Believe it or not, but the Brewers are back. No one quite knows how they are just 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot, but they are. Just to be in contention after trailing the second wild card spot by nearly 12 games about a month ago, is quite a feat.
With 19 games left in the 2012 season, the Brewers are one of the many teams that are making the N.L wild card race more than interesting. Nitpick as you may, but the Brewers are best armored out of the bunch to craft their way into one of the two wild card sports.
Their pitching isn’t dominant. It’s inconsistent. Yovani Gallardo can replicate an ace on occasion, but he can string together five or six good starts before looking like nothing but terrible in his next start. Aces typically don’t fall under that description, which is why the Brewers can’t rely on their wobbly pitching staff to hold opposing offenses to respectable run totals.
Few factors are working in their favor either.
Miller Park isn’t known to suppress many fly balls from not resulting in home runs. Judging by Milwaukee’s 94 home runs allowed in the lively Miller Park (the second most in the National League), that statement is accurate. But much can’t be expected from the Brewers pitching staff. Management dangled their “true” ace in Zack Greinke the Friday before the trade deadline, and the consistent Shaun Marcum has been injury plagued all year. Randy Wolf was released due to a lack of effectiveness, and now, the Brewers roll the dice with the likes of Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers. Expectations just be too high for those two.
However, pitching hasn’t seemed to hold them back, especially in their home park. You would think it would, but they own a spectacular 44-28 home record despite their lackluster home ERA. But it boils down to one simple reason—they out-slug their opponents. While Miller Park generally doesn’t work in the pitcher’s favor, it most certainly works in hitters’ favor.
Pitching aside, their explosive offense can be slowed by very few pitching staffs in baseball. Even with the departure of slugger Prince Fielder, the Brewers still have an array of weapons to turn to. As a group, they trail just Colorado in runs scored for the National League. They lead the N.L with 107 home runs. And they’re top five in team batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and OPS.
Yet, Rickie Weeks hasn’t contributed much at all. Sure, he just recently caught fire, but he was essentially invisible before late August. So, lately, Rickie Weeks has been Rickie Weeks. He owns a triple slash of .321/.389/.593 since August 25th. During that stretch, the Brewers are 14-5, and have soared back into the highly contested playoff race. Basically, it’s like adding a new player, except Weeks had been on the team all year long, just hiding under a rock.
MVP candidate Ryan Braun leads the charge with his N.L leading 38 home runs. Aramis Ramirez has driven in 91 runs, Corey Hart has been his dangerous self with 27 homers, and under the radar players like Carlos Gomez often come through with big performances. It’s not just Braun. Repeat, it’s not just Braun.
Braun didn’t drive in eight runs over the span of one inning against the Braves on Wednesday night. It was a combined effort. But back to the point, the Brewers offense can outburst for those big innings like they did on Wednesday, and completely bury opponents even when their pitching falters.
Now, they have a steep mountain to climb if they plan on completing their miracle comeback run. They’re close, but close in this race doesn’t mean much seeing that practically every team is close. Heck, even the Padres are close, trailing the second wild card spot by seven games.
The Brewers will play nine of their final 19 games at the hitter friendly confines of Miller Park. This means that the other ten are obviously on the road. Six of those ten games are against the Nationals and Reds, while the other three are against the Pirates. In other words, they are facing the top two teams in the N.L, and a team that they’re competing against in the wild card chase. Granted, they will draw the Astros and Padres in their home park to conclude the season, yet, none those games could have no meaning if the road brings them troubles.
These surging Brewers might be just 6-10 combined against the Nationals and Reds, but they’re offense is lethal. The Phillies might possess great pitching, and the Pirates might have Andrew McCutchen, but the Brewers sturdy offense could lead them back to the postseason.