It's clear the Milwaukee Brewers are in free fall right now. After winning 11 of 13 contests to push their division lead to 5.5 games in mid-July, the Brewers have lost nine of their last 11. Couple that with the Chicago Cubs' 11-2 stretch since the All-Star break, and Milwaukee has now forfeited seven games in the standings to the defending champions.
This is not the first time the Brewers faithful has experienced an upstart squad stumble in the second half. In 2014, many projected Milwaukee to struggle in the NL Central. But by August, the Brewers were on a five-game winning streak, which pushed them to 71-55, and 2.5 games clear of second place in the division.
That 2014 team imploded soon after, losing 13 of its next 16 games, effectively ending their postseason chances. Milwaukee finished 82-80, and in third place in the NL Central.
Flash forward to 2017, and this Brewers team seems destined for a similar finish. The Cubs finally hit their stride, just as Milwaukee slumped in all categories (they are 23rd in runs and 27th in ERA since the All-Star break). This weekend's home series with the Cubs will give us a clearer picture going forward, but it looks bleak right now.
But the future is so much brighter than in 2014. That year, the farm system was a mess. The major leaguers were either flawed youngsters (Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett), or aging stars (Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza, Francisco Rodriguez). Even though Milwaukee spent most of the season in first place, it never felt sustainable.
2017's first-place run also felt unsustainable, but the future does not. Milwaukee has one of the best minor league systems in baseball, a bright young GM, and an innovative manager in the dugout.
Lewis Brinson, a consensus top-20 prospect, showed off his tremendous power with a pair of long balls in the last two games. Right fielder Domingo Santana is officially one of the best young stars in the game; he owns the sixth-best OPS (.872) among players under 25 in the National League this season.
22-year-old Orlando Arcia is as slick as they come at shortstop. And with each tater that lands in the right field bleachers, third baseman Travis Shaw digs the knife a little deeper into the Red Sox after their offseason trade.
The core of the team is all between 22 and 27 years old, which is much closer to the rising Brewers team of 2008, not the crumbling infrastructure in 2014. Four years ago, the veterans were making their last stand; now, these young Brewers are making their first push.
So it almost does not matter what happens in this weekend's Cubs series. Milwaukee finally has the foundation to take on the Cubs for at least the next half-decade. A three-game sweep would be great, but organizational sustainability is even better.