Milwaukee Brewers Undergo Resurgence As They Look To Best The Chicago Cubs In Central
The Milwaukee Brewers request your attention. Very quietly, they’ve emerged this season as a team on the precipice of playoff contention. As of May 16 they have amassed a 21-18 record, good for second place in the National League Central division and only a game and a half behind the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s been a rough few years for the Brewers. And by years, I mean decades. Overall the team has had only two seasons with more than 90 wins in the last 25 years.
They haven’t finished above third in the division since 2011, when they won 96 games and lost in the National League Championship Series. That team was led by a steroid-taking Ryan Braun, who is the only remaining member of the Brew Crew.
This season has been different, led by a team-wide offensive explosion. Their plus 23 run differential is actually the best in the division, and the sixth best in baseball. This differential, which serves as a good predictor of team record, is due in large part to the team’s offense. The Brewers have scored 208 runs so far this season, which is the second most in all of baseball, only behind the Washington Nationals. A quick rundown of their roster may leave you surprised that this is the case.
As the long-time face of the franchise, Braun has been productive this year, but has done so while missing roughly 30 percent of the team’s games. The headlines have been taken by the unlikely emergence of Eric Thames and his MVP-like numbers, but the Brewers’ offensive output this season goes beyond his eye popping stats. Up and down the roster, players who have seen their first consistent at-bats at the major league level are producing solid numbers. From Keon Broxton to Jesus Aguilar and Manny Pina, players picked up as throw-ins in trades or signed after being waived have hit very well, all displaying an impressive ability to get on base and hit for power.
Last year’s breakout star was infielder Jonathan Villar, who has struggled to start the season but has recently shown signs of life, batting .318 with a .945 OPS in the last seven days. Left fielder Hernan Perez, who solidified his place as a dependable major league player last season is on pace for an even better year this season.
Since that great 2011 season, the team has undergone a significant rebuilding effort. General manager David Stearns, hired in 2015 as the youngest GM in the league, has retooled the farm system in a big way. Per Baseball Prospectus, the team’s minor league system ranking improved dramatically after Stearn’s hiring, going from number 21 during the 2015 season to number nine for the 2016 season. Prior to this season the team was bumped up a spot and now ranks eighth in the league. As indicated by the high ranking, these players are still in the minors, and therefore not yet contributing on the major league level. Unlike the Yankees, for example, the story of the Brewers’ success this season hasn’t been blue chippers making their way up to the majors and mashing at an MVP level (see Judge, Aaron).
Instead, it’s been players without such pedigree finally seeing their first consistent playing time and making the most of it. The continued development of these players plus the rise of those working their way up from below, like Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray, creates a well-defined path for the future of this team. The league-wide expectation is still that the Chicago Cubs will figure things out and retake their spot as the best team in the league, so the playoffs might not be in reach for the Brewers this season. Next year, though, look out.