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The hope going into the 2017 season is that the Milwaukee Brewers would play respectable baseball and win 70 games. We are almost at the halfway point in the season and the Brewers are more than respectable: they are in first place. What’s even more perplexing is that their record is not fluky. In fact, an NL Central Championship run has entered the realm of possibility.
If you are a Brewers fan you are also a pessimist. The Brewers have enough late-season flameouts in their history to prevent you from expecting anything else. Even so, this current team is indisputably decent. They’re on pace to win 84 games because they have talented young players like Corey Knebel, Domingo Santana, Orlando Arcia, and Jimmy Nelson. They also have reliable – if unspectacular – players like Travis Shaw and Hernan Perez to add depth to the roster. The bullpen (outside of Knebel) is another issue, but the Brewers look like a team that could finish above .500. That just might be enough to win the NL Central.
Surprisingly, the Brewers are the only team in the division that has a positive run differential (+17). Just as the Brewers’ success is not a fluke, neither is the overall mediocrity of the NL Central. Take our I-94 rivals as an example.
Despite having essentially the same starting rotation, the Chicago Cubs‘ staff is nowhere near as dominant as it was in 2016. This is not really a shock. Jon Lester is 33 years old and has logged over 2,000 Major League innings. Similarly, John Lackey is 38 years old and has over 2,700 innings on his right arm. Kyle Hendricks will probably turn things around, but he’s unlikely to replicate his 2.13 ERA from 2016. When you pair this rotation with an offense that – outside of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant – lacks batters with an extended track record of success at the plate, the 31-32 record of the Northsiders seems about right.
As for the rest of the division, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 11th in the NL in runs scored (266) with the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them as the 12th “best” team (248). Also: let’s not forget about the Cincinnati Reds and their 4.86 team ERA. For reference the Brewers have scored 313 runs (5th in the NL) and have a 4.17 team ERA (7th in the NL).
In short: 84 wins just might be enough to win the NL Central crown. If you’re looking for more reason to be hopeful, the Brewers just called some top prospects in Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, and Josh Hader. Any contributions they get from that trio will be a huge plus. Ryan Braun will eventually get off the DL (I think) and you have to believe Slingin’ David Stearns will make a trade to bolster the bullpen.
While it’s still too soon for Brewers fans to get geared up for a playoff run, the time to start thinking about maybe getting a bit excited is upon us. The rebuilding process is ahead of schedule.