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No one believes it, but the Brewers are for real

Laden with power, speed and solid pitching, Milwaukee deserves lead
MLB.com

In the National League Central, you have the Cubs with a bunch of folks among baseball's who's who, and they're also the defending world champions. The Cardinals are rarely less than good. The Pirates have been highly competitive more often than not in recent years, and courtesy of perennial standout Joey Votto, the youthful Reds aren't hopeless.

The Brewers? Well, they're in first place.

In the National League Central, you have the Cubs with a bunch of folks among baseball's who's who, and they're also the defending world champions. The Cardinals are rarely less than good. The Pirates have been highly competitive more often than not in recent years, and courtesy of perennial standout Joey Votto, the youthful Reds aren't hopeless.

The Brewers? Well, they're in first place.

That's right, the Brewers, supposedly have been in rebuilding mode the past couple of years or so, but get this: They bash home runs like crazy, they actually can pitch, they have somebody who helps them steal a ton of bases, and they are resilient. In fact, heading into the post-All-Star break, they were 5 1/2 games ahead of their peers in the division, and we're talking about the largest lead ever for a Brewers team heading into the second half of a season.

In case you haven't been paying attention, the Brewers have sat at the top of the NL Central for nearly two months now. They exploded at the end of the first half to win six of their final seven games, including two out of three at Yankee Stadium. So I'm starting to believe they're for real, and so should you.

OK, I'm sure you have doubts, especially if you remember 2014, when the Brewers went from leading the division in early September to finishing eight games behind the Cardinals after dropping 22 of their last 31 games. If you don't believe in the Brewers in general, then get in the back of a long line.

"We were watching this segment on television the other day, and they were asking, 'Is this to be believed, or is this make believe,' or something like that, and one of the questions was about the Brewers making a playoff push in October," Eric Thames said, with wide eyes before the first baseman, slugger and feel-good story for the Brewers eased into a chuckle.

"They're all going on television, 'No, no. The Brewers are a fluke,' and we're just sitting there watching it and going, 'What?' It's not like we've been in first place for two days, and then all of sudden, bam! We're gone. They were saying they were just waiting for the Cardinals and the Cubs to regain their form. Whatever."

Yeah, whatever, because the Brewers have everything they need to keep folk chasing them the rest of the way, at least in the NL Central. Let's start with their ability to crush pitches with ease toward the farthest star, and I'll give you some perspective. My family lived in Milwaukee in 1982, when the Brewers captured the nation's attention with their prolific home run hitters known as Harvey's Wallbangers, named after Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn.

In addition to future Baseball Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, those Brewers spent that year with Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas and Ted Simmons among a slew of Milwaukee players who consistently torched pitchers.

Along the Brewers' way to capturing that 1982 AL pennant, they finished with a Major League-leading 216 home runs. That's impressive, but only until you consider that the current Brewers already have 138, which puts them on pace for 248. Which is ridiculous.

Which is enough for the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Pirates and the Reds to continue this season looking up instead of down at Milwaukee in the standings.

"We're a good team, you know?" Thames said, and he owns a team-leading 23 homers during his first season with the Brewers after he interrupted a mostly average Major League career to become a superstar during the past three years in South Korean baseball.

"Everybody knows about the offense, the home runs and stuff like that, but we have pitchers like [Josh] Hader, who now is one of our lefties in the bullpen, and before, we didn't have a lefty out there. And [Corey] Knebel is at the back end of our bullpen. Nobody expected him to come through the way he has, and he's been tremendous."

For verification, Knebel was the Brewers' only representative in the All-Star Game after he spent the first half using his flaming pitches to produce 14 saves, a 1.70 ERA and at least a strikeout during each of his 43 appearances. The Brewers also just traded a prospect to the Yankees for Tyler Webb to give them another left-hander among their relievers.

Before teams face that improving bullpen, they discover Milwaukee's starting pitching is surprisingly solid, with baseball's eighth-best ERA at 4.08. Zach Davies (10-4, 4.90 ERA), Jimmy Nelson (8-4, 3.30) and Matt Garza (4-4, 3.98) lead a rotation that will strengthen when Junior Guerra returns from a shin contusion.

But forget all of that. The Brewers are the Brewers these days because of their offense, and I'm not only talking about their prowess with the home run. They can steal bases. They're third overall in baseball with 75, and center fielder Keon Broxton is the team leader at 17.

Broxton is among the mostly unknown regulars for the Brewers, ranging from shortstop Orlando Arcia to second baseman Eric Sogard to third baseman Travis Shaw to right fielder Domingo Santana. They're part of a roster that is the least paid in Major League Baseball, but they couldn't care less.

"We come in, and we work hard, and then we play the game, and we don't think about the night before," said Broxton, 27, who is playing significantly more now than he did last year with the Brewers and during his first Major League season in 2015 with the Pirates.

"We're trying to get better every day, and who's ever in the lineup or pitching that day, they're always prepared. All of these guys [in the clubhouse] are confident within themselves to get the job done one way or the other, so I don't think we're here trying to work on stuff during the game.

"We're here to win."

No argument here.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.

Milwaukee Brewers