whole. Or, you choke down a bunch of medicine and forge ahead, health and wellbeing be damned.
I have a history of gastrointestinal issues, dating back to adolescence and culiminating in a series of diverticular flares over the last four years. One sent me to the hospital, one to the ER and, as recently as two-ish weeks ago, another to urgent care. There’s a pretty good chance that this series of unfortunate events will culminate in surgery. And that particular scalpel of Damocles has been hanging overhead over the last few weeks.
Thankfully, the antibiotics did their thing: I’m feeling better, but the reality is that despite how I feel, something’s not right in my body. I know that, and cannot unknow it. It’s only a matter of time before the evidence manifests itself again.
The Milwaukee Brewers are severely banged up in a season marred by injuries throughout the majors. That much is obvious to anyone who looked at the everyday outfield in April and saw Billy McKinney, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Avisail Garcia or Tyrone Taylor where we should see Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Garcia. Yelich made a cameo in Philadelphia last week, but immediately returned to the IL with a bizarre back issue that cannot seem to be properly diagnosed or treated. The Brewers also wrapped up 17 consecutive gamedays and, after being swept by the Phillies in a series of one-run contests, looked gassed.
This is the consequence of more and more baseball with less and less days in which basecall can be played. Rob Manfred will not rest until he’s putting major leaguers into a wood chipper in an extended, NHL-esque postseason. Player health and safety is out the window when there are profits to be made in corporate sponsorships and legal-thus-ethical sports
betting, ahem, gaming. Hey, gambling taxes benefit schools! WHO ARE YOU TO TAKE AWAY LITTLE BREIGHLEIGH’S PENCILS? (In the state of Wisconsin, so do moving violations, which completely justifies the outrageous number of DWI/OWI offenses. Forward!)
Teams everywhere are gassed, and we’re only through Mother’s Day. Good Lord.
Health aside, it was plain to see in the ol’ scorebook that the team was and is not right. And I’m not one to sound alarm bells in May — though to dismiss problems in the opening quarter of the season isn’t that far from suggesting that, say, giving up 5 runs in the first inning really isn’t that big a deal. Every win now is a win a team doesn’t need later. Allow enough opponents to hang enough crooked numbers early in enough contests, and suddenly a season can look lost by June. These 2-5 weeks happen, because of course they do, but to write them off as welp, baseball is frankly malpractice.
Tom Glavine had issues with first innings; he was also Tom Glavine, backed by powerhouse Braves, then Mets clubs. Freddy Peralta doesn’t have the luxury of relying on run support right now, but he also doesn’t do himself any favors when he forgets how to throw strikes three or four consecutive pitches at a time as he has this season. When we look at Peralta, though, we’re actually looking at the vaunted starting rotation:
First inning (33 games): 6.55 ERA (worst by inning), 24 earned runs (worst), .246 BAA (tied for worst with two other innings), .778 OPS (second-worst), 1.79 SO/BB (worst). That includes aces Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, which means that starters 3-5 (Adrian Houser, Peralta, plus a revolving cast of special guest stars that resemble an episode of The Love Boat) are significantly underperforming.
First inning ineffectiveness puts undue pressure on the lineup to perform, and when the Brewers are putting [outperforming, but still] replacement-level players on the field, it’s expecting my five-year-old son to create a replica of County Stadium with his 1000-piece Lego set. He could, but let’s be honest: it’s just going to be a pile of blocks I’m going to step on later. As much as I love Tyrone Taylor’s actualization, and as much as I think he should be playing over Garcia — whose swings, despite a recent hot streak, expose the outer half of the plate and make him exceptionally vulnerable to sliders and cutters — the Brewers need a healthy Yelich to allow the lineup to snap into place (though he doesn’t solve issues at the bottom of the lineup card.) He is the straw that stirs the drink.
But even then, it remains no guarantee that there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with the 2021 roster, or perhaps the organization’s developmental process at large. Woodruff and Burnes seem to be the exception to the historical rule for Brewers pitching prospects, thriving in spite of their club affiliation. Yelich and Lorenzo Cain were imported/re-imported, this space has already explored the vacuum of corner infielder development over the last decade, Jonathan Lucroy was the last Brewers homegrown catcher to become an everyday two-way threat (and remains the greatest catcher in Brewers franchise history.) And let’s not forget that teams have thrown rookie and unproven pitchers out there against Brewer hitting for years with a disproportionate and absurd amount of success.
The team’s talent has largely been obtained through trades and educated guesses and scrapheap finds in free agency. That works well when you have deep pockets and several dozen pennants that can (mostly) paper over a multitude of organizational transgressions. Not so much in Baseball’s smallest market, which has been lapped by several organizations its junior (getting spanked by the Marlins in one series, and having to scratch and claw to a series win Sunday, with Miami’s set of former Brewers farmhands is particularly offensive.)
And it’s not like the Brewers farm is bereft of talent: Taylor’s better-late-than-never emergence is a bright spot, while Ethan Small and Aaron Ashby look like they’re trending toward the bigs within the next two years. Hayden Cantrelle looks like the prospect the Brewers thought Brice Turang would be in A-ball, while Turang is developing a reputation for being a slow starter (was in Appleton in 2019, is right now in Double-A Biloxi). Mario Feliciano and Payton Henry both could very well fight to become the Brewers starting catcher in 2-3 years. Garrett Mitchell looks like a major leaguer in the outfield already, health concerns notwithstanding. But that’s not now, the now is a reflection of past transactional and developmental sins by commission or omission.
Major league struggles become minor league issues when the parent club can’t sustain success at that level, needing/wanting to mortgage the farm to keep the club competitive. Injuries compound and underscore the matter that much more. Doug Melvin made a cottage industry out of getting 30-40 cents on the dollar or giving away far too much for the return. Where Mark Attanasio trusted Melvin too much for too long, he seems to have overcorrected with the David Stearns-Matt Arnold administration post-Yelich.
Through it all, the stadium (and name) has changed, the uniforms and logo have changed three times, the roster has turned many times over, but the Milwaukee Brewers still have that spectre of Selig trust management lingering overhead. (Three words: Wild card pennants.) It will remain that way until the Brewers finally win it all. If they ever win it all.
This is the discomfort the franchise has to feel. This is the discomfort I, as a devotee of the franchise, feel. It just hurts that much more when it flares up in a losing streak, reminding us that we’ve forgotten what it is to be whole — that is, if we ever knew what whole was to begin with.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville. Stats courtesy Baseball Reference, MLB.com.