The Milwaukee Brewers’ exciting push for the playoffs finally ended on the penultimate day of the regular season this past weekend, with a loss to – who else? – the St. Louis Cardinals, but 2017 was still great. For the team, it was an unexpectedly successful season; for the fans it was undeniably fun.
With an 86-76 final record, Milwaukee was one of MLB’s most darling Cindete stories this year, finishing in second place in the NL Central, behind the division-winning Chicago Cubs. Before the season, Bovada, the leading online sports betting site, set the Brewers’ 2017 win total at 69.5, the second-fewest wins in the big leagues, ahead of only the San Diego Padres. With 16.5 more wins than their preseason total, Milwaukee had baseball's highest overachievement, according to Bovada.
Just about every move general manager David Stearns made seemed to pay dividends. He flipped reliever Tyler Thornburg to Boston for third baseman Travis Shaw, and the latter put up a dark-horse MVP-caliber season. Stearns signed little-known Korean league first baseman Eric Thames to a three-year contract, and the bearded slugger bashed 31 home runs.
The Brewers got surprisingly solid offensive production from castoffs like Eric Sogard and Jesus Aguilar, as well as unheralded trade acquisitions Manny Pina and Neil Walker. Right fielder Domingo Santana had a breakout season, and rangy shortstop Orlando Arcia looked every bit like the top prospect he was.
On the mound, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson took huge steps forward, becoming staff co-aces, while fellow starter Zach Davies had another strong campaign. Closer Corey Knebel was an All-Star, leading an underrated bullpen that featured promoted minor-leaguers like Josh Hader, Brent Suter and Jacob Barnes, as well as unearthed Stearns gems Jared Hughes and Anthony Swarzak.
Milwaukee’s power, speed and better-than-anticipated pitching carried it to an impressive first half, when the team sat in first place. But in the second half, the offense wilted, scoring the second-fewest runs in the majors after the All-Star break.
Overall, the Brewers hit the seventh-most home runs in baseball (224), had the second-most stolen bases (128) and the most batting strikeouts (1,571), a combination that manifested with both big outbursts and slumps.
On the mound, pitching coach Derek Johnson helped the staff to MLB’s ninth-best ERA (4.00), the most saves (54) and tied for the eighth-best bullpen ERA (3.83). In the field, despite Arcia’s defensive wizardry, Milwaukee committed the second-most errors (115) and had the seventh-lowest Fangraphs defensive rating (-12.2).
But it was a young, loose, goofy team that was fun to cheer for; and fans showed up, helping the Brewers finish 10th in attendance (2,558,722 total fans; 31,589 per game). The season offered plenty of reasons for optimism going forward, as the (still-rebuilding?) squad prepares to be a true contender in 2018 and beyond.
But it's not time to look forward quite yet. Let's first look back and remember the top 10 moments from 2017, in chronological order:
1. May 27: Chase Anderson nearly throws a no-no
On a Saturday night at Miller Park, Anderson took a no-hit bid deep into a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, before Nick Ahmed broke it up with a single in the eighth inning. Anderson was removed during the inning, finishing with a career-high 11 strikeouts in 7.0 innings, allowing just three walks and one hit. Jett Bandy hit a three-run double and Aguilar homered, as the Brewers beat Arizona and ace Zack Greinke.
2. June 16: Eric Thames hits a walk-off homer
On a Friday night at Miller Park, Thames blasted the Brewers’ first walk-off home run of the season, in the bottom of the 10th inning, to give Milwaukee a 6-5 victory over San Diego. It was Thames’ 19th homer of the young season – he had earlier set the Brewers’ franchise record with 11 home runs in the month of April – and, only one day earlier, he’d homered in the ninth to break a 4-4 tie and beat St. Louis. Thames’ teammates responded to the dramatic moment by tearing off his jersey in celebration after he rounded the bases.
3. June 18: Jimmy Nelson pitches a complete game
Nelson closed out the series victory against the Padres with a dominant performance on Father’s Day, throwing the Brewers’ only complete game of the year. The big right-hander struck out 10 batters and walked two in 118 pitches, allowing just six hits and a run for his first career complete game.
4. June 21: Orlando Arcia clinches the win with a web gem
In another thrilling Miller Park contest, the 23-year-old shortstop saved the game against Pittsburgh. With two outs in the ninth inning and the tying run on second base, a ball was hit sharply up the middle, appearing to be enough to drive in the Pirates runner. Arcia ranged hard to his left, gloved it, spun and unfurled a one-hop throw to first that was in time to get the final out and end the threat. It was the Brewers’ defensive highlight of the first half, and perhaps Arcia’s best play of his major-league career.
5. July 3: Orlando Arcia scores on base-running adventure
In the third inning of an interleague game against the Baltimore Orioles at Miller Park, Arcia singled and then managed to score from first on a Brent Suter infield hit. Arcia had slid headfirst into third base but over-slid the bag, forcing him to try for home and get caught in a run-down. After evading defenders in the pickle, Arcia somehow managed to run by on the infield side and safely touch home plate to score a wild run. He finished 3 for 4 in the game.
6. July 7: Jesus Aguilar has an offensive explosion
Against slugging rookie sensation Aaron Judge and the Yankees in New York City, it was Milwaukee rookie Jesus Aguilar that put on the high-profile power display. The backup first baseman homered twice and matched a Brewers record with seven RBI, including a tiebreaking grand slam in the seventh inning. The victory gave Milwaukee a five-game winning streak two days before the start of the All-Star Break.
7. Aug. 30: Keon Broxton makes game-winning catch
It was the ninth inning of a fierce Brewers-Cardinals contest at Miller Park, and Corey Knebel was on to try and close out a win at home. With one on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, clinging to a 6-5 lead, Knebel watched Randal Grichuk smash his pitch to deep center field. But Broxton – subbed in as a late defensive replacement – ran back, leapt up and brought the ball back from over the wall, a home-run-robbing, game-winning catch to end the game. One of the best, and most breathtaking, plays any Brewer has ever made in the field. Keon was feeling himself afterward.
8. Sept. 13: Brett Phillips’ laser-beam throw
In an 8-2 win over the Pirates at Miller Park, Phillips – the Brewers’ 23-year-old rookie who got a surprise start in center field – showed off his 80-grade arm. With two outs and a runner on third in the fourth, Phillips made a catch and then ended the inning by gunning out David Freese at home plate with a perfect strike – clocked by Statcast at 104 mph, making it the fastest throw in the field of the season. Phillips also went 2 for 4 with a run and three RBI at the plate in the game.
9. Sept. 19: Chase Anderson’s clutch outing
Trying to extend their playoff hopes in Pittsburgh, Domingo Santana homered and Anderson pitched a jewel, striking out eight and walking zero, allowing just five hits and no runs in six sparkling innings, before turning it over to the bullpen. The 1-0 victory, Milwaukee’s 12th shutout of the season, gave the team its ninth win in 11 games and allowed it to keep pace in the NL Central and Wild Card races.
10. Sept. 23: Travis Shaw hits walk-off homer vs. Cubs
After losing three heartbreakingly close games in a row – to the Pirates and the Cubs, by a total of four runs – the Brewers really needed a boost to keep their fading postseason dreams alive. They got it against Chicago on a Saturday night at Miller Park, courtesy of Shaw’s game-winning, two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning. Shaw’s 31st home run moved Milwaukee to just 1.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies for the NL’s second Wild Card spot, heading into the do-or-die final series in St. Louis
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.