OK, Brewers fans, let’s play the glad game!
Yes, the Brewers went into the break on a sour note, losing 11 of 12 games before beating the Cardinals on Sunday. That stretch cannot be allowed to overshadow the other 3 months of the season, though, where the Brewers were among the very best teams in baseball and still sit within half a game of the best record in the entire National League. So let’s count our blessings…
1) The Brewers are 10 games over .500 and in sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
Back in our preseason survey, our 10 responding staffers came up with a range of 80-88 wins for the Brewers, oddly enough working out to an 84 win average right on the nose. Over the first 96 games of the season, the Brewers have won 53, which puts them on a pace for 89.4 wins. Yes, they did struggle once the calender turned to July and it remains to be seen if they can find a way to stabilize and have the sorts of winning streaks in the second half that it will take to get up to that 90 win pace. Still, it’s very hard to make a case that the Brewers first “half” was anything other than a success, measured against reasonable expectations people may have placed on them.
2) The Brewers offense is pretty good.
Perhaps the most important driving factor of the Brewers success in the first half of the season has been the ability of the offense to score runs. The Brewers scored 423 runs in 96 games, good for an average of 4.41 runs per game. That was good for second best in the NL behind the Colorado Rockies and their Coors Park-assisted 4.76 R/G. It was also nearly a half a run better than the 3.99 R/G league average. They’ve done it with a slightly above league average on-base percent, a well above league average slugging percent and productive baserunning.
3) Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomezare legitimate MVP candidates.
That Carlos Gomez is top five in MLB in Fangraphs measurement of Wins Above Replacement with 4.3 shouldn’t be a surprise. Gomez ended 2013 fifth in Fangraphs WAR and seems to have settled into a career peak period where he’s among the best players in the game. Jonathan Lucroy’s emergence as a top flight player is a newer development, though. He currently sits at 9th with 3.7 fWAR and that is without taking into account Lucroy’s exceptional ability in framing pitches. If the top catchers really are capable of adding 3+ wins through pitch framing, it’s quite possible that Lucroy could end the season as the most valuable player in the whole game. Of course it doesn’t end there for the Brewers on offense…
4) The Brewers offense is very deep up and down the lineup.
Beyond Gomez and Lucroy, the Brewers currently feature five other position player on pace to reach or get near two wins on the season measured by fWAR. Despite being limited by platooning and injury, respectively, both Scooter Gennett and Ryan Braun are over the two win mark already. Mark Reynolds defense has somewhat unexpectedly boosted him up despite some offensive struggles while Aramis Ramirez has been a positive on both sides of the ball.
5) The starters are eating innings and keeping the team in games.
Brewers starters go into the break with the second most innings pitched of any team in baseball and fifth in quality starts. Their ERA may be a rather pedestrian 3.86, but by racking up the quality starts they keep their team in a lot of games. That gives the team’s above average offense time to get leads and hand them over to the bullpen.
6) The Brewers bullpen has been good where it matters most.
Like the rotation, there is nothing remarkable about the bullpen’s 3.61 overall ERA, which is good for 15th in MLB so far. What makes this bullpen so good is how the guys who’ve been tabbed to pitch late in games have been at holding close leads. The Brewers pen is 7th in MLB in Fangraphs Win Probability Added statistic, with 3.19. WPA isn’t a perfect statistic, and trying to use it to predict the future is probably not a good idea, but it’s also not the only thing they have going for them. They also lead all MLB bullpens in strikeout to walk ratio, with better than three strikeouts for everyone one walk allowed so far.
6) Playoff odds.
Admittedly, this isn’t as good as it was at the beginning of the month, but it is quite a bit better than it was at the beginning of the season. Baseball Prospectus playoff odds currently puts the Brewers at a better than 50/50 chance to make the playoffs, at 51.2% overall. ESPN.com puts their chances of making the postseason at 52.7%. Our very own Jonathan Judge played with some numbers yesterday and came to the conclusion that, based on projection systems, the Brewers have a very slight edge for the NL Central division over any of the other teams.