The Milwaukee Brewers need collective focus

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 31: Eric Thames
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 31: Eric Thames /

The Milwaukee Brewers must focus on what they do well and not worry about how other teams, especially the Chicago Cubs, are doing, or else they may be overwhelmed.

The Milwaukee Brewers, losers of three straight and looking out of sorts, need to ride their own wave and focus on the key tasks at hand: winning series consistently no matter the match-up and doing what got them here.

If the team starts to think about the outside world or what other clubs are doing, especially the Chicago Cubs, they are in danger of losing the forest for the trees.

At the end of June 2017, the startling Brewers were 43-39 while the Cubs were even at 40-40. Then the Cubs played three consecutive months of sharp, fantastic baseball, while the Brewers fumbled and played just a bit over .500 ball for the rest of the year.

Brewers fans, of course, recall how that turned out. Like so many other seasons, it was all for naught, not even a Wild Card game.

This Season Could Be Different

Jump to June 2018 and after a dominant stretch, in the past 10 games, the Brewers appeared strangely feeble, producing a record at .500. The Cubs rolled to 8-2.

Excuses can and have been made for the losses against the earnestly pathetic White Sox, as well as at the respectable Indians, but those excuses get old fast.

Are the Brewers once again flip-flopping and conceding ground so forcefully gained toward an inevitable bow out of competition in the NL Central? It’s easy to overreact to the slightest crisis in June, particularly after a historically hot start to the campaign.

History, though, is not on the fans’ side. But until the final math equation says the Brewers are out of it, there’s a chance in America’s Dairyland. In reality, it’s about time the Brewers started getting used to some real adversity after bulldozing their way through the schedule in recent weeks.

Winning the NL Central, or making the playoffs at all, is not easy in baseball and there will be hard times ahead. Despite Milwaukee’s recent reign as the team with the best record in the National League, teams can catch up in a hurry when the “best” club starts to slide in the opposite direction. It good, but difficult, to be king. Especially with four months left in the season.

June and July represent a more serious challenge in the baseball season. April and May are like appetizers. No longer shaking out the cobwebs, teams are more in the swing of things. Initial stakes have been claimed, but a 10 or 20 game time frame could mean significant upheaval in the standings. A month is an eternity.

These ups and downs are common in baseball and a certain amount of (even dramatic) fluctuation must be embraced as normal. But if the Brewers lose sight of what makes them successful and begin pressing so much that they ruin their run of great play, it will be a shame. Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, and St. Louis, are already closer than they appear, revving up in the passing lane.

Don’t look now, but Philadelphia, the Crew’s unpredictable opponent this weekend, along with Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco and L.A., are lurking potently in the NL. A lot of unexpected storms must be weathered over the next two months and beyond in order to have a chance at the postseason.

The patience, composure and strength of will of the Milwaukee Nine will be tested as they attempt to focus like a laser beam on the ultimate goal: Winning a long overdue World Series championship for the city of Milwaukee. Or, you know, a Wild Card appearance would be a good start.

The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, so goes the cliche. That cliche is odorous, except that it’s true in the sense that teams can lose track of the ultimate goal by veering off on tangents that prove costly in the end.

However, even if the Cubs soon surpass the Brewers in the standings as they did in 2017, the Brewers must find a way to play the brand of baseball that racked up so many wins in the first part of both the current season and last.

When they execute, the Brewers have one of the most fun and exciting teams in the game today. But until they shake off the muddying yolk of past misfortunes, a cloud will prevail on any Brewers teams’ fortunes in any given year, despite how well they start the schedule.

Keep Doin’ What You’re Doin’ (So Well)

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The Brewers must continue to set the table at the top of the lineup, focus on each at-bat carefully and get the opponent’s starter to throw a lot of pitches. They must go back to their patient, clutch-hitting ways and not look for the home run ball. They must put themselves in good position by getting adequate starting pitching and giving the bullpen something to work with in the later innings.

Even if the St. Louis Cardinals (only two games back entering play Friday) also pass the Brewers this month or next, the focus must remain and panic averted because in baseball, just about anything is possible when a team finds the focus and groove it can ride for weeks, if not months.

Sometimes it seems palpable as if the sheer, looming history and presence of storied franchises like those of the Cubs and Cardinals in the Brewers’ division cause Milwaukee to feel intimidation and lose the sense of purpose and mission with which it had been successful previously.

It doesn’t help that the Baby Bears have pretty much dominated Milwaukee this season, blasting the Brew Crew 7-1 in the season series, including five shutouts. Most Brewers fans probably exiled the unspeakable memories of those games to a deep recess in their minds, which is perfectly understandable.

As was the case in 2017, the Cubs and their fans have the legitimate confidence that their team will take charge eventually and not look back. The Cubs, after all, are the accomplished championship-winning club and the Brewers, well, aren’t.

Yet, Milwaukee has the talent to make a deep run in the postseason, even without a monumental addition to the starting rotation. Their lineup, when locked in, is one of the best in MLB and their bullpen, despite some kinks lately, is rock solid.

As Travis Shaw says in a Brewers commercial from this season (paraphrased): “There’s something special about this group.”

It does seem like there’s a unique quality to this roster and the chemistry of its composition, something that was sparked last year and continues. They are not the “best” team in the NL for no reason.

If only they could bottle and sell it.

If the Crew can find the fortitude to stick with the front-runners in the NL, not just this month, not just until September 15, but all the way to the end of the season as a result of what will be a true team gut-check, they present an opponent that not many teams will be eager to face in the playoffs. But to get there, they will need to focus not on the Cubs, the Cardinals nor the NL at large. They need to focus on themselves.