Brewers ready for increased expectations in 2018
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
ST. LOUIS--Raised expectations.
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell admitted Sunday he already was girding himself to hear those words often next spring when his club reports to spring training. That's what happens when a rebuilding club has unexpected success ahead of schedule.
“That will be the (phrase) for next year,” Counsell told gathered media members in his pregame briefing. “I'm sure you guys will hammer that away.”
Outside of the organization, there were few expectations entering the season for a team in its second full season of a large-scale rebuild. But the inexperienced, energetic players performed much better than expected and the Brewers soared to a 5 ½ game lead in the NL Central at the all-star break.
There was slippage at the outset of the second half that put the Brewers in chase mode, in both the division and wild-card race. They chased with a vengeance and kept it interesting until Game No. 161 on Saturday when they finally were eliminated from the race for the second wild card, which went to Colorado.
As for what that did to raise the bar for 2018, Counsell insisted that's a good thing.
“That's the first word that comes to mind but really you feel like if that's how we're going to start talking, then we're on right track,” said Counsell, whose team finished an 86-76 season with a 6-1 victory over St. Louis. “We want there to be expectations.
“That's what you work for. If we've created that, amen, let's keep going. It happened a while ago. It happened at the all-star break.”
You're only allowed to sneak up on folks one time, so there will be no such scenario next season. Depending on what player moves general manager David Stearns makes over the winter, the Brewers will be expected to be a contender, at the very least.
According to one of the few veterans on the team, Ryan Braun, that's what every team should want.
“That's the position you want to be in,” he said. “You want to go into a year with expectations. With what we've accomplished this year, we should go into next year with higher expectations than we came into this year with.
“Other teams know now we're a good team and expect to win. Our record is indicative of the fact we've had a pretty good year. We've been pretty consistent and successful. The expectation going into next year should be to improve on what we accomplished this year.”
Which won't be easy, necessarily. Some rebuilding clubs break through with a winning season, then step back the next year. That happened to Houston in 2016 before the Astros really got going this season to put together a 100-win season.
But there is reason to think some players will continue to improve, and the Brewers also have built a deep farm system to provide depth if needed.
“It was a big year for some guys,” said third baseman Travis Shaw, who broke through with 31 home runs and 101 RBI. “Hopefully, they can build on it. A lot of guys had career years this year.
“Obviously, there is room for a little regression. But, at the same time, there's more room for growth. I had a career year this year but I still think I can do better next year.
“There are a lot of positives to take from this year, a lot of good experiences that will help us in the future. Being in the race, playing all those close games. There are a lot of things you can learn from what we've gone through the last month.”
With only four upcoming free agents, the Brewers have most of the roster under control for next season, and beyond. Team chemistry was a huge part of the team's unexpected showing this year but Counsell cautioned that every season is different.
“It will be a different group with a different personality, with different strengths and weaknesses, different flaws that we have to work with and be OK with, and not be totally petrified by,” Counsell said.
“The last 40 games of 2016, I think we created a feeling going out on the field we could compete with everybody. It carried over in the spring and carried over to this season. You work to create that.
“The foundation of two years of what we've worked for will serve us well moving forward. A year older for a lot of these guys, a year smarter, having gone through expectations for three months, is going to really serve us well going into next year.
“I don't think we'll be able to say we aren't experienced next year. I think we're experienced in the appropriate areas. There's always going to be young players as part of our system. There has to be in the way we'll operate. But the foundation we've set in other places culturally will help those guys fit in well, and they will understand from the other guys what we're about.”