Today is July 1st.
The Milwaukee Brewers are still in first place in the National League Central.
The baseball regular season is now more than halfway over, as the 43-39 Brew Crew completed their 82nd game last night. Our local nine has spent 44 days in first place this year. They have played .500 baseball or better in each of the season’s first three months - 13-13 in April, 15-12 in May, and 15-14 in June. Craig Counsell’s squad has a +19 run differential and their Pythagorean record of 43-39 says that this team’s record is right where it should be based on how they’ve performed on the field, taking luck out of the equation.
Much of this team’s unexpected success can of course be attributed to the offense. With roughly half the season complete, Milwaukee ranks 5th in the National League with 394 runs scored and 7th with 4.80 runs per game. No NL team has bashed more dingers than the Brewers’ 123, or swiped more bags than the 69 (nice) that Brewer base runners have nabbed this season. The lineup’s collective .772 OPS ranks 5th on the senior circuit, as does their park-adjusted 99 OPS+.
It’s not as if one or two bats are shouldering the burden alone, either. A whopping eight position players are currently boasting an OPS+ over 100 for the year: Manny Pina (110), Eric Thames (133), Travis Shaw (133), Ryan Braun (129), Keon Broxton (105), Domingo Santana (115), Jesus Aguilar (128), and Eric Sogard (148). Seven players have been valued at more than one win above replacement by Baseball-Reference: Shaw (2.5), Sogard (1.9), Pina (1.8), Hernan Perez (1.7), Santana (1.3), Aguilar (1.1), and Orlando Arcia (1.1) with an eighth player, Eric Thames, right on the cusp of reaching that mark (0.9).
For as much leg work as the offense has done this year, the pitching staff has actually settled in to be pretty solid overall, too. Milwaukee’s collective 4.19 ERA ranks 6th in the NL. Split more specifically into roles, the starting staff ranks 5th with a 4.21 mark, and the much-maligned relief corps has actually been better-than-league average with a 4.17 ERA that places them 7th in the NL. As a whole, Brewer hurlers are 4th in the league with a 107 ERA+. The group’s 4.45 FIP suggests that their true talent may not quite be at the level that their run prevention totals imply, but strong play by the defense (+11 Defensive Runs Saved, t-4th in the NL) has helped bail the staff out on more than a few occasions. The recent loss of breakout starter Chase Anderson, who figures to be out until at least some time in August, could be a significant blow to the club. But the Brewers have enough internal depth that they should be able to weather the storm, whether it’s by finding a suitable solution in the minor leagues or by going out and dealing for an arm on the trade market.
The Milwaukee Brewers are definitely a lot of fun and most certainly a better-than-average team this year. There appears to be little reason to believe that the franchise can’t continue to take advantage of a Cubs’ team that hasn’t struck fear into opponents this year the same way they did in 2016 and a weak Central division overall.
At the end of April, I wrote that it was time to re-calibrate our expectations for this team and start caring again if they win or lose on a daily basis. On Memorial Day, I told y’all that it was okay to start to check the standings regularly to see where the Milwaukee Nine stacks up in the division. Now it’s July, the season is half over, and the Brewers still stand alone at the top of the NL Central as they have for a good chunk of the year. It’s not early anymore. I know that we have had our hearts broken before, but this is a different year and a much different team. So can we as fans make ourselves vulnerable and admit yet that this club is in the chase for the playoffs?
Two players said after recorders stopped rolling today that the clubhouse feels different lately. Brewers really believe they can do this.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) June 22, 2017
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference