First-place Brewers have key elements of World Series champions
Prince Fielder. | Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE - Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers took the lead in the National League Central for the first time in nearly two years after its 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the previously-leading St. Louis Cardinals.
But sometimes, this team doesn't exactly exude a baseball superpower's swagger. In fact, offensively, it can just plain stink.
How does a Milwaukee Brewers team get to first place on the basis of a .255 team batting average, .011 worse than the 5th-place opponents they face this week in Chicago, the Cubs?
Here's how: three key pieces that all championship teams seemingly have to have.
1) Pitching. More so, timely pitching.
My 620WTMJ cohort Jeff Falconio reminds us that the Brewers happen to have three starters with an ERA under 4.00.
And one of them is not named Zach Greinke, who owns a 6-1 record.
Milwaukee owns a 3.58 ERA, 9th best in Major League Baseball.
Throw John Axford's blood-pressure-rising relief dominance (15 consecutive save opportunities converted), and despite the occasional 400-foot flyout like the 2nd out of the top of the ninth Sunday, the Brew Crew's closer has proven he can pitch with the best of them.
Should Milwaukee stick in its current position, with the division and get into mid-October baseball, shrinking its pitching staff to four or even its top three starters could make them the most powerful staff in the postseason.
2) Power. More so, timely power.
The Brewers are the third-best home run hitting team in baseball, behind the superpower New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That power is helping Milwaukee drive in runs better than all but four teams in the National League.
Three Brewers, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks, have 45 of the Brewers' round-trippers.
The first listed in that triumvirate, Fielder, also has produced eight home runs in 10 days, and six of those have come in very timely fashion, tying the game or giving Milwaukee the lead.
Timely hitting has been a weakness of Milwaukee's offense in recent years, a big problem why a talented lineup just didn't go as far as the team expected to go.
3) Winning close games, the product of timely performance.
Those above factors, and Milwaukee's timeliness in achieving results at times when they need it, have made the Brewers winners in the kind of games they need to win in the postseason, where close games tend to be the norm.
Since failing in one-run games in the early stretch of the season, Milwaukee is 8-1 in such contests.
Three listed factors key among world champions
Consider these factors among teams that have won World Series championships
2010 San Francisco Giants: 1st (NL) in ERA, 6th in home runs, 28-24 in one-run games
2009 New York Yankees: 3rd (AL) in ERA, 1st in home runs, 22-16 in one-run games
2008 Philadelphia Phillies: 3rd (NL) in ERA, 1st in home runs, 27-23 in one-run games
2007 Boston Red Sox: 1st (AL) in ERA, 8th in home runs, 22-26 in one-run games
2006 St. Louis Cardinals: 5th (NL) in ERA, 9th in home runs, 22-27 in one-run games
2005 Chicago White Sox: 1st (AL) in ERA, 4th in home runs, 35-19 in one-run games
2004 Boston Red Sox: 3rd (AL) in ERA, 4th in home runs, 16-18 in one-run games
2003 Florida Marlins: 7th (NL) in ERA, 11th in home runs, 27-23 in one-run games
2002 Anaheim Angels: 2nd (AL) in ERA, 10th in home runs, 31-22 in one-run games
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks: 2nd (NL) in ERA, 4th in home runs, 23-25 in one-run games
All of the last 10 World Series champions have been at least in the top half of the ERA statistics in their league. Milwaukee is 6th of 16 teams right now, though rising to 3rd in their league would help them join a class of eight of the last 10 world champions.
Six of the last 10 teams have finished in at least sixth place in their league in hitting home runs, and five of those teams finished 4th or better. The Brewers are tied for first in that category.
Six of the last 10 teams have won at least four more one-run games than they lost. Milwaukee is 15-11 right now, exactly four games ahead of .500 in that category.
Unfortunately, these Brewers are not alone in being among contenders that have these qualities.
Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas and the Yankees each are in the top six in their league in ERA.
The Braves, Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees each stand in in the top six in their league in home runs.
Cleveland and San Francisco are each four above .500 in one-run games.
But Milwaukee is the sole team in the the top six in their league in ERA and home runs, and four games above .500 in one-run games.
Success in those categories in May and June doesn't guarantee a World Series title in October, but if Axford, Braun, Fielder, Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, Weeks and company continue their excellence, they will put the Brewers in prime position to compete for it.
Even if their batting average is just .005 from hitting success one out of every four at-bats.