As the Milwaukee Brewers blasted out of the gates to a 20-8 record in April (and one day in March), the narrative was that the Brewers would fade, that their inexperienced lineup would falter, that their bullpen would wear down, that their lack of a true ace in the starting rotation would doom them to drop from first place in the National League Central.
As Milwaukee stumbled through a 13-15 May, there were all sorts of dubious eyes on the club, faces of the skeptics wearing smug “I told you so” expressions.
Until the Crew ran off an 18-10 June, that is.
Milwaukee nearly fell out of the division lead in July, as they stumbled to a 9-16 mark, but never actually lost the Central’s top spot. They just shared it for a few days with the division’s reigning champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.
But Milwaukee reclaimed sole possession of first place with a win over the Cincinnati Reds on July 21 and hasn’t relinquished it since.
After handing the Los Angeles Dodgers their first sweep since last September (and their first sweep at Dodger Stadium since May 2013), Milwaukee went into an off day with a three-game lead in the Central.
The Brewers are 10-6 in August and are 70-55 on the season, one game behind the Washington Nationals for the best record in the National League.
So maybe … just maybe … it’s time for the narrative to change, because it really doesn’t appear that the Brewers are going away.
There have been hiccups, as every team will experience over the course of a six-month, 162-game season.
But Carlos Gomez proved that his All-Star campaign in 2013 was no fluke, as he has followed up his .284/.338/.506 campaign that included 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases with a .285/.349/.489 mark this year. He hit his 19th homer of the season off Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and reached 20 for the second straight year by going deep again on Sunday. He’s nearing a career high with 62 RBI (he had 73 last season) and has 27 steals.
And he’s been doing it for most of the year out of the leadoff spot.
Behind him in the order is the best catcher no one has ever heard of, although that is changing.
Jonathan Lucroy has 40 doubles, tops in the National League. No catcher has ever led a league in doubles, so there’s that.
He had five RBI on Sunday, running his total on the year to 58, and he hit his 13th homer.
Lucroy is fourth among National League position players in wins above replacement with 5.2, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, the now-injured Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies and Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves.
He’s ninth in the league with a .303 batting average, ninth in the league with a 137 OPS-plus, fourth in the NL with 55 extra-base hits and, just for good measure Lucroy is the fifth-toughest batter in the National League to strike out, averaging 7.8 at-bats per K.
On the mound, Francisco Rodriguez is partying like it’s 2008. Back as a full-time closer for the first time since he was with the Mets in 2011, Rodriguez leads all of baseball with 38 saves—the most he’s had since setting the major-league single-season record with 62 for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
Wily Peralta, just 25 years old and in his second full season, is tied for the major-league lead with 15 wins, but he’s not the best pitcher in the rotation.
That honor probably goes to Kyle Lohse, who has a 3.49 ERA and 1.184 WHIP in his 25 starts and 159.2 innings and brings a veteran presence (and some World Series bling) to the clubhouse.
And then there’s Mike Fiers.
Left for dead—at least from the perspective of his career as a big-league starter—after posting a 7.25 ERA and 1.522 WHIP in 22.1 innings covering 11 appearances and three starts in 2013, Fiers went back to the minors this season and found something.
In 102.1 innings at Triple-A Nashville, Fiers struck out 129 batters—an 11.3-K per nine inning rate that he hadn’t come close to since he was in the very low minors.
He also had a 2.55 ERA and 0.948 WHIP in 17 starts for the Sounds, walking only 17 batters in those 102.1 innings.
He made a cameo in the bullpen in June, making four appearances and allowing two runs in seven innings, before he was recalled to take Matt Garza’s spot in the rotation after the veteran right-hander went down with a rib-cage strain.
He was great in his first start, allowing a run on three hits in eight innings in a 4-1 win over the Dodgers at Miller Park on Aug. 9.
He elevated himself to electrifying on Thursday at Wrigley Field, joining a list of just seven other pitchers in major-league history to strike out at least 14 batters in six innings or fewer, blanking the Chicago Cubs on three hits over six innings.
In two starts, Fiers is 2-0 and has given up one run on six hits in 14 innings, walking two and fanning 19.
That’s a 0.64 ERA and a 0.571 WHIP for those who are interested.
The Brewers have flaws. They do crazy things on the basepaths. Their hitters, for the most part, have the patience of a whistling tea pot.
Somehow, though, they’re second in the NL with 539 runs, despite being 14th in walks. Part of that is because despite employing notoriously free swingers in Gomez and Mark Reynolds, the Brewers have the third-fewest strikeouts in the league.
But here is the inescapable bottom line from Brew City: Every single day since April 5, the Brewers have been in—or tied for—first place in the National League Central.
The skeptics have been waiting 4½ months for this team to collapse.
Perhaps it’s time to consider the possibility that maybe they won’t.