Don’t look now, but the Milwaukee Brewers are probably the best team in the National League. Yes, those Milwaukee Brewers, the ones who haven’t made a trip to the post-season since 1982 – the longest active streak of futility in American sports.
Not only do the Brewers have the best record in the NL at 18-9, but their lineup is packed with a galaxy of young stars, led by first baseman Prince Fielder (aged 22), second baseman Rickie Weeks (24), and shortstop JJ Hardy (24). The always capable and durable Johnny Estrada mans home plate, while the outfield is the very solid trio of Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall, and Corey Hart. And although Kevin Mench has a head the size of Sputnik, he is one heck of a fourth outfielder. The only real hole in the lineup is third base, where Tony Graffinino and Craig Counsell platoon in place of Corey Koskie, who is still out from a concussion he suffered last July.
These players are already stars now, but since they are so young (Jenkins is the oldest at 32), they can only be expected to improve with experience.
But the real strength of this team is its pitching. The Brewers may well have the best rotation in baseball, one through five, with finally healthy again ace Ben Sheets backed by Chris Capuano, Jeff Suppan, and Dave Bush. Even fifth starter Claudio Vargas is 2-0 with a 3.68 ERA and a ridiculous 29 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, the bullpen has been lights out, posting a 3.38 ERA and sporting not one by two proven closers in the back end in Francisco Cordero and Derrick Turnbow, both of whom are striking out more than 15 batters per 9 innings so far. Cordero has yet to allow a run and has only yielded two hits all season.
Some teams roar out to hot starts in April, but it is clear that they are not really that good. Normally we’d be saying that in this case as well (this being the Brewers after all), but looking at the players who are actually on this team, it is difficult to see a scenario in which the Brewers would not be in contention all season, barring a sudden rash of injuries like they had last summer, when Koskie, Hardy, and Weeks all went down for the season.