Most days, in the long season schedule MLB teams play, you can watch every pitch and every mound meeting and every check for sticky stuff on the pitcher's hands, and you can still see little that really changes your opinions or expectations of a team. Most games are ordinary, and the ones that aren't sometimes feel like empty calories: lots of drama, but relatively little substance.
Thursday's win, even over a downtrodden and embroiled Mets team, was one of the special games that make things a bit more clear. In his first game back from the minor leagues, after the front office took a very bold step by swapping him with established veteran Luis Urias, Brice Turang made three crucial defensive plays. Adrian Houser, whom the team worked so hard this winter not to need to rely on as a starter, returned to the rotation with six sturdy innings of two-run ball, striking out five. Hoby Milner, Elvis Peguero, Joel Payamps, and Devin Williams survived another stern test, just after the front office made another bold swap by demoting Peter Strzelecki (who would have been part of that late-inning sequence just a couple of weeks ago).
That game marked the halfway point of the Brewers season. They arrived at it by pulling into a tie for first place. They're only on pace for 86 wins, but that's 10 more than their run differential would lead us to expect. Players at the heart of their plans, like Willy Adames, Rowdy Tellez, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta, have been underwhelming or inconsistent, but guys like Peguero, Joey Wiemer, and Turang have stepped forward--no more consistent or excellent than the would-be stars, but more timely, and in ways that swing games unexpectedly in the team's favor.
Some credit for that has to go to Craig Counsell. It remains worrisome that he and the Brewers haven't agreed on a contract extension to ensure he remains in their dugout beyond this autumn, but Counsell has put on another managerial clinic this season. He's winning by trusting young players, but not too much, and by being aggressive, but not too much so. It's not his finest work as their skipper, but only because he's set that bar quite high in previous seasons.
Obviously, though, it goes further than Counsell, too. The front office, after all, makes the final call on things like the demotions of Urias and Strzelecki, and they're the ones who traded for Peguero and Payamps (among others) this winter. They're the ones who signed Wade Miley. They did a better job of anticipating the obstacles this team has faced, and of building bulwarks against them, than they've gotten credit for doing.
That doesn't mean the team has found open seas, with smooth sailing ahead. They have plenty of talent, they're better-run than any other team in the NL Central, and they have a share of first place with 81 games left. Alas, just about anything can happen in 81 games. The failure to create a cushion for themselves in the first half, due to some of those talented players underperforming and some of them getting hurt, leaves the team vulnerable to the vagaries of small samples. Still, Thursday's win was one of those stolen victories that make you feel good about threading the needle.
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