You hear it all the time: don’t judge a team by its spring training record.
It’s true. The Brewers didn’t spend their March trying to win the Cactus League, but their 19-14 record in Arizona starts to tell the full story of the team that came one game from the World Series last year.
What I noticed in Phoenix this year was that the team looked loose, but serious. Competent, but confident. It was the same look and feel I experienced in Arizona in 2008 and 2011; and one very different from the seasons when never was going to be a good team.
You could tell the Brewers were ready to get back to business, and that started today at Miller Park. Principal owner Mark Attanasio echoed these sentiments in his pre-game news conference.
He said he was talking to Ryan Braun this week about anticipation and expectations. "When you finish the season (we had) and begin again, it feels like a shorter off-season," he said.
"We have a lot of anticipation," said Attanasio. "We’re bringing everyone back … and adding."
To that end, General Manager David Stearns said he’s not ruling out adding arms this year, especially when Jeremy Jeffress is weeks from pitching, and Corey Knebel’s future is uncertain. Those are some big question marks from 2018’s light-out bullpen, but you wouldn’t sense the concern from Stearns.
"We feel pretty good where we are," he said, including banking on young pitching. "It feels like it’s their time. We take risks all over our roster and in our game strategy."
Attanasio said he’s committed to spending what it takes to bring the Brewers to the next level, and the team’s swelling payroll confirms that.
"We’re all in this year," said Attanasio. "That said, we don’t want to be in a position where we can’t add," although he noted that he wants the Brewers to compete in 2020 and beyond, too, even if it means his team won’t be as profitable on paper.
"You can’t really look year-to-year," said Attanasio, pointing out that between renovated facilities in Arizona, the Dominican Republic and a new high A team, the team has spent $100 million on player development this winter.
For fans, expectations are high, too.
Jason Malke of Peshtigo made the trip for Opening Day. He said he gets to a few games each year, but this one was important, because he brought his dad, who recently underwent heart surgery.
"I think that offensively they're going to be a good team," said Malke. "I think they're going to be close to repeating. I'm not sure if they're going to top 96 wins, but as long as they beat the Cubs …"
Is this this best Malke has ever felt about the Brewers?
"Absolutely," he said.
And Mitch Nelles of 97.3 FM The Game, said this team feels different than previous years.
"It's weird entering a Brewers season with such high expectations, so I'm trying to stay grounded," he said. "But it's really fun to have a team that is recognized nationally, and that should be really good. It just makes it all feel more real, you know?
How far will the Brewers go this year? It’s obviously too early to tell, but after last season – and with an offense that appears to be as potent as Harvey’s Wallbangers, it should be exciting to find out.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.