For the second consecutive season, the Milwaukee Brewers are off to a hot start and near the top of the National League Central. But no matter how well they play in the near-future, the million dollar question concerning the Brew Crew is whether they will continue to play at a high level throughout the entire season, or fade late in the year like they did in 2017?
So far this season, the NL Central has been extremely competitive. The Brewers (25-18) are tied for first place with the Pittsburgh Pirates (24-17); the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are tied for third place at 22-17, and the Cincinnati Reds (14-29) are in last. Outside of the Reds, you could make the argument that anyone within the NL Central could be crowned division champs after the regular season.
Going into Wednesday night, Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell‘s order was just 19th in team batting average (.241) and 23rd in runs scored (168). At the same time, their lineup features a number of proven commodities and rising stars. Whether it be Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jonathan Villar, or Ryan Braun, the Brewers possess a number of capable bats. They’ve all shown the ability to hit at a high level and/or with consistency in the past. If the Brewers aspire to win the NL Central though, they’ll need their order to wake up and begin to answer the call. And with the amount of proven bats in their order, more production going forward should be feasible.
The most controversial part of the Brewers’ roster has been their starting pitching. While Jimmy Nelson (who has not made a start this season due to a shoulder injury), Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies are proven commodities, a constant criticism of the Brewers’ starting staff is that they don’t have a bonafide ace. Granted not having one can be a problem in postseason play, the Brewers have quietly had one of the more efficient and productive pitching staffs in the game. They owned the seventh best team ERA (3.53) going into Wednesday night and are getting impressive outings from righties Jhoulys Chacin (who had a 3.63 ERA going into Wednesday night) and Junior Guerra (who had a 3.08 ERA going into Wednesday night). The Brewers were also ninth in team ERA last season (4.00).
Yes, not having a surefire ace is a liability, but it’s not as if this team is giving up runs with ease and putting their lineup in a situation to fail. Could going out and potentially pursing a trade for Texas Rangers’ lefty Cole Hamels, Detroit Tigers’ righty Michael Fulmer, or another top-flight starter pay dividends for the Brewers? Sure, in fact, it’s something they would be wise to entertain and go forth with. Simultaneously, acquiring such an arm won’t propel Milwaukee to elite heights or make them the team to beat in the National League.
The Cubs have won the NL Central the last two seasons and made a second-half comeback to get past the Brewers last season. The Cubs have also had their number in recent memory. Winning 17 of their last 27 games with the Brewers dating back to the start of the 2017 season, the Cubs have been able to win pivotal divisional games; the Brewers have not. The Cubs are also 7-1 versus the Brewers this season.The Milwaukee @Brewers have the talent to contend for the NL Central crown, but will they fade, or finish the season strong?Click To Tweet
The Cubs have been productive at the plate and on the hill this season. Scoring the fourth most runs (208) and owning the sixth best team ERA in baseball (3.44) — despite righty Yu Darvish owning a 5.56 ERA and lefty Jose Quintana owning a 5.23 ERA going into Wednesday night — the Cubs have shown they’re a complete team; they’ve just struggled to finish off games. It’s only a matter of time before the 2016 World Champions begin to turn a corner and make a push towards the top of the division.
Will the Cardinals and Pirates be able to maintain their hot starts for the rest of the regular season? On one hand, the Cardinals are immensely struggling at the plate, as them being 26th in runs (164) going into Wednesday night shows. On the other hand, the Pirates are viewed as an overachieving team that’s poised to come free-falling back to reality soon. Until such a slump occurs though, they’re a threat to win the NL Central.
The Brewers are one of the 10 best teams in baseball. But the difference between them and the majority of the other top 10 teams is that they haven’t shown the ability to finish seasons. Last year, the Brewers were on top of the division for the majority of the year, but as the dog days of summer commenced, they couldn’t win the big game when they had to. Will history repeat itself in 2018?
With an improved lineup — that’s still underperforming — and an underrated rotation, the Brewers have the talent to be a playoff team. It’s just a matter of whether they can finish. But if the Brewers can’t avoid the abyss that tarnished their success last season, a summer fade will be inevitable once again.