NEW YORK -- "Vanilla good" is how Brewers manager Craig Counsell described third baseman Travis Shaw the other day, finding a fitting description for the way Shaw has steadily propelled Milwaukee's run production this season. It was certainly a departure from Shaw's other, flashier moniker.
On Sunday at Yankee Stadium, the "Mayor of Ding Dong City" worked just as well. Shaw's mammoth three-run home run in the first inning accounted for the first of his four RBIs in a tense, 5-3 win over the Yankees to cap the Brewers' 50-win first half.
"'Vanilla good?' That's good," Shaw said. "That's my personality, that's my temperament. That's a perfect description of what I am."
With 19 home runs, Shaw is already three beyond the career high he set in 67 more games with the Red Sox last season. He leads the Brewers with 65 RBIs, not surprising considering he's batted cleanup all season, with 138 Weighted Runs Created Plus and a .390 weighted on-base average to lead the team's regulars.
Simply put, Shaw was the Brewers' most valuable position player in the first half over Ryan Braun, who has battled injuries since the start of May, and Eric Thames, who has fought to find consistency since his otherworldly April.
"It's been very consistent," Counsell said of Shaw. "No crazy hot streaks, but no prolonged [slumps]. You never ask questions about Travis Shaw."
"I saw it last year when he played against us in Oakland," said Brewers catcher Stephen Vogt. "What he's doing right now, those at-bats, he's so calm at the plate. Even against [Yankees closer Aroldis] Chapman, you felt like he was going to square up his fastball. When he is in the box right now, we all feel like he is going to come through, no matter what the situation is."
Brewers general manager David Stearns signed Thames and made a trade with Boston for Shaw to provide balance. Those additions, plus the continued maturation of developing hitters such as Domingo Santana and Orlando Arcia, have boosted the Brewers' production by nearly a run per game, from 4.14 last season to 4.96 through 91 games this season.
The Brewers strike out more than any other team in the National League, but they also lead the way in home runs (138). And at 5 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central, the Crew has its widest division lead to date.
Does Shaw believe this young, confident team has to be careful as the calendar creeps toward baseball's pennant races?
"It could be an issue down the stretch," said Shaw, who played in the postseason for Boston last season. "I don't think it's going to be nerves. It could be guys trying to do too much, trying to do things they haven't done before. But we've done a pretty good job of calming that down."
He pointed to Thursday's makeup of a May rainout at Wrigley Field. The Brewers won, 11-2, before heading to New York to take two of three from the Yankees.
"Wrigley Field, that's a pretty significant game," Shaw said. "We showed up for that. I think we'll be OK."