As we begin to take a look back at forgotten seasons from the Milwaukee Brewers past, we start with reflecting on the enjoyable 2017 team.
Before we dive into this article, let me first say up front that our thoughts are with everyone across the United States, and around the world right now, as we deal with this ongoing public health crisis. We hope you’re all staying safe during this difficult time, and we urge everyone to do what they can to help those in need, and to continue to engage in proper social distancing practices to keep you, your family, and everyone else safe.
With the start of the 2020 season to be determined, we wanted to start a series here at Reviewing the Brew to reflect on “forgotten” seasons from the Milwaukee Brewers past. These “forgotten” seasons that we’ll be reflecting on are ones that were enjoyable for a number of a reasons, but have since faded into the background.
In the first of our series looking at back at some “forgotten” seasons from the Brewers past, I reflect on the magic that was the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers season.
2017 Was So Much Fun
It was only three years ago, but the 2017 season has quickly fallen to the wayside in Brewers fans’ memories. That season has been quickly overshadowed by the teams of the following two seasons, both of which made the playoffs and went on incredible closing runs in the final weeks of the season to get there. The past two seasons, however, have caused us to forget just how fun and talented that 2017 team was.
Going into that year, Milwaukee was not expected to do much. In what was, essentially, the third year of a rebuilding project that the previous General Manager, Doug Melvin, had kicked off in 2015. It was believed that the club were a few more years away from becoming a true playoff contender. The team’s future was looking bright, as they had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, but it wasn’t clear if or when many of their top talents would be making an impact on the Major League roster.
The season, however, started off better for them than they would have anticipated. Milwaukee went 13-13 through the first month of the season. They followed that solid opening month up by winning seven out of eight games during the middle of May, getting them up to a 25-18 record and putting them in first place in the NL Central by two games.
As summer came around, the Brewers would continue to keep up with the other contenders in the Central. As they fluctuated between three to six games over .500 during June, they managed to keep themselves within 2.5 games the division lead, a shocking development considering that the Central featured an incredibly talented Chicago Cubs team that had just snapped the longest title drought in sports history the year before.
A better than expected offense, powered by breakout seasons from newly acquired players like Travis Shaw and Eric Thames, as well from young outfielder Domingo Santana, and catcher Manny Pina, kept the team in contention through those early months. As the season went on, though, they also began to get top notch starts out of their rotation, especially from Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. Both players emerged as a formidable pairing, giving the team solid pitching to complement a decent offense. They also saw an All-Star level closer emerge in Corey Knebel, giving them some much needed stability out of the pen.
Milwaukee would make some additions, both internally and via trade, that would further strengthen their hand. Josh Hader would get called-up during the middle of the season to help in the late-innings. Right from the start, Hader quickly emerged as an elite multi-inning weapon, the perfect complement to Knebel at the end of games.
Orlando Arcia, the team’s top prospect at the time, also took over the starting shortstop job in 2017. This enabled the team to use Hernan Perez and Eric Sogard as utility options, further strengthening their depth and flexibility.
The team also managed to add catcher Stephen Vogt, an offensive-minded catcher, second baseman Neil Walker, and relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak to plug a few of the holes on the team. They may not have been the on-paper impact talents that the Brewers had inquired about (they lost out on SP Jose Quintana to the Cubs), but all would play a role in keeping the team firmly in the race. They’d help make Milwaukee a more well-rounded team.
Milwaukee would get red hot again in July to jump out to a season best 11 games over .500 on July 15th. At that point, the Brewers took a formidable 5.5 game lead in the Central. It looked as if the team was arriving as a true contender much earlier than anyone could have envisioned. Unfortunately, that did not last.
Faltering Down The Stretch
Following their high water mark of 52-41 on July 15th, the Brewers would go on to lose nine of their next 14 games. That would take them down to a 55-52 mark by the end of July, and see them go from a 5.5 game lead in the Central, to being 2.5 games back of the, then, streaking Cubs.
A brief rebound to open August would quickly subside as well. The team bottomed out at a 59-59 record after losing six consecutive games in the middle of the month, including a four game set against the Minnesota Twins. It looked as if the 2017 season had gone the same tragic route as the 2014 team, only quicker. The season looked lost.
As has become tradition since, however, the Brewers began to rebound (again) and get hot at the right time. Milwaukee managed to crawl their way back to a 70-64 record to close out August, and remained just 3.5 games back in the Central entering the final full month of the season. They also remained close with the Colorado Rockies for the final NL Wild Card spot.
The team continued to build momentum in the first few series of September, including managing a shocking three game sweep of the Cubs, at Wrigley, to get them within just two games of the NL Central lead. A major injury, however, would occur in this series as Jimmy Nelson hurt himself diving back to first while running the bases. That critical loss would prove costly in a tight race.
Despite Nelson’s loss, the Brewers would stay right in the thick of the playoff race until the final series of the season. They would end up falling just one game short of making the final Wild Card Spot, though, to the Colorado Rockies.
Though the 2017 team came up just short of making the playoffs, the season was still an incredible achievement and journey. Milwaukee well exceeded any reasonable expectations coming into the year to become a legitimate contender for the playoffs. Not only that, but they pushed a Chicago Cubs team thought to be the next dynasty to the season’s final days. It was a sign of the resiliency and belief that would help drive the team to make it to within one game of making the World Series the following year.
2017 remains a what-if season for the team. What if Jimmy Nelson never gets hurt, and they made the playoffs? The team had more than enough depth and talent to be a difficult out for anyone if they had gotten there. Even without him, the Brewers had more than enough to make a deep run in the playoffs.
It may be overshadowed by the two seasons that have followed, but the 2017 season was on the most enjoyable Brewers seasons we’ve had.