Brewers, Phillies have talent to rebound in '13
DENVER — This wasn't how August was supposed to be for the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers.
With their rosters loaded with arguably enough talent to compete for the National League crown in 2012, August was supposed to start the countdown to October, to the playoffs and even maybe the World Series. But August has been significantly quieter than either Philadelphia or Milwaukee expected it to be.
Heading into the teams' four-game series this weekend, the Phillies are nowhere near winning an NL East crown for the sixth straight season, down by 18.5 games to the Washington Nationals -- baseball's best team. That used to Philadelphia on top, looking down at the rest of their division. But this August -- and July and June, for that matter -- have been nothing like the Phillies expected.
The same can be said for the Brewers, who continue to fall further out of contention, also down 18.5 games in their division and soon to be mathematically eliminated from what could have been a franchise-defining push toward a second consecutive playoff appearance. The Brewers don't quite parallel the Phillies in their dismay at falling this far this early, but after a taste of the playoffs last season, the hunger in Milwaukee for another taste has been insatiable.
This was not how it was supposed to be in August. You can see as much in the players' and manager's eyes on both sides of this matchup. But for both organizations, there is hope for the future, hope that 2012 is a fluke soon forgotten.
Teams that miss the baseball playoffs are often of two different ilks: those that probably should've missed it and those that are ravaged by the unkindness of parity in the sport. Both the Brewers and the Phillies fall in the latter category.
For Milwaukee, there's no doubting that a race for the NL Central's automatic bid into the playoffs would have been a tight one. But with the talent and offensive firepower the Brewers boast -- they are, after all, the top home run-hitting team in the NL -- it would've been tough to count out the Brewers in a late September run to the playoffs.
For Philadelphia, the roster still reads very much like the one that won the World Series in 2008. But those pieces have broken down under the wear of experience in 2012, as former All-Stars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins have spent time on the disabled list. Still, a rotation like the one the Phillies still boast -- including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels every few days -- should be enough to carry any team to October, even through some injuries.
Now, to insinuate either team is just as good as it was the year before would be dishonest. The Phillies are one year older -- a factor that's been working against them since their magical 2008 season. The Brewers are one elite player lighter -- as Prince Fielder, despite Milwaukee's home run power, is still very much missed.
But the window is far from closed. Elite pitchers like Halladay and Lee aren't likely to have seasons like this again next year -- right now, they've combined for an 8-14 record with ERAs of 3.80 and 3.85, respectively. In the same way, the Brewers aren't likely to see their bullpen collapse as it did in 2011. And neither team, no matter how tough the grind of a 162-game season can be, is likely to lose as many key contributors to injuries next season. Parity in this sport doesn't often strike so harshly twice in a row.
So this weekend, as two of the big shots of the 2011 National League meet at Miller Park, it won't be about September or October, like many would've expected when this season began. It'll be about March and April. It'll be about hope for a fresh start.
But perhaps most of all, as much as hope will carry both organizations through struggles, this matchup will be about what could have been and what actually happened -- two teams, 18.5 games back in their respective playoff races, forced into irrelevance too soon.
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