To say that the 2001 Milwaukee Brewers season has been a roller-coaster of emotions for their fans is the understatement of the year.
One thing that is clear to Brewer fans however, is that this team could be and should be better than 38-36. Many fans and media analysts have given their explanations why the Brewers can look like World Series contenders in one series, and Little Leaguers the next. After all is said and done, it is hard to believe that Milwaukee, who statistically has the best bullpen in the NL and some of the best hitters in the league, can be toiling in fourth place in the NL Central.
But one glaring statistic that has rarely, if ever, mentioned by fans or the media this year could be used to sum up the Brewers season to date:
Through Tuesday, that is the record of the Brewers against competition whose records are lower than .500.
Thats right, 16-14. And it doesnt take a rocket scientist to know that if you cant beat the teams who are the doormats of your division or league, you dont stand a chance of even sniffing the playoffs.
Some will say, "Well, they have won more than they have lost, so it cant be all that bad." But that cannot be further from the truth. Games against bad teams, not games against good teams, tell you how good your team actually is.
Any team can get jacked up for a series against a first-place team. But the good teams fatten up on bad teams, not struggle against them, which is something the Brewers have done all year. Good teams realize that when they play bad teams they need to take advantage, because as is the case often in a close race, a loss against a bad team will almost certainly come back to bite the team that falls short in the end.
To back up this claim, the three current division leaders, the Cubs in the Central, the Phillies in the East, and the DBacks in the West, have a combined record of 62-32 against teams with sub-.500 records. In addition, the Braves, who currently hold the wild-card spot in the NL, have a 22-12 record against the bottom-feeders. That adds up to an 84-44 record for the top four clubs in the NL against sub-.500 squads, well over a 60% winning percentage.
The Cubs, who were just swept in embarrasing fashion by the Brewers over the weekend, have not hung their heads. They have gone out and beat up on a bad N.Y. Mets team, like they should. For that reason, the Cubs have held on to first place and show no signs of letting it go. The Braves, after struggling for a good month and a half at the start of the year, have gotten themselves back into the NL East race because they have beaten bad teams. The Cubs, who hold a 6.5 game lead on the Brewers in the NL Central, are 4 games better than Milwaukee against sub-.500 teams. The Braves, who are 3 games up on the Brewers for the NL wild card, are also 4 games ahead of Milwaukee in the same category.
If the Brewers want to take the next step, they need to take notice from the teams at the top of the league and put forth the same type of effort and concentration against teams like the Pirates as they do against first-place teams like the Cubs. Because of the lack of the aforementioned effort and concentration against the Pirates, the Brewers have now lost almost all of the ground they gained on the Cubs in the series sweep over the weekend and are in danger of only coming away with a 6-4 or 5-5 road trip, which would be disaterous considering how the trip started for the team.
Its clear to all who follow the Brewers is that the organization is on the rise. But the Brewers players need to realize that they need to be the best they can be in every game, whether they are playing the Cubs, the Pirates or the School for the Blind. They wont certainly win every game, but they also wont lose as many games as they probably should, and they just might steal some wins they shouldnt get. Until the Brewers players realize this fact, they will never be nothing more than what they are now, a .500 team themselves.