With another dramatic win, Crew on pace for 100 wins after winning just 74 in 2013
MILWAUKEE -- At the one-quarter mark of the 2014 season, the Milwaukee Brewers are still playing better than .600 baseball.
Can they be this good? Can anybody be this good? The Crew, after all, is on pace for more than 100 victories. After winning just 74 in a dispiriting 2013 campaign, this is like life on a different planet, a better planet.
The Brewers made all things look possible Thursday at Miller Park. Down, 3-2, to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee appeared to be on the verge of losing a series and finishing a homestand with a 4-5 record.
From the fifth inning into the eighth, Bucs pitchers struck out nine of 11 Brewers hitters. But then in the ninth, against Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon, Milwaukee suddenly could not be retired. Ryan Braun led off with a single. Jonathan Lucroy walked. Mark Reynolds walked, loading the bases.
And then Khris Davis delivered the game-winning two-run single. On yet another cold, damp pseudo-spring day in Milwaukee, the Brewers' world became a brighter place. They had a 5-4 homestand, and they were winning even though cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez was on the disabled list and leadoff man, center fielder and the leading source of enthusiasm in southeastern Wisconsin, Carlos Gomez, was serving a three-game suspension for a set-to in Pittsburgh last month.
The Brewers are now 26-15, not only good for first place in the National League Central, but for the moment, tied with the Giants for the best record in the league.
Has enough evidence been gathered through 25 percent of the season to make definitive and/or extremely positive statements about this club? We asked somebody who is in a position to know, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.
"Yes and no," Roenicke said.
This did not seem to be a particularly conclusive answer. But Roenicke, as usual, had his reasons.
"Yes, I think this is the club we have, but no because there's lots of clubs that play well for 40 games," the manager said. "It's too long of a season. And there's lots of clubs that haven't played well for 40 games and you know they're going to play well. When I look at the records of some of these teams, they're not going to play at .500 all year. They're not just .500 teams."
(Two teams that Roenicke agreed are currently in that category are the Dodgers, and, of course, the defending NL Central and NL champion Cardinals.)
So the sample size isn't big enough to predict greatness based on 26-15, but what can be said is that the Brewers, widely picked to finish fourth again in the NL Central, will be a significantly better club than that, at the very least legitimate contenders for a postseason spot.
"There's a lot of positive things," Roenicke said. "The thing that I talked about coming out of Spring Training was I knew that if everything went right, we would be a good team. Everything has gone right, but the last two weeks, we've had injuries. When I say everything has to go right, that is probably the No. 1 factor.
"We have to stay away from the injuries. And we haven't been able to do that in the last two weeks. Braunie was the first one [on the DL]. So that's the thing that you can't control.
"But I think with the personnel we have, if everyone stays healthy -- not with people having super years, with people having the years that they're capable of having -- I think we're a really good ballclub."
A .634 winning percentage says "really good ballclub" to reasonable people everywhere.
And the clutch performances on Thursday said the same thing.
It looked like the Brewers' offense was completely stymied when nine of 11 Milwaukee batters were striking out, but faith wasn't lost.
"You're thinking, 'Something good needs to happen, somebody needs to get a big hit,'" Roenicke said. "You're scuffling offensively and they're just mowing you down, but you're thinking, 'Somewhere along the line, one of our guys is going to get a big hit.' And then we start off the ninth just that way."
Davis, the regular left fielder, has not been as productive offensively as the Brewers had hoped, but he has specialized in late-game extra-inning hits.
"You look at his overall numbers and they're not where he would like them to be, but he's got some big hits," Roenicke said.
The game-winner Thursday qualified as big, maybe even as immense. What is Davis' approach in clutch situations?
"I just tell myself I can do it," he said. "I feel that I can always help the team win when I'm at the plate. I just let it happen."
Through one-fourth of the season, the Milwaukee club has let it happen to the tune of a 26-15 record. No Major League championships are awarded in mid-May, but yes, the early indications are overwhelmingly positive for the Brewers.