What if the Brewers, starting Thursday afternoon at Miller Park against the Chicago Cubs, win 10 of their next 14 games, besting Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Houston and Colorado? Would it be enough to secure the wildcard spot in the National League playoffs?
It would certainly accomplish something that hasn't been seen in this state since the early '90s: baseball relevance in early autumn. Sure, last year's .500 finish kept hope alive, but only because an 81-81 record is technically not a losing one, and, after 13 straight losing seasons, any improvement was worthy of attention.
As of midweek, with fewer than 50 games to go, the Brewers were 52-60, 5Âœgames out of the wildcard slot with six teams between them and the favored Cincinnati Reds. It's better than being mathematically eliminated, as the Brewers have been during many of the last 20 Augusts, but it's far from good.
Brewer fans are told that various developments signal the team is moving in the right direction. The front office recently traded slugger Carlos Lee, along with Triple-A outfielder Nelson Cruz, to Texas for outfielder Kevin Mench, reliever Francisco Cordero and a pair of minor leaguers.
It was a smart move. Lee was going to become a free agent at the end of the season and told G.M. Doug Melvin he wanted to test the market. So, instead of losing El Caballo with nothing in return, Milwaukee got a serviceable bat in Mench and a badly needed late-inning reliever in Cordero.
The deal also indicated that the Brewers front office, led by second-year owner Mark Attanasio, is serious about contending over the long run, even if that means sacrificing the rest of this season. The Brewers are clearly looking to successful small-market clubs like the Minnesota Twins, who have built winning teams by developing a solid nucleus of young players within the organization.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, a large fraction of their nucleus is currently on the disabled list. Shortstop J.J. Hardy injured his ankle in May and has been out of action ever since. Second baseman Rickie Weeks injured his wrist last week, removing another solid bat from the lineup. And pitching ace Ben Sheets made it back for just two games before a new injury pulled him from action.
Making matters worse has been the collapse of All-Star closer Derrick Turnbow. On pace to pick up where he left off last season, Turnbow had 23 saves through June before a series of performances that earned him the nickname Turnblow. In July, Turnbow pitched just 6-1/3 innings, giving up 15 earned runs; he converted on just one save opportunity while blowing four. Three of those blown saves were against teams ahead of Milwaukee in the wildcard race.
No wonder fan interest is waning.
Not an improvement
The Milwaukee Admirals have always been in the unenviable position of trying to sell hockey in a basketball town. In the competition for Cream City ticket buyers, they rank somewhere south of UW-Milwaukee hoops. But it's doubtful their announcement of a new logo and uniform last week will help improve their position.
The team's old logo featured the face of a sea-hardened admiral. It was bold, conveyed toughness and, perhaps most important, didn't make fans scratch their heads and wonder what it was supposed to be.
And the new logo? It's described on the team's Web site (milwaukeeadmirals.com) as the admiral of a ghost ship, "a short young lad, who was lost in the waters of Lake Michigan back after the 1981 season." Curiously, it goes on to explain that "after one of his legs fell off, he used it as a hockey stick to hone his skills."
It's no wonder minor league hockey doesn't have a larger following.