It’s not often that a talking point that began in October, emphasized over the winter and re-addressed before Opening Day can be forgotten so easily by the Fourth of July, but hey – remember that desire for a "fast start" by the top levels of the Milwaukee Brewers organization?
It was talked about a bit after the team actually started out in a sprint, going 20-8 in March and April against a tough schedule. It was kind of forgotten after a 13-15 May.
And after an 18-10 June, why bring it up again?
It’s because this team has never lost more than three games in a row, hasn’t been swept in a three or four game series and hasn’t been out of first place since the fifth game of the season.
It’s because they’ve been able to weather 51 combined missed games from Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun, pitching slumps from starters Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada and injuries to bullpen arms Jim Henderson, Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Kintzler and Tom Gorzelanny.
It’s because on the Fourth of July, the Brewers are only one of two teams in all of baseball with 50 or more wins.
It’s because a goal was stated, and achieved immediately.
I haven’t heard this song (yet) in the Brewers clubhouse – perhaps because it’s a bit older – but a line from Lil Wayne’ s 2009 "Drop The World" applies: Confidence is a stain you can’t wipe off.
That’s why it’s worth revisiting the end of March and beginning of April over halfway through the season. This team has a near unshakeable confidence in one another, and collectively.
"The fact that we haven’t lost first place was awesome, then we got all the guys back and now everybody’s starting to see what kind of team we are," Kintzler said. "April, the big test was all those teams we played that were over .500, playoffs, then the road trip. After that you just have all the confidence in the world and you go out and play."
But can an intangible such as that translate to the field?
"I think certainly when you start off the year the way we did it allows people to relax a bit more, not panic when we have a couple bad games in a row," reliever Zach Duke said. "You realize you built up a pretty decent cushion and all we have to do is keep playing the way we’re capable of and we’re still going to be fine in the end."
"Yeah, you feel good about yourself," Kintzler acknowledged. "You know what you can do. You know if you lose one game you can come back and win the next. So that’s the main thing. Last year, it was we lost one and it was ‘oh geez, I wonder what’s going to happen now,’ you wonder who’s going to be in the lineup. Hopefully everyone is still healthy enough and if you’ve got your same guys every day you got a chance."
Of course, such a start is not a total predictor of things to come. The team knows that.
"We’ve still got a long ways to go, too," first baseman Lyle Overbay said. "I mean, the month of September that’s all we play is the National League Central. That’s when the good teams kind of pull away and do some things. That’s when the playoff race starts."
"This game is so up and down, you just can’t get too high," Kintzler added. "You just grind it out. Just like relievers – you don’t look at your numbers in the middle of the year. You grind it out and at the end of the year you grind it out and you look up and see where you stand because it’s just such a long year."
And not only that – the fact that the Brewers have now established themselves as pennant
contenders, they’re no longer looked at as merely a "hot" team by their opponents.At least that’s how they see it.
"Now people know we’re for real, so now we’re going to get everybody’s best shot from here on out," Wooten said. "It’s not going to get any easier for sure. But we’re confident. That’s a huge thing to have."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.