The book is closed on the 2022 Milwaukee Brewers, but when the team reunites in Arizona in a tick over four months from now, they will do so with plenty of optimism.
Milwaukee missed the postseason this year. It fell far short of its ultimate goal. But the team’s performance didn’t reach the point to where the bar needs to be lowered going forward.
“This is a team that’s going to win 86 games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s a good baseball team. That number of wins has won the World Series. It’s a good baseball team. Monday was a disappointing day because it told us that we were not going to achieve the goal that we set out for ourselves.
“But 86 wins is a good baseball team. That means good things moving forward, is what I’d tell you.”
As the Brewers exited the clubhouse at American Family Field following a 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, they did so knowing they won’t reconvene until spring training. When they do, the nucleus of the team, barring the unforeseen, will be returning in its entirety. Even though the final chapter of this story of the Brewers ended on a sour note, a collective return by key members of the team is reason enough for the expectations to remain the same moving forward.
Corbin Burnes. Brandon Woodruff. Willy Adames. Christian Yelich. Devin Williams. Freddy Peralta. And more.
BOX SCORE: Diamondbacks 4, Brewers 2
“I think if we can keep this core group together and especially the starting staff and the rotation, it only helps,” Brewers starting pitcher Eric Lauer said. “...We still have a lot of young guys that are still pretty controllable and talented.”
Burnes wins NL strikeout title
Said Burnes, who threw three perfect innings to become the first Brewers pitcher to reach 200 innings in a season since Yovani Gallardo in 2012 and clinched the National League strikeout title in the process: "There is a young group of guys in here that are very good baseball players. If we come back in next year with the same team, I think we have a better result."
The Brewers did too little, too late in their postseason chase. They finished the season with a record of 86-76, but failed to get more than 12 games over .500 at any point after July 31.
In some years, 86 wins would be enough to earn a postseason berth.
Not in 2022. The inability to qualify for the expanded playoffs in a year where World Series hopes were tossed around in businesslike manner made this one of the most disappointing seasons in Brewers history in terms of expectations versus reality.
"With higher expectations comes a bigger chance of disappointment," Counsell said. "That’s the way we want it. We got to live with that. That’s the deal. We won 86 games. That’s a pretty good number, but this year it wasn’t good enough."
Milwaukee’s offense was on the whole respectable – it finished 10th in Major League Baseball in runs scored and 11th in wRC+ – but sorely missing an impact bat. The pitching was above-average – earning the seventh-best ERA- in baseball – but not quite as elite as anticipated and featuring too many late-game blow ups.
There will be plenty of questions at president of baseball operations David Stearns’ season-end press conference on Tuesday as to what kept the Brewers from ever getting over the hump.
Should they have been more focused on adding to their roster in the off-season as opposed to, for the most part, running back the same group? Is there more urgency to improve the offense going forward? And, of course, what about that payroll?
On the final afternoon of the year, however, the mood was light around the team. Autographs were exchanged, games were played and off-season plans were discussed.
The combination of a group of players relieved to have reached the end of a marathon yet disappointed that the end came now and not at a later date in October or November made for a strange brew.
"It's a tough day to describe. The season is over and that's the tough part," said first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who reached 35 homers on the year with a solo shot in the eighth inning Wednesday.
"You grind with these guys for 162 games in 180 days and spring training. You grind with these guys every single day. That's why when you play against your former teammates, it's like you never left and why talking to them is a big thing.
"For us, it's a tough moment. It's bittersweet."
Tellez said he won't even watch the playoffs. Some of his teammates will, including Burnes, who will be rooting on former teammate and close friend Josh Hader.
When, long after a champion is crowded and beach days in Florida, Cancun, Hawaii and the Caribbean are in the rearview mirror, the dry February heat of Arizona will be front and center once again. The mission will be back on for the Brewers.
"Pressure is a privilege," Tellez said. "We're a team that came through this with our bullseye on our back. We let ourselves down, but we'll be back next year. There's always the year after and I think in the long run, we're gonna have a really good team."
For the final question of Counsell's 2022 media availability, he was asked if those expectations remain the same as they have been in Milwaukee despite the different outcome this time around? Counsell responded immediately.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers finish season with a loss but set sights on 2023