It is nearly mid-June, the Milwaukee Brewers are in first place and are 11 games over .500 and own the fourth best record in all of baseball. You can make the argument that up to six players could be All-Stars, right now.
But with so much baseball left to be played, does the 2014 edition of the Brewers feel like a playoff team?
In case you’re not sure, let’s take a look back at what happened the last few times the team looked to be a postseason contender at this point* in the year:
The Crew reached 14 games (47-33) over .500 on June 30 with a 13-4 win over the Cubs in Chicago. The victory pushed them to 7 ½ games ahead on their rival to the south. Ryan Braun homered and Ben Sheets improved to 10-3 on the year. Unfortunately, the Brewers would finish 83-79, two games behind the Cubs.
A .500 team at the end of May improved to 44-38 after June and ascended to as high as 16 games over at 60-44 on July 26 after a 6-4 win over Houston at Miller Park in which Eric Gagne picked up the victory in relief. The team lost five straight to end July, but the acquisition of CC Sabathia paved the way for a 20-7 August and the club’s first playoff berth since 1982.
The team built off a mediocre April to 30-25 after May, 44-38 after June and improved to 11 games over at the end of July (60-49) in which they were in 2 ½ games first place following a 5-4 win over Houston when Prince Fielder drove in Braun in the bottom of the eighth. "K-Rod" picked up the win and John Axford worked a perfect ninth. Another hot August (21-7) sealed the deal, and the team peaked at 28-over .500.
* The 2012 team didn't climb over .500 until September.
We asked some of the leading voices on the Milwaukee sports scene for their thoughts.
Dan Needles, Sports Director for WISN-TV, and ESPN Wisconsin
Good question. 2011 felt like a playoff season from the start for several reasons: the trades for Greinke and Marcum, the fact that it would be Fielder’s last season in Milwaukee, and the maturation of Braun as an MVP candidate.
2008 didn’t really feel like a playoff season until the trade for Sabathia. Then, because it had been so long since they had made the playoffs, I think there was more optimism than expectance of the playoffs.
This year, I get the feeling that it is more of a "wait and see" attitude among fans. I don’t think the signing of Garza was enough for fans to expect playoffs, and I think a lot of fans are still waiting to see what Braun will do for a full season. However, because of the fast start, and 2 playoff appearances in the last 6 years, I think there is less giddiness about the success so far. More of a mature reaction from the fans. I sense that just making the playoffs isn’t good enough anymore, and I think that might be a by-product of 2 decades of success by the Packers.
Then again, I could be wrong …
Mike Heller, The Mike Heller Show on The Big 920
The Brewers are a playoff team. Different from 2008 and ’11 in that this team isn't slugging their way to the post season, they are pitching their way. A complete rotation keeps them from struggling through any extended losing streaks (and) better than "good" relief pitching (Duke, Smith, Thornburg, and KRod) prevent heartbreaking late inning losses. Finally, the moves in the batting order and healthy Braun and Ramirez make the offense good, but not great. Feels like it will be a September/October to remember.
Drew Olson, co-host of Alex & Drew on ESPN Wisconsin
I definitely think the Brewers snuck up on people both inside and outside of Milwaukee. After a 2013 season marred by injuries and Ryan Braun’s suspension, I don’t think many people knew what to expect this year.
When I saw the Brewers during spring training, I thought they looked better than the ".500 at best" outfit most national experts were projecting. A few scouts told me they were a team to watch and the consensus was that Matt Garza was a huge boost to the rotation, but that the bullpen was a question mark.
When Ron Roenicke replaced Jim Henderson with Francisco Rodriguez on opening day, it was stunning. So was the 20-7 start. I think that caught people a bit off-guard. When the road got bumpy in May, a number of people were ready to jump off the bandwagon. But, they overcame some minor injuries and managed to maintain their cushion over .500.
This year is a contrast to 2008. That year, the Brewers were good from the outset, but things went crazy when CC Sabathia arrived from Cleveland. In 2011, the Brewers were expected to be strong but Zack Greinke started the year on the disabled list and Ron Roenicke was a rookie manager. Nyjer Morgan, whom they got at the end of camp, provided a big boost during the summer and they added Jerry Hairston Jr. at the deadline and he made a big impact.
This year has an "under the radar" feel. Braun hasn’t been slugging at his usual rate, but Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy look like all-stars and the pitching staff is holding up. Given their history, Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio are likely to add a piece or two in mid-July to help the cause, but it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. Just a minor pickup will put some more wind in the sail as they head into the stretch run.
Once we get to the All-Star break, and people see the Brewers at or near the top of the division with a few guys represented at Target Field, I think there will be more of a buy-in from casual fans who are still on the "wait and see" program.
Bill Michaels, Bill Michaels Sports Talk Network (heard in Milwaukee on WSSP 1250)
So far, yes. Now, it will feel even more like a playoff season if Doug Melvin does something to solidify this team's offensive depth as the trade deadline draws near.
They have quality pitching, really good relief and solid defense, with at least three to five All-Stars on this team. (Gomez, Lucroy, Braun, Lohse, Smith, K-Rod). CC Sabathia and Zach Greinke won't be walking through the door any time soon but with a strong, steady staff, solid defense and an offense that can explode, why not the Brewers?
Now get that one guy to come off of the bench and give you a good bat, they could be on their way.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.