In a previous story, I talked about “The Many Major Collapses of the Milwaukee Brewers”. That story is linked Here. At the end of the article I asked the question “With a seven game lead, could the 2021 Brewers meet the same fate?”.
Well, this may age badly, but I don’t think it’s as likely as you think.
Of course, until you clinch, you can always collapse. The Reds could catch fire or the Cardinals could use that voodoo black magic they always seem to use to resurrect their seasons. But aside from that, I mean one thing specifically:
We shouldn’t worry about the Brewers’ division lead… At least not for now
Here are three reasons as to why:
1. Roster Construction
This Brewers team isn’t the type of team that screams second half collapse. Most Brewers teams of the past that have collapsed like that had a few consistent factors. These being things such a streaky hitting lineup and players or a whole team playing way over their heads. If you’ve watched this team we see today for even one game, you’d know that that is very far from the truth.
The 2021 Brewers are nothing like that. They are an under performing hitting lineup with a few players who can collectively scrape a few runs across. This is good enough for the dominant pitching staff. The pitching staff, if this production continues, will be the greatest pitching staff (or at least rotation) in franchise history.
For example: this team sent five all stars to Denver… they were four pitchers (BW, CB, JH, FP) and a catcher (Omar Narvaez).
If I had to find a good micro chasm of this team, that would be it.
2. Best Hitters are Slumping
Think back to late March. The Brewers looked like a decent team that could make a solid run at a weak division. The team stacked up pretty simply: The bullpen was solid as always, the rotation could be historic, defense would be better than the year before, but they had one glaring weakness: Offense.
The 2020 Brewers were plagued by the torture of watching a great pitching staff lose because of a sorry offense. The Brewers didn’t want to fall back into that trap. Most of the Brewers’ were slumping, the worst of all being Keston Hiura and Christian Yelich.
Coming into 2021, the Brewers and their fans hoped for a return to form for both Yelich and Hiura. It’s safe to say that that hasn’t happened.
Of course, Yelich’s OBP of .382 is solid (“Check your reports or I’m going to point at Pete”), but his purely hitting stats have not been there. He’s batting .235 and is slugging only .367. When your former MVP’s OBP is bigger than their SLG, that’s a problem.
It has been very difficult for both fans and Yelich himself watch his struggles. His average exit velocity is only a few MPH below his MVP seasons (90.4 in ’21 compared to 93 in ’18). The big issue with him has been launch angle, with that dipping from 11.3° in ’18/’19 to 4.3° in 2021. That’s a very fixable problem, it just takes time. (Credit to @WiscoSportsZac on Twitter for the stats).
Hiura has been a different story.
Keston Hiura was a .303 hitter in his rookie campaign (although he only played in 84 games due to being a mid season call up). His rookie stats were very intriguing to Brewers fans, as he was only 22 and looked as if he could mash big league pitching.
2020 was tough for Keston, the shortened season and the long break hurt a lot of momentum he had built up in 2019 and early 2020. He only slashed .212/.297/.410 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his sophomore campaign, as a part of a lackluster offense that plagued an otherwise solid Brewers team.
There was a lot of hope surrounding Keston Hiura coming into 2021, he hit around .300 in spring training, and was switching to first base to make room for golden glove winner Kolten Wong. Unfortunately, the excitement of a good spring didn’t help him early in to 2021, as he is only slashing .166/.257/.302, and is currently beginning his second stint in AAA Nashville.
Those two guys were thought to be the anchors of the Brewers’ offense this year, and they’re almost non factors. The rest of the team has stepped up greatly to fill their places.
Where do They Go From Here?
Yelich was a two time MVP (someone’s got to speak the truth), and Keston was not only a .300 hitter in 2019. They both have it in them, they’re just not getting it done right now. Yelich has shown flashes, and Keston has been absolutely killing the ball in AAA.
Don’t need to dive too deep into it, but a .400 batting average and 1.200 OBP don’t lie. Hiura is also dealing with significant personal issues within his family. That cannot be easy to overcome in the most mental sport there is.
What I’m trying to say is that the Brewers have gotten this far without arguably their two best hitters. Although Hiura likely is going to sit in Nashville for the rest of the season, Yelich could break out at any moment.
As much as it hurts me to say this, being as superstitious as I am, this team is different because of how late its lead is being held. For example, 2017 had a “big division lead” but that lead was only four and a half games at the all star break. Although it was exciting at the time, it wasn’t seven and a half games at the start of August.
Same with 2007, although they also had a seven and a half game lead in the division, that was in June, and by the time the Cubs had caught up, the Brewers were already mid collapse.
This team is different from those. Although, “it ain’t over until it’s over” (-Yogi Berra), this team is in a way better position than the others mentioned. Most of these teams had smaller leads earlier in the season, in more competitive divisions. As I feel I need to keep saying, I am not saying that the Brewers WILL NOT collapse, but it simply is less likely than years before.
Of course, like most leads, should have you a little anxious. However, I don’t believe that we should be worried about the lead that the Brewers currently hold in the NL Central.
Could this team still fall apart? Of Course!
This is baseball, the only sport where you twenty games over .500 might not win your division. There are still just over forty games left in the season, we’re far enough out that anything can happen.
The team is surging now, but they could begin to falter… After all, no lead is safe until you clinch. However, I don’t think that we should be worried just yet.
We may need to worry later, but for now, all the Brewers have to do is just keep winning, and they’re in.
Ball’s in your court, Brewers… You can either defy your history, or fall victim to it.
For now, we can only wait, watch, and enjoy the ride.