Put a fork in us -- we're done.
If you're a Milwaukee Brewers fan, it's time to admit that our season is essentially over, and it's time to start thinking about spring training.
As a kid, I grew up with the Green Bay Packers and the Catholic Church, and it's hard for me to distinguish between the two. I also like Wisconsin Badgers football and basketball, even if I think that big-time college sports needs reform.
But it's baseball I really love. There's something about a 162 game season (there's always tomorrow), the lack of a clock (baseball is a break from all the timers in our lives), and the strategy built on both endless statistics and hunches that is like no other game.
So, when the Brewers fall out of contention in July, as they've done much more often than not, it's a sad moment. The games go on and I'll keep watching, but it's a long slog now until this campaign mercifully ends in early October.
Still, there are things to watch. Who shakes out at shortstop? Can Jonathan Lucroy return to form behind and at the plate? Can John Axford regain control of his breaking pitch?
The season wasn't a complete waste. (Now there's an encouraging statement.) All the injuries forced the team to learn some things about its depth, and a lot of what they learned was good.
Next season we might see a strong outfield with Ryan Braun in left, the impressive Norichiki Aoki in center and Corey Hart back in right field. But we know that Hart can play first and play it well if he has to. Matt Gamel should be back from an injury to start the 2013 season at that position; he looked good this season early before he was hurt.
Lucroy should be the starting catcher, but Martín Maldonado is a terrific prospect out of the farm system as a backup. He's a great defensive catcher and surprised everyone with a better than expected performance at the plate.
Amamis Ramírez had a good season defensively at third and he performed well enough in the clean up position to return there. Ricky Weeks had a horrendous beginning to his season, but he more or less returned to form since just before the All-Star Break. A question mark will be if he can ever be the player he used to be for a complete season.
The starting rotation should be anchored by Yovani Gallardo and the surprising Mike Fiers. Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson should be back as well. But the Brewers should let Randy Wolf go (he just can't seem to avoid the big inning) and they did the right thing by trading Zach Grienke.
Greinke's contract was up, and if the team hadn't traded him, it risked losing him at the end of the season and getting virtually nothing in return. It might have been even worse if he had agreed to the $100 million five-year deal they offered. That would have left Braun and Greinke sucking up way too much payroll. Braun's worth it as the very heart of the club. But even if Greinke is worth it as well, the small-market Brewers just can't afford him.
So, looking forward to next year, I like the Brewers' chances. In the off-season, they need to settle on a regular shortstop, add another starting pitcher, strengthen their bullpen and figure out a closer. That's doable. Any team anchored by Ryan Braun and bolstered by Corey Hart, Ricky Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy is going to be worth watching.
Before you know it it'll be deer season, and then it's almost time for spring training. It may even snow a little in between.