The 2011 baseball season went as well as any Milwaukee Brewers fan could have possibly expected.
And if you disagree with that, you obviously haven’t been a fan of the Brewers for too long.
For the majority of the 2000s, the crowning achievements of the franchise were a shiny new ballpark and some phenomenal drafting that left Milwaukee with a stocked farm system. Through the darker times in which our “stars” were Richie Sexson and Geoff Jenkins, there was always hope for the future.
The Brewers drafted and developed All Star-caliber talent like Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, John Axford and Ryan Braun. That’s some serious success for a front office of a small-market franchise, and really the only that the Brewers were going to be able to contend.
2011 was a perfect storm.
Milwaukee utilized some serious trade chips in the likes of Brett Lawrie, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain to bolster the rotation around Gallardo with Shaun Marcum and former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.
Add in some veterans like Francisco Rodriguez, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson on the pitching staff, and veterans like Nyjer Morgan providing big contributions as well, and you saw Milwaukee have about as good a roster as you could possibly expect.
Yet it still wasn’t enough.
The Brewers needed everything they had to get past the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round of the playoffs, and then they simply didn’t have enough to get past a hotter team with a deeper roster in the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The Brewers lost Game 6 of the NLCS to the eventual world champions, then lost Fielder to the Tigers.
Outside of Ryan Braun somehow miraculously getting off the hook in time to play this season, not much else has gone right for Milwaukee.
Milwaukee got shelled on Opening Day against the Cardinals. That’s not a great way to start any season, but even more bitter coming off the way last season ended.
The Brewers got back on track a bit, and then the biggest lingering question became whether or not GM Doug Melvin would be able to lock up Greinke long term.
That hasn’t happened yet, and to make matters worse, things have started to compound negatively for Milwaukee.
First-baseman-of-the-future Mat Gamel tore his ACL trying to make a play against the wall in San Diego, and then veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who had done an admirable job on both offense and defense, tore his ACL sliding into second base.
The Brewers also had to place Carlos Gomez on the DL and saw Ryan Braun miss time with an Achilles injury and are seriously considering having half their infield be Cesar Izturis and Derrek Lee.
And this team was on the brink of the World Series just six months ago.
This season will not match up to last year, and anyone who had the expectations that it should have or could have doesn’t believe in the law of average.
Nyjer Morgan has come crashing back down to earth, Corey Hart (my least favorite baseball player on the planet) is still way too inconsistent, and the bullpen hasn’t performed at the ridiculous level it did last year.
The real only offensive surprise so far has been the consistent play of catchers Jonathan Lucroy and George Kottaras. Too bad only one of the two can play at any given time.
The lone player remaining from the Brewers’ 2011 infield, Rickie Weeks, is hitting a measly .174. Milwaukee’s big free agent acquisition, Aramis Ramirez, is hitting .215 with just two home runs through 29 games.
After dropping a 6-1 decision to the Reds at Miller Park on Monday night, Milwaukee is still 12-17, which is fairly impressive, all things considered.
Some sort of a drop off was inevitable after the incredible run the Brewers had last summer, but it still doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
The easiest part of this whole process has been watching Fielder go, because signing him to a $214 million dollar contract would have been crippling to a small-market payroll.
Everything broke Milwaukee’s way last season, and watching things come crashing back down to earth has been a sobering experience, though it hasn’t made me any less of a fan. I knew this was coming and was prepared for it (and really only hope the Brewers can beat the Minnesota Twins on May 19 when I attend with a crew of MSFers).
With the future of the early 2000s having been realized in 2011, it puts Milwaukee fans in an interesting situation of not knowing where this team could go in 2012 and what scrubs we might be looking at in 2013. There’s pitching on the horizon (e.g. Wily Peralta, Jed Bradley), but the bats are a bit light.
The Brewers mortgaged the future to make a run last year, and that run was made. It didn’t end where Milwaukee fans had ultimately hoped, but it will be something to look back on if things can’t get turned around at Miller Park.