These Brewers are fun, and they're making us feel things
The Milwaukee Brewers are rolling right now, winners of five of their last seven games and sitting atop the NL Central with a 25-17 record that's second-best in the National League.
But it's not just that the Brewers are winning, it's how they're doing it that's so fun. Since the first game of the season, when impish shortstop Orlando Arcia drove in ghost-befriending Ji-Man Choi – who barely even made the team out of spring training and was sent down to the minors the next day – for the go-ahead run in the 12th inning against the San Diego Padres, through Monday night's 7-2 victory over the first-place Diamondbacks in Arizona, where Milwaukee scored five late runs, including recently acquired Tyler Sandino's inside-the-park home run in the ninth inning.
In between, we've seen wild walk-offs and coldblooded relief pitching. The Brewers have won despite injuries to an already-thin starting rotation and underperformance from some of their biggest bats, thanks to a lights-out bullpen and gutsy clutch hitting. Milwaukee is tied for the second-most one-run games in the NL, and its 10-4 record in such contests is the best mark in the majors.
The Brewers have two of the best relievers in baseball, with veteran right-hander Jeremy Jeffress (0.40 ERA, .072 WHIP with 20 strikeouts and seven walks in 22 1/3 innings) and flame-throwing lefty Josh Hader (1.44 ERA, .052 WHIP with 50 strikeouts and six walks in 25 innings). Milwaukee is 14-0 in games when both players pitch (15-0 when Hader appears), and each has had an epic outing already this season.
On April 22, with the Brewers clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Miami Marlins, Jeffress took the mound with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning. He needed just 12 pitches to retire the side, striking out two batters and helping Milwaukee win the game. Then, in an April 30 win against the Cincinnati Reds, Hader came on with one out in the seventh and produced one of the most dominant relief performances of all time, becoming the first pitcher ever to strike out eight batters in a save of fewer than three innings.
And at the plate, while expected run-producers like Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana and (to a lesser extent) Travis Shaw have gotten off to relatively slow starts, the high-profile offseason additions – outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich – have been as good as advertised, leading Brewers regulars in batting average and on-base percentage at the top of the lineup. Assuming Braun, Santana, Shaw and Arcia return to their normal production, the NL's No. 10 offense should get better.
In just the past week, Brewers fans have been treated to a seven-game run of exhilarating entertainment.
On May 8 at Miller Park, Milwaukee starter Wade Miley had to leave the game against the Cleveland Indians after just one out, forcing Brent Suter into a difficult spot. But the swingman pitcher took matters completely into his own hands, allowing two runs and striking out five in 4 2/3 innings, while turning a fantastic double play and hitting a 433-foot home run off AL Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber in the Brewers' 3-2 win.
When Suter, whose nickname is "Raptor," got back to the dugout after his homer, teammates greeted him with raptor noises and threw confetti. "I just had one of those awesome baseball moments that you'll never forget I guess," Suter said.
Two days later in Colorado, Cain homered on the very first pitch of the game, starter Jhoulys Chacin threw five strong innings against his former team and the bullpen shut out the Rockies the rest of the way in Milwaukee's 5-2 victory. Afterward, the injury-riddled Brewers offered a little amusement in their team notes, listing "Tomorrow's Starter" as "We just don't know yet ... sorry."
"That's one of the things that really made my decision to come here easier. I watched the team play last year...the chemistry, the way they play, they're having fun, they're winning....and that's something I want to be part of, to help them take the next step." -@Jhoulys45 pic.twitter.com/jIFizihZAM— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) December 21, 2017
The next night – Brandon Woodruff ended up making the start, by the way – the Brewers came back from an early 9-3 deficit to beat Colorado in one of the most dramatic ways possible. Down to their last out in the ninth inning, light-hitting catcher Manny Pina blasted a two-run homer to tie the game; then, with two outs in the 10th, Shaw singled in Cain for the go-ahead run in Milwaukee's 11-10 win.
After being shut down by the Rockies on Saturday, Brewers rookie Freddy Peralta provided perhaps the most memorable game of the season Sunday. The 21-year-old pitcher, making his big-league debut in a spot start with his parents in the stands from the Dominican Republic, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and set a club record with 13 strikeouts in Milwaukee's 7-3 win. Peralta became the only starting pitcher since 1908 to have 13 or more strikeouts and one or fewer hits in his first career start.
Prior to today, Freddy Peralta's family had never seen him pitch professionally. Safe to say that they'll be catching more games going forward. And, of course, Mom gets the 13th strikeout ball. #MothersDay #MILatCOL pic.twitter.com/6ci7ixxWkS— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) May 13, 2018
After the game, on Mother's Day, just about everyone was shedding tears of joy, from Peralta's parents and girlfriend to his teammates. "I almost cried," affable first baseman Jesus Aguilar said. "They were so happy, so proud of their son. I was talking with Pina. I said, 'Let's cry. Why not?'" Peralta was emotional too. "I was like, Oh my god, I did it. I'm here," he said. "I almost started to cry. Almost."
And that brings us to Monday night's game, which featured one of the most thrilling plays in baseball. In the ninth inning of their 7-2 win against Colorado, Saladino – in just his seventh game with the Brewers since being acquired from the Chicago White Sox – smacked a line drive to center that A.J. Pollock couldn't catch. Sprinting around the bases, Saladino slid in headfirst to score a pinch-hit, inside-the-park home run, Milwaukee's 28th in franchise history, and afterward he received a confetti shower in the visiting clubhouse.
Based on the Brewers' meager run differential of plus-6, though, which is just the eighth-best mark in the National League and fourth in their own division, they've been lucky to win nearly 60 percent of their games so far. A regression to the mean is coming if they keep playing so many close games. But how can we complain? This club is just too much fun.
From the excellent spring-training "Sandlot" video recreation and reports about their playful chemistry to the goofy dugout dances and mellow manager Craig Counsell's wry press conferences, plus everything Eric Thames says and does, the 2018 Brewers are lovable, exciting and easy to cheer for.
Seemingly everything GM David Stearns has touched has turned to gold. A year after surprisingly winning 86 games and nearly making the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Milwaukee is currently on pace for 96 victories, four more than the Chicago Cubs captured the NL Central with last season.
It's far too early for such sunny projections, of course. Like 10-day weather forecasts in this city, we know all too well the dangers of premature optimism and postseason predictions – the ghosts of 2014's late collapse still haunt Miller Park.
But loose, young, spunky and talented, with a flair for the dramatic, these Brewers feel like a team destined to do something great. At the very least, they're making us feel great things along the way.
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