MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Contending Crew putting future on hold

Contending Crew putting future on hold

In the early stages of a major rebuild, the Brewers have put the future on hold. It's about now for the Brew Crew.

Early in the season, they could be viewed as an oddity, but the campaign is headed down the backstretch and the Brewers are very much in the midst of both the National League Central and the NL Wild Card races. And that, not the future, has become the focus.

"We're far ahead of where we thought we would be as any organization," said left fielder Ryan Braun, Milwaukee's elder statesman. "Talking to the front office and to our ownership group, we didn't think we would be this good this soon, so for all of us, it is exciting.

"It is certainly rejuvenating."

The actions of the organization reinforce the feeling of Braun and others in the clubhouse.

The first sign the Brewers were taking a detour on their road to the future was the June 25 waiver claim of 32-year-old catcher Stephen Vogt from the A's. Then came the July 26 acquisition of 31-year-old right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak from the White Sox for outfielder Ryan Cordell, who is ranked the 18th-best prospect in the White Sox system.

Nine days ago, the Brewers acquired second baseman Neil Walker from the Mets for a player to be named later.

And then on Saturday night in Colorado came a strong statement from the dugout.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth and Milwaukee leading, 3-1, Brandon Woodruff, in his third big league start and with a 1.62 ERA, walked Nolan Arenado on four pitches. Manager Craig Counsell headed to the mound and hailed left-handed reliever Josh Hader to face the left-handed-hitting Gerardo Parra.

Woodruff on pitching in Colorado

Woodruff figures to be a part of the Brewers' future, and in a developmental period, it would seem logical that he would have been left in the game to work through the situation, the organization seeing it as a chance for growth.

This isn't a developmental period.

"There's a time for that," admitted Counsell.

The time is not now.

In taking two out of three from the Rockies at Coors Field during the weekend, the Brew Crew managed to remain two games back of the defending World Series champion Cubs in the NL Central, and third in the battle for the two NL Wild Card spots, 2 1/2 games behind the second-place D-backs and 3 1/2 behind the Rockies.

Counsell sees it as a benefit for the future, not sacrificing potential.

"You manage games to win them," he said. "If anything, you are considering who you are giving opportunities to. We are young enough all around the opportunities are given to guys earning them, and those are guys who will be here for a while.

"We have been sitting here all year. We have been close all year. We have been where you are battling to win games."

And that's why the Brewers have made those in-season additions of experienced players -- instead of dealing the veterans for prospects, like a year ago when catcher Jonathan Lucroy was deal to the Rangers, or the spring decision to waive veteran second baseman Scooter Gennett, who was claimed by the Reds.

"As the season has gone on, we added a player like Stephen Vogt, and that took time away from one of our young catchers," said Counsell. "We added Walker, taking some time away from Jonathan Villar. That has changed somewhat."

Vogt's solo homer

Not that Counsell or anybody else associated with the Brewers is complaining.

"It's been fun since Day 1, and these guys have battled," he said. "It's never easy with our wins. It's been emotional, for sure. That's why you love it."

And that's why the next six weeks carry anticipation.

The NL Central is far from settled. Not only are the Brewers two games back of the Cubs, but the Cardinals are just 3 1/2 out and the Pirates remain on the fringe, trailing the Cubs by 6 1/2 games. The Reds are in last place, 14 games out, which is the same deficit faced by the Marlins, who are in second place in the NL East.

The Rockies are in second place in the NL West, with a better record (68-56) than every NL team except the NL West-leading Dodgers (87-35) and the NL East-leading Nationals (74-48), but they are 20 games back of the Dodgers.

"In the division, everyone has taken a run," said Counsell. "We took a run before the All-Star break that got us the lead. The Cubs went on a run after the All-Star break and the Cardinals went on a run the first week of August."

And they each control their own destiny.

Each of the NL Central teams has home-and-home series remaining within the division. The edge might go to the Cubs and Cardinals -- neither has an out-of-division game left with a team that has a winning record -- but Milwaukee does have three games at Dodger Stadium next weekend and four games against the Nationals shortly thereafter, and the Pirates have four-game series remaining with the Dodgers and Nationals, as well.

"From [the schedule], you know you are going to have a chance to do something," said Counsell.

And the Brewers have worked to put themselves in position to have that opportunity.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.