It seemed like yesterday the balls started flying around the spring training fields of Arizona and Florida. Hope was in the air. But today, for many teams, including the Cream City Nine have only 62 games to go. And what began as hope for these players has turned into a shocking first place in the Central Division of the National League. From one of the worst teams in the league to the top of the heap ahead of the World Champions on July 22 is truly shocking.
This team like many others, are a true reflection in their manager, Craig Counsell. As one of the great utility players, who had the opportunity to win two World Championship rings, his team is made up of players who can play a number of positions. And they have players who will be the All-Stars of the future.
Who are these wonders of 2017?
Behind the plate, a younger journeyman, Manny Pena, has a cannon for an air and the ability to block everything a Lombardi-type pitcher can throw at him. He has been given a chance and has taken full advantage of it. This may be the next great catcher in the game today. Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar at first give an interesting interpretation on being big league first basemen. Mr April, believe it or not, still is among the top home run hitters in the NL even though he hasn’t really hit many in the past three months. Aguilar is one of the best pinch hitters in the majors. And might just become the regular first baseman if Thames continues to slide back to Seoul. At second, Eric Sogard before he was injured, had replaced the fading Jonathan Villar who has been in a season long slump. But because neither seem to regain their hitting eye, it may be a position that the Crew needs to address since they gave up on ‘Scooter’ (who is setting the world on fire in Cincinnati). As short, Orlando Arcia IS the rising superstar. Along with one of the great defensive skills few possess, he has finally begun to hit. Few are better at his position. At third, Travis Shaw is Mr. Consistancy. He is one of the steadiest players in the game and was a brilliant part of a trade by the new GM. In left, one of the great players in the game, Ryan Braun, when healthy is a superstar. In center, the team is awaiting the return of Brinson from the minors to take his place which many expect he will in short order. Brett Phillips has been a pleasant surprise replacing the slumping Broxton, but Brinson will be the man unless the Crew can entice the rerun of one of the greatest players to ever be traded away, Cain, from Kansas City in the disastrous ‘let’s win now’ Zach Greineke acquisition. In right is the next great superstar, Santana Domingo from Santa Domingo. One of the most casual players in the game, Mr. Relaxed has no zone in his strike zone which he cannot hit. Great arm in the outfield and great power at the bat. Then there is the best utility man on a team of great utility men, Hernan Perez. Absolutely a terrific player and can fill in anywhere and do it with style and with power.
Then on the mound, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and perhaps Brent Suter give the Nine quality starts. But it is in the bullpen that will determine the fate of the Crew for the remainder of the season. And frankly, the only one who seems to be making a difference it the rookie, Josh Hader. If Corey Knebel can recover to his early season form, the the Brewers have a chance with this improbable lineup of overachievers.
Sixty-two to go for a team that is made up of players who can play anywhere and are not afraid of any other team.
They are in first place today with one of the best minor league systems in the game.
Will they trade it away to ‘go for it now’ or continue to build this exciting, dynamic and youthful experiment in organized ball? Understand, this has never been done before. Basically, what you have is a team built with players who can play anywhere, anytime…just like their manager. And they are doing it with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Is this the new Moneyball? But their plan to build a consistent pennant challenging and World Series threat can only be done by continuing to build their minor league system in the eyes of their manager, where defense and an infectious joy to play the game everyday overcomes everything else. St. Louis has proven this theory time and time again. It is the minor league system that provides the player of the future to come up and step into a winning system to carry the legend forward.
It will be a real test of character of the new GM David Stearns to see how he handles this very difficult situation.