It seemed like it happened overnight, but suddenly the Milwaukee Brewers have a substantial lead in the National League Central. Courtesy of an eight-game win streak, the Brewers are finding their form at just the right time.
The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds are still close enough to keep the race interesting, so the Brewers will happily build on their momentum to secure their division lead. Here is why the Brewers could lock up the NL Central if they keep playing like this.
Three Reasons the Brewers Are Surging
An Offensive Turnaround
The Brewers have had a disappointing on offense. While they were always meant to be built around their pitching, there simply hasn’t been enough run support. They have the worst run differential of any division leader. They have the sixth-worst team OPS in baseball.
Over their win streak, that number has jumped up to twelfth in the league with a .760 OPS. That doesn’t equate to an elite offense, but it is a step in the right direction. A team with elite pitching can do some damage in the playoffs with a top-half offense.
Christian Yelich was bubbling up in rumors to earn some down-ballot MVP votes, but he has cooled off in recent weeks. Over his last fifteen games, he has only managed to hit .220 with a .614 OPS. He hasn’t hit a home run over that span, either.
Even as their star player has run into a slump, they have averaged 7.25 runs per game over those eight games coming off an ugly three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The trade deadline has carried major implications in the recent uptick in run production. Carlos Santana has an acceptable .701 OPS since becoming a Brewer, but keep in mind that .701 is actually higher than the team’s collective OPS on the season. Taking a closer look at when the Brewers’ offense started to click, over the past 15 games, Santana has an .831 OPS.
Mark Canha was the other starting player added to the lineup at the deadline. He has been just what the Brewers were looking for in their deal with the New York Mets. His stats are, once again, fairly mediocre compared to the elite players in the league, but he has been as much of a catalyst in the recent offensive boom as anyone. In his most recent fifteen-game span, he has hit an incredible .866 OPS with a notable zero in the home run column.
Sal Frelick is one of the most fascinating players on the roster. He has done nothing but impress since his call-up, and contributed another huge game in Sunday’s win over the San Diego Padres. He missed a week with a hamstring injury and went 0-for-5 in his first game back, but returned to his usual tricks. He worked a walk with the bases loaded to bring in a run and a crucial two-run double to crack the game open.
Santana and Canha have been driving forces behind the current win streak, but the entire offense is going to have to step up for Milwaukee to look like a true contender. Here is a list of the wRC+ leaders for the Brewers across all of August. It’s also a complete list of the qualified hitters with at least a 100 wRC+.
The offense needs to keep firing like this come October. Rowdy Tellez recently returned from injury to provide more reinforcements. When the offense is clicking, this team becomes a truly fascinating team to follow.
There is something satisfying about watching a great defensive play. A diving stop in the infield or a home run robbery. The Brewers rank as the second-best defensive team by Defensive Runs Saved, only behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Behind an elite pitching staff, it’s a grueling effort for opposing teams to put up runs.
This is where players like Turang shine on this roster. His bat isn’t an especially keen strength in the lineup, but his defense and athleticism turn him into a fundamental part of the Brewers’ success. Late in the game Saturday night as the Brewers were trying to preserve a tight lead, Turang made two exceptional defensive plays that exemplified the enthralling defensive prowess this team has.
Teams batting against Milwaukee have a .263 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is the best defensive mark in the league. It shows just how important this defense has been this far into the season. Rookies like Turang, Frelick, and Joey Wiemer have seamlessly been folded in to form a lockdown defense.
Pitching Goes a Long Way
Where to start with this pitching staff? Since July 1, the Brewers have the seventh-best starting staff and the third-best relief corps by FIP (fielding-independent pitching).
Let’s focus in on some of those starters, because woof, they have been putting in some work. Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta have been stone-cold aces since July 1. In that timespan, Burnes has a 2.97 ERA and Peralta has a 2.75 ERA. Here are some more fascinating stats for these two starters since that completely arbitrary cutoff date.
Burnes’ BaseballSavant page is still lined with red, showcasing his elite skills, despite his overall season numbers looking below his standard. He’s been striking out more batters, allowing fewer home runs, and allowing a .158 opponent average.
Peralta has been must-see television. Just get him his own highlight show at this point. He has been dominating other teams, striking out more hitters than is necessary, really, but it sure is fun to watch. He broke the record for Milwaukee Brewers’ pitchers strikeouts over a five-game span.
Peralta is striking out 13.76 batters per nine innings while allowing less hard contact. There have been a few minor changes to his pitch arsenal, but only in recent weeks. In August alone, he has picked up his curveball and changeup usage a few ticks, while slightly moving away from his fastball and slider. Each pitch only moved about 3% in usage, so it might not be a notable factor, or it might just be only a small tweak was needed to start mowing down lineups.
Brandon Woodruff is one final starter to highlight here. After missing four months to injury, Woodruff has impressed in three starts since his return. He had one ugly start where he gave up four runs in five innings to the Texas Rangers, but he looked great in his other outings. In those two, he went 12 1/3 innings and allowed three combined runs.
His start against the San Diego Padres on Friday was stellar, as well. He worked six innings while allowing one run on three hits and three walks. He struck out eleven batters, a season-high, but it was all the more impressive that he worked so far into the game with great results after an exhausting third inning.
It was a 0-0 game, and Woodruff had to deal with a sixteen-pitch at-bat to leadoff hitter Trent Grisham which ended in a strikeout. He proceeded to walk Ha-Seong Kim on five pitches and allow a Fernando Tatis Jr. single. Another five pitches, and he ended the inning on a Juan Soto double play.
The Brewers’ pitching is easily one of the best in the league. Continued dominance from that group of players is a must. They have the defense to back them up. The offense looks much better than it did earlier in the season. The Brewers’ division lead is growing, but it is far from over. But they have the opportunity to enter October as a pesky underdog with a unique and entertaining style of play.