It was supposed to be a run away, one of the surest bets in the National League. The Cardinals would win the NL Central. Even though the Reds and Pirates made the playoffs last year and the Brewers looked to be improved, the Cardinals appeared to have the talent to run away and hide at the top of the division. But so far that has not happened as the Brewers have controlled first to open the season. While it was not expected, there are several factors that have the Brewers seated at the top.
When the Brewers were at their best in 2011, the backend of the bullpen was unstoppable. If they had a lead after seven, closer John Axford and setup man Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) were almost a sure thing to save the game. This year the bullpen not only has a lock down eighth and ninth with Will Smith and K-Rod respectively, but they also have Zach Duke, Brandon Kintzler, and Tyler Thornburg to provide even more depth. Having this loaded bullpen has helped the Brewers hold on to leads and shorten games.
This season there were many questions surrounding the Brewers rotation, but their tremendous start has helped to silence doubters. In their first 48 games, the starters have compiled 34 quality starts. Many argue that the team lacks an ace, but it is hard for opponents to match up with the rotation from top to bottom. No matter who toes the rubber, the club is confident that they will be in the game.
Though Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez are key cogs in the lineup, Carlos Gomez has become the best player on the team. He not only provides Gold Glove defense in center, but he also provides both power and speed in the leadoff spot. As he often swings from his shoes, he may not be the most prototypical leadoff hitter, but his threat to go year on any swing makes him a bat pitchers do not want to face to open games. He made his first all-star appearance last year and is well on the way to his second this season.
Throughout this season the club has continued to overcome the adversity. After dominating a brutal stretch of games to start the season that included games against the Pirates, Cardinals, and Braves, the Brewers have won games with subpar lineups. While having players like Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez miss significant time on the disabled list, the Brewers have continued to overcome with players like Jeff Bianchi and Elian Herrera in the everyday lineup. This ability to win games now gives the players and fans plenty to look forward to when they are back at full strength.
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