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Why Watch the Brewers?
In the midst of a historically bad run, is there any hope for Milwaukee baseball fans?

Photo by Ben Smidt

The hardest thing about the Brewers question is that there’s absolutely no easy answer.

Why is Milwaukee suddenly performing so poorly, to the tune of a 5-20 record in May? Pick your poison: Bad starting pitching, inconsistent offense, silly baserunning mistakes, inopportune defensive failings, inopportune bullpen failings, injuries, roster construction, roster management, game management, season-long slumps, dumb luck…

No, it’s no one thing. And at any point during their May of Malaise, you can point to any combination of any and all of the above. And in a results-based business, here are the results: They’re staring straight at the wrong side of history.

Notes MLB.com beat reporter Adam McCalvy, the Brewers “find themselves needing to win two of their three remaining May games to avoid matching the worst winning percentage for any month in a franchise history that goes back to 1969. If they lose all three remaining May games, the Brewers would tie the club record for losses in a month and set a new mark for worst winning percentage.”

This, as you might have guessed, does not bode well for the club’s playoff hopes. The math whizzes at CoolStandings.com say Milwaukee’s 19-31 record on the morning of May 29 translates into a 0.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. Which means if the Brewers do somehow right the ship and snatch a postseason spot, it will rank among the 12 greatest comebacks in baseball history.

The Brewers, of course, will keep doing what they can to keep you interested, and the club remains rather savvy with its promotions. The latest proof: When one promo threatened to go awry, Ryan Braun stepped up with an assist. For a Brewers Win You Win ticket discount tied to the team’s number of victories in May, Braun ponied up money to subsidize the wins that didn’t come.

But aside from discounted tickets, why keep watching the Brewers this season? Just what types of things should hold your interest through the long summer ahead?

Glad you asked.

Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez: One of the more dissonant things about this Brewers season is how it’s happening despite four of the league’s top individual performances. As measured by the sabermetric stat WAR (wins above replacement), Milwaukee features a quartet of the National League’s top 20 players. Ryan Braun ranks 14th at 2.1 and Norichika Aoki is 11th at 2.3. But the real surprises are Gomez (third, 2.9) and Segura (fourth, 2.8), who are in the midst of wholly unexpected breakout seasons. Gomez, known as a defensive star in centerfield with a suspect bat, spent most of his Brewers tenure as a platoon player. Segura, the shortstop of the future acquired in the Zack Greinke trade, spent most of last year in the minors. Now, they’re performing at All-Star levels, a development that should pay off in both the near and distant future.

The trade deadline: Barring a very quick turnaround, it’s reasonable to assume the Brewers will be sellers at the trade deadline. Moreover, they have several veteran players who could return some younger talent, particularly Aramis Ramirez and free-agent-to-be Corey Hart, perhaps even pitchers Francisco Rodriguez or newly signed Kyle Lohse. Will GM Doug Melvin flip those players or others to help rebuild the pitching staff? Stay tuned.

Your Klement’s Sausage Race fantasy league: The Brewers have 52 more home games. Give me the Italian. Because my Sicilian grandpa would want it that way.

John Axford: You know he was among baseball’s best closers in 2011. You know he’s been anything but that since. His ERA was in the teens and 20s for much of the season, he lost his high-profile bullpen role, and the affable Axford has rarely looked so frustrated. But lately, he’s shown signs of reclaiming his form, using a season-best eight straight scoreless outings to drop his ERA to 6.04. If he keeps it up, it might cement what had been a once-questionable place in the Brewers future plans.

Baseball’s a funny game: Yes, historical comebacks are rare. But they’re not impossible. If a Brewers playoff run would be one of baseballs 12 greatest comebacks, it means 11 other teams have faced down worse situations and won. Milwaukee wasn’t a surefire preseason contender, but they also weren’t supposed to be this bad. The team has talent. And not too long ago, this team won nine consecutive games. What if underperforming players like Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks suddenly find their mojo? What if the pitching stabilizes? Could another winning streak produce a quick U-turn that convinces Melvin to buy at the trade deadline rather than sell? And if the stars align, might Milwaukee look back on this once-forgettable season as one of its most memorable?

Yeah, probably not. But sometimes, the longest of long shots comes in.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. And listen to me chat sports with Mitch Teich monthly on WUWM's "Lake Effect."

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