If I told you before the season began that the Milwaukee Brewers would be on pace to win over 100 games and win 50 of them before the All-Star break, you’d direct me to the nearest psych ward.
But that’s exactly what this Brewers team has done through the first 82 games. They’ve compiled a 50-32 record and have held steady in first place of the National League Central since April 7. The Brewers are also Major League Baseball’s first team to 50 wins. More importantly, they keep finding a way to get it done.
The start to the 2014 campaign is the best in franchise history and is being done with everyone on the roster chipping in at some point. Take a look at nearly every spot on the roster and there really isn’t an especially weak position. Before the season began, I spoke of the importance the outfield and pitching would play in determining if this team is for real or not. However, the infield has gone above and beyond in assuring fans that the 2014 Brewers are for real.
There’s no better place to start than behind home plate. Jonathan Lucroy (.330/.401/.509) is playing at a very high level and has been designated as the Brewers first-half leader. If the season were to end today, you’d have to put Lucroy as a top candidate for the NL’s Most Valuable Player award. Lucroy’s batting average is third in the MLB, and he’s already tallied the most doubles (26) of his career. His 96 total hits lead the Brewers and he’s struck out just 33 times; last in the Brewers’ everyday roster. Lucroy is seeing the ball better than he ever has and is responsible for, in my opinion, the best moment of the season thus far. Defensively, you could argue there’s no better catcher in all of baseball right now. Lucroy’s .996 fielding percentage is third in the MLB and there aren’t many catchers better at pitch framing than him. It’s hard to see where this Brewers team would be at if Lucroy wasn’t the factor that he currently is.
First base is arguably the clubs’ weakest spot, with Mark Reynolds (.218/.314/.410) and Lyle Overbay (.238/.323/.347) doing their best to hold their own. Though he’s struggling at the plate and leading the team in strikeouts (82), Reynolds is second on the team in home runs (13) and diamond gems like this one and this one have made him a solid starter at first or third base (if Ramirez needs a day off). It’s important to keep guys like Overbay and Reynolds around, if even for more of a veteran leadership role. Clearly this is a position the Brewers could improve upon in the off-season, but for the time being the combination is working.
Though I was skeptical to begin the season, the platoon of Rickie Weeks (.276/.343/.425) and Scooter Gennett (.311/.349/.487) has paid off. In the last year of his contract (with a club option after the season), Weeks has performed well when called on. Clearly he’s not an everyday starter, but Weeks still has the speed and the ability to cover the infield with the best of them. Then you add Scooter, and it’s an entirely different dimension at second. In his first full season in the MLB, Gennett has delivered. He’s finally beginning to find his stride at the plate, including a grand slam on Wednesday and is literally on fire after consecutive days of hitting a homer. The combination of Weeks/Scooter has helped to turn a total of 46 double plays thus far, with Scooter accounting for 32 of them already.
At shortstop, Jean Segura (.243/.276/.333) has started the most games so far (78) for the Brewers and has constantly produced stellar defensive plays. Segura’s turned 44 double plays, has a .969 fielding percentage and can cover just about anywhere in the infield. He had a slow start at the plate to begin the season, but his speed makes him a threat to leg out a simple groundball and turn it into a single. Don’t forget about his intelligence on the bases as well (hehe). It’s hard to believe that the Brewers only gave up a half-seasons work of Zack Greinke to the LA Angels in exchange for such talent, either way…thanks!!
The guy who doesn’t get a whole lot of credit in the lineup is Aramis Ramirez (.295/.342/.502). Despite missing 22 games in May-June, he has still racked up 40 RBI and 11 homers. Ramirez is normally a guy who has a slow start to begin the season, but picks it up by the end…so it’s nice to see him playing consistently and adding so much to the left corner of the infield. Rightfully so, Ramirez is in first place in voting for the 2014 MLB All Star Game. You can normally expect timely hitting from Ramirez and he’s at his best with men on base. He’s hitting .327 with runners in scoring position and is always a threat to go deep.
So while pitching and the outfield have played a major role in the Brewers’ success in the first 82 games, look no further than the mix of young players and veterans in the infield. They have avoided injuries (for the most part) and routinely make plays to retire batters and bolster the pitching.