Paul Sullivan: Cubs can't expect Brewers to slip again … their success is no flukeJuly 12, 2018 9:46pm

July 12-- "We Believe in Jesus," the new motto of the Brewers, is a far cry from "Try Not to Suck," the old Cubs' mantra from their championship season.

But the clever campaign, a collaborative effort by the marketing department to put first baseman Jesus Aguilar into the All-Star via the National League's Final Five vote took off. And "We Believe" T-shirts are sure to become popular tailgate-wear among Milwaukee's finest cheeseheads.

As has become their habit, the Brewers played up their small-market status to portray Aguilar as the uber-underdog. It's that "us-against-the-world" mentality we in Chicago have come to know well over the last two years.

"Jesus is up against players from some of baseball's largest markets," manager Craig Counsell proclaimed in the Brewers' marketing campaign. "But history is on our side."

Aguilar not only won by a landslide, he also was awarded the top seed in the Home Run Derby, putting him in the spotlight for both prime-time events of next week's All-Star Game festivities.

It's a made-for-MLB special. Claimed off waivers from the Indians a couple of weeks before the start of spring training in 2017, Aguilar has become one of baseball's best stories of the first-half, and gives Milwaukee reason to believe the Brewers will hang with the Cubs-and perhaps even win-in the race for the National League Central.

Aguilar began Thursday tied for the NL lead in home runs with 23, while ranking third in the majors in RBIs (67), and fourth in OPS (1.013). He was given 7/2 odds by bovada.lv to win the Derby (second only to hometown favorite Bryce Harper's 1\) in a field that does not include Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez or Manny Machado, all of whom have more homers and bigger reputations.

But what Aguilar has done can't be dismissed as a fluke. He's carrying a lineup that's middle-of-the-pack in the majors and currently includes journeymen players at second (Brad Miller) short (Tyler Saladino) and catcher (Erik Kratz). The rotation led by Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin is also less than feared, leaving the bullpen and their defense as the team's biggest strengths.

Of course, they could vastly improve the team with the addition of Orioles' shortstop Manny Machado, though The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported they are unwilling to include right-hander Corbin Burnes in a deal, and the Orioles expect to get what they want, even for a rental.

It's hard to imagine the Brewers beating out the likes of the Yankees or Dodgers for Machado, though it's also difficult to believe they have the best record in the National League going into the final weekend before the All-Star Game.

Credit general manager David Stearns, who made two of the boldest moves of the offseason, signing Lorenzo Cain and acquiring Christian Yelich, both who'll join Aguilar and reliever Josh Hader as NL All-Stars.

It's not easy competing in the same division as the haughty Cubs, an organization which proclaimed a couple of years ago they'd have a "wheelbarrow with money" to spend on players.

As Stearns stated last summer: "We all understand the dynamics of the market we're in, and we all understand the dynamic of the market the Cubs are in."

It makes sense for the Brewers to portray the Cubs as Goliath to their David, and they do enjoy poking the bear.

In February the organization held a presale of tickets to Cubs-Brewers games for Wisconsin-residents only, hoping to take back Miller Park from roving hordes of road-tripping Cubs fans. Last year they complained in the spring about the Cubs postponing a game at Wrigley Field without a drop of rain falling, and then again in September when the Cubs made a late time change to move a game from afternoon to night so the players could get more rest.

To his credit, Counsell didn't blame the Cubs for making the switch, saying: "Sleep is a bipartisan issue, man."

Truer words have never been spoken.

Still, the onus will be on the Brewers to prove they can avoid a repeat of last summer. As you may recall, the Cubs trailed Milwaukee by 5 { games on July 15th before the Brewers lost 8 of 10 to fall out of first for good. They swept the Cubs at Wrigley in early September to pull back to within two games, but lost starter Jimmy Nelson to a strained right rotator cuff and partial anterior labrum tear when Nelson injured himself sliding back into first base.

Though they still had a shot in late September, the Cubs took three of four at Miller Park in a memorable series to seal it. Order was restored.

Most Cubs fans expect a rerun. The Cubs' lineup is just too deep, and they've been a consistently good second-half team since Joe Maddon took over in 2015. Sure, the Brewers are a nice, little team, but they just don't have the depth or the rotation to beat the Cubs in a marathon. They also start the second-half with 13 straight games against the Dodgers, Nationals and Giants, no easy task.

But the Brewers not only believe in Aguilar, they believe in themselves. And Stearns has shown he's ready to do whatever it takes to get them into the playoffs, even without a wheelbarrow full of cash to spend.

If we've learned anything about the Brew Crew in the last two seasons, it's this:

Don't sleep on this bunch.

___

(c)2018 Chicago Tribune

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