The Milwaukee Brewers are in 1st place in the NL Central. It’s May 21st. Nothing makes sense.
Instead of diving into the debate of whether or not the Brewers should screw the rebuild and play for the 2017 postseason, I’m going to go all Buzzfeed on everyone and outline the top 10 reasons this team is winning. Some of them are statistical in nature; others are just gut feel. One thing is for certain- this is a different ball club than we’ve seen in the past two years, and they don’t seem to want to go away.
1. They’re not striking out as much.
In 2016, the Brewers struck out a major league leading 1543 times, an average of 9.52 per game. As the legendary Tom Haudricourt notes, they started off 2017 on a similar note, striking out 206 times in the first 20 games (10.5 per game). But that number was down significantly over the next 20 games, with just 170 strikeouts, dropping their strikeouts per game to 8.5. The Brewers were 9-11 in their first 20 games, and 13-7 in the next 20. That correlation shouldn’t come as a surprise; nothing kills a rally like failing to put the ball in play in any form. Admittedly, this is where I expect the Brewers to regress towards the mean in the coming months. I hope I’m wrong!
2. They’re dominating the 1st inning.
The Brewers have dominated the first inning, so much that the Crew owns the highest positive run differential in any inning in the major leagues. Early leads go a long way to loosen up a team, especially a young one.
3. They’ve got star power in someone not named Ryan Braun.
For the first month and a half, Eric Thames generated enough buzz for the Brewers that Ryan Braun was able to silently climb his way back to a .287 batting average after a slow start to the season. For so long, Braun has been relied upon to be the star of this team- it was nice to see someone else carry that torch for an extended period of time. If nothing else, it gave opposing fans at road games another player to talk about instead of just waiting to boo Braun when his name was called. The Brewers have missed Thames as of late; let’s hope he can come back from his minor injuries and get back to his ball mashing ways.
4. They’re beating bad teams.
By my own judgement of who’s a contender and who’s not, the Brewers are 12-4 this year against teams that aren’t that good (San Diego, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Toronto). Not to compare apples to oranges, but the inability to beat bad teams is what drove me nuts about the Bucks this past year. It’s so important to do so in both sports.
5. They’ve got AAA talent knocking at the door.
Don’t think for a second that every top prospect in Colorado Springs isn’t looking at what Eric Sogard is doing for the Brewers and thinking “man, that could be me”. The Brewers AAA affiliate is also in first place in their division at 24-15 and have six players batting over .300. I promise you that some of the fringe players on the Brewer’s 25-man roster realize the importance of producing consistently if they want to stay in the major leagues.
6. They’ve got all the pieces in place to make a move right now – if they want to.
I’ve touched on this plenty of times this year so I won’t rehash it again. They’ve got the lowest 25-man roster payroll on the MLB, and Attanasio has plenty of money he could spend if he wanted to. Couple that with the number one farm system in all of baseball and it means that they could theoretically bring 2-3 absolute studs to Milwaukee come July.
7. They’re winning games coming off of losses.
The Brewers are 11-7 this year in games following a loss. Last year, they were 38-44. Thus far, they’ve been able to avoid long losing streaks; that alone could keep them in the playoff hunt well into summer.
8. They’re winning games coming off of tough losses.
Not to be confused with the previous point, but the Brewers have had a couple of tough losses in the early portion of the season. Losing consecutive games to the Cubs after a big early lead in the game was tough, but the Brewers came back the next day to beat St. Louis on the road. They started this week’s road trip in heart breaking fashion by losing on a walk off home run in the 10th inning to San Diego, but proceeded to dismantle the Padres in the next three games. All in all, the Brewers are 3-0 following their three walk off losses. That’s a sign of toughness.
9. Craig Counsell is making the right roster moves.
Different managers have different styles. There’s plenty of managers who stick with players far longer than they should. There’s nothing worse than watching a player struggle night after night for far too long. Craig Counsell isn’t having any of that, and I couldn’t be happier as a fan. Neftali Feliz lost the closer role quickly and abruptly, and Corey Knebel has come out of it as one of the top closers in baseball during the month of May. Jonathan Villar, a mere two months removed from being the Brewers shining star, sat on the bench for a couple of games this week while a newly promoted Eric Sogard went 4-4 on consecutive nights. Wily Peralta was just demoted to the bullpen. Counsell is showing the entire organization that you have to earn your playing time in Milwaukee, and that raises the stakes for everyone. This is the type of mentality that David Stearns hammered on the moment he arrived in Milwaukee last year, and it appears he’s already created that competitive atmosphere in some respects at the major league level.
10. They’re having fun.
Obviously it’s a lot easier to have fun when you’re winning, but based solely on my observations of the games I’ve caught on TV, the Brewers seem to enjoy playing with each other. They turn to the dugout and do the lawn mower thing whenever they get on base, and they do the jumping consecutive shoulder bumps in the dugout when someone hits a big home run. The young guys, namely Orlando Arcia, seem to bring a renewed sense of youth to this team, which contributes to everyone playing a bit looser.
So there you have it. After a 4-2 road trip that leaves the Brewers six games above the .500 month, the Brewers return home for the week leading the NL Central. The question on absolutely everyone’s mind: how long can this possibly last?