What’s Brewing?

Improbably, the Brewers are the hottest team in baseball, having gotten to 20 wins faster than any team in baseball.

This is the same team that MLB Reports ranked 23rd of baseball’s 30 franchises before the season:

Not even a great 1B option, despite the rest of the lineup being decent can be eradicated through a trade.  Tough battle in the NL Central.

They went 74 – 88, and could be a decent year. Ryan Braun back for the full year helps.  Aramis Ramirez is the Wild Card.  Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez must keep up their 2013 output.

How are they so much better than figured at the start of the season, you ask? Yahoo! Sports has the answers:

Home-field advantage? Not that big of a deal for the Brewers so far this season. The team is 11-2 on the road. Before losing Wednesday in St. Louis, the Brewers hadn’t lost on the road since April 17 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ryan Braun’s return from a season shortened by PED suspension has been everything the Brewers hoped — he’s hitting .318/.361/.591, with six homers and 18 RBIs. Sure, people are still going to call him names andboo him, but there’s no denying he’s been a big contributor. He’s hurt right now, sidelined by an oblique strain but not (yet?) on the disabled list. His health might be a big factor in Milwaukee’s continued success. 

Gomez’s April is marred by the ugly brawl he was a part of, but you can’t ignore all he gives the Brewers. He leads the team in runs and hits, but contributes across the board — seven homers, four stolen bases and stellar defense in the outfield. Last season he had WAR of 7.6, according to Fangraphs, but he wasn’t completely viewed as a legit MVP candidate. Gomez has the fifth-best WAR in the NL right now. A winning team could legitimize his MVP candidacy this season if he keeps this up.

The Brewers didn’t come into the season with one of the most praised starting pitching staffs in baseball, but they’ve delivered. Their 3.01 ERA is top five in MLB, and they’ve done it with a mixture of experienced guys having great starts and their end-of-the-rotation starters looking much improved. Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta all have sub-3.00 ERAs. 

Aramis Ramirez has been, for the most part, healthy and driving in runs early this season. Ramirez, who has a tough injury history, was cruising along until he was hit by a pitch earlier this week and hurt his elbow. He’s expected back in the lineup Thursday, which is good news because he’s been great for the Brewers with runners in scoring position. He has 12 hits in 24 at-bats with 16 RBIs. That’s the third-most hits in baseball with RISP.

It’s not just K-Rod who has been effective for the Brewers. Their relief pitchers have an ERA of 2.47, fourth best in MLB. Opponents were hitting .194 against the Brewers bullpen coming into Wednesday’s game.

One sign that a team might be on the way to accomplishing something is its doing well despite some of its players not doing well. Shortstop Jean Segura had a great year last year, hitting .294 with an OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging, for you non-sabermetricians) of .752. So far this year, Segura is at just .244 and .621. The Brewers also have gotten little production out of left field, with Khris Davis at .238 and .621 and Logan Schaefer at .214 and .599. Somehow they’re making the first-base platoon of Lyle Overbay (.279 and .775) and Mark Reynolds (.224 and .802) work even though Overbay hits for average but not power, and Reynolds hits for power but not average.

(Reynolds is, in fact, the Dave Kingman of our time, or, for old Brewers fans, the 2014 edition of Gorman Thomas. In six of Reynolds’ eight seasons in the majors, Reynolds has hit 20 or more home runs, including 44 home runs in 2009. Reynolds is a career .233 hitter, and he’s topped the 200-strikeout total three seasons.)

Pitching is, of course, the key to baseball success, and pitching is something the Brewers have pretty much never had. Remarkably, 11 of the Brewers pitchers have ERAs of 3.00 or better, and reliever Jim Henderson isn’t doing badly by today’s standards at 3.38. Rodriguez is a man possessed on the mound, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 23 to 4, which is why he’s 13-of-13 in save situations.

For the past two weeks the Brewers have led ESPN.com’s Power Ratings, and they may hold on to first given their going into St. Louis and winning two of three. Obviously playoff berths are not won in April, but good starts more often lead to good finishes (for instance, the 1984 Tigers) than not. Of course, the Brewers have had good starts wiped out before by wretched months, but you have to like how things are going … so far.

The happy news is that while the Brewers are highly unlikely to continue this pace — a 20–8 pace over an entire season would be 116 wins, the most wins ever recorded in a season — Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has shown willingness to improve the roster during a promising season. In 2008 the Brewers got pitcher C.C. Sabathia for the second half of the season, and no Sabathia, no playoffs. In 2011 the Brewers acquired pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum and outfielder Nyjer “Tony Plush” Morgan before the season began, and picked up Rodriguez and infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. during the season. Hairston was particularly important when second baseman Rickie Weeks got hurt (arguably the Brewers have not successfully replaced Hairston three years later), and Morgan, well, did this:

Oh — forgot one other thing:

It cannot be discounted that Hank the Dog — the stray the team took in during spring training and adopted as their new mascot — might be some part of this.


Maybe he’s a good-luck charm sent from outer space to change the fortune of one MLB team. The Brewers were nice enough to take him in, and thus they are reaping the reward. Or the Brewers could just have really good karma right now for adopting Hank.

One thought on “What’s Brewing?

  1. Hi there,

    good column. Yes, our chief writer did pick MIL 23rd to start the year, but we also saw them playing well at the beginning of the season, and were advising people to jump on the wagon. mlbreports.com/2014/04/04/o2wwsapr4/ for the next several weeks. We have since rated them 8th in our last rankings. I would just caution that tougher times are coming ahead, and you are never sure about Ryan Braun lasting the whole year with his thumb situation. The Brew Crew should be in contention all year, and their management has done a nice job retooling the Roster.
    Your Bullpen has been backed by Will Smith (great trade for Aoki) and K-Rod. Our site has also been a longtime advocate of Mark Reynolds,

    It is okay to be wrong on teams sometimes. We have a great track record of being right more than wrong at least. If you are a reader at our site, we have also long since praised the city, ballpark and staff at Miller Park for being a World Class organization and community..

    Chuck Booth
    MLB Reports Owner

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