Apr. 17, 2014
Around The Horn: Milwaukee Brewing Up Hot Start
Two weeks into the season, we examine the Brewers' early success, Chase Utley's comeback, and more
Veterans Kyle Lohse and Ryan Braun have been instrumental in the Brewers' hot start (AP)
Written by Jake Elman
The Milwaukee Brewers are in first place in the National League Central and have the best record in baseball.
If someone had said before the season that'd be the case on April 14th, most people would have laughed. The Brewers, a team that was dealing with the return of an embattled slugger (Ryan Braun), a player people projected to be a one year wonder (Carlos Gomez), and a questionable pitching staff - yes, those same Brewers would have the best record in all of baseball.
The first place in National League Central part may have been possible, especially with tough opening schedules for St. Louis and Cincinnati, but the Brewers possessing the best record in all of baseball would be impossible. It'd be if anything.
Well, once again, reality defies predictions.
Led by the hot bats of Ryan Braun (.294 on the year, but .417 with three home runs in his past seven games), Carlos Gomez (.373, 4 home runs, 9 RBIs), Jonathan Lucroy (.357 average), and a seemingly forgotten man in Aramis Ramirez (.380 batting average and 9-12 with runners in scoring position) the offense is off to a great start.
The pitching staff has been awesome too, as the golden arms of Yovani Gallardo (2-0, 0.96 ERA, and a 13-3 K/BB ratio) and Kyle Loshe (2-1, 3.05, and 21 strikeouts) have the Brewers at a 10-2 record in their first twelve games, winning the past nine games along the way.
"Our six, seven and eight starters are better than we've had some years," Braun told
When asked about his team's hot start, fourth year manager Ron Roenicke attributed it to the off season moves made by the front office.
"There have been some guys we added here that are bringing not just a better quality on the field, but off the field," Roenicke said. "Some guys are vocal -- [Matt] Garza is very vocal -- and we need some guys like that. These guys have a chance to win here, and that gives you extra energy, and it does for me and the coaches, also."
"I think anytime you play good baseball and are doing things right, you seem to get more breaks," Roenicke added. "When we're not playing well, I know it goes the other way. You see it all the time. Everything is going good."
Let's remember for a second that your record on April 14th doesn't always mean that your team is going to win the World Series or finish with the worst record in the big leagues. The Colorado Rockies were 8-4 on this day last year, while the Tampa Bay Rays, the Wild Card team from the American League, were three games under .500. The Mets were 7-4 last season at this time.
Yet, something seems different about this Brewers team, the same squad I picked to go . Ryan Braun's handled the negative feedback he's received extremely well, and the pitching staff's been fantastic so far. They've surprised many, including myself, but the real test starts tonight with a three game series against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
If the Brewers can take two of three (or even sweep) the Cardinals in Milwaukee, then I'll have a little bit more faith in this team. The second week of April is way too early to make calls based on starts, but taking two of three from the defending NL champs would help their case.
Speaking of hot starts, how about Chase Utley? Through his first 10 games, the veteran second baseman is hitting an insane .500 with three home runs and a 5-2 walk-to-strikeout ratio. If this was 2009, one probably wouldn't be too surprised by those numbers, but this is 2014.
"He's just in a real good zone," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Utley.
Utley, 35, is hitting like it's 2009 again, much to the pleasure of the Phillies. (AP)
To put things into prospective, Utley, once a vaulted home run hitter for a second baseman, hasn't topped twenty since 2009. Utley hasn't had over seventy RBIs since 2009 either; since 2009, though, Utley's had knee injuries and a thumb injury in June of 2009 that seemingly sapped his power away.
Last year, in what was a dismal year for the Phillies, Utley showcased a possible return to the days of yesteryear, hitting .284 with 18 home runs and 69 RBIs, not to mention an on base percentage of .832, his highest since that 2010 season.
"I feel fine," Utley said after Sunday's win over Miami. "I feel like I normally do. I still feel like there's room for improvement."
If the Phillies want to contend this year in a National League East division that seems winnable if you play the right cards, they absolutely need Utley to stay healthy. Many believe that the reason for the Phillies' struggles the past two seasons (and in the postseason of 2011) have been because of Utley not being on the field as much as they'd like. When the Phillies were winning five straight division titles from 2007-11, Utley was the man they needed in the clutch.
During those years, he was the baseball version of say, what Jason Kidd was to the Nets. He wasn't the best in the game, but he was certainly elite, and when he was at the top of his game, there was no stopping him, and ergo his team. I certainly think it's possible that when Utley hangs up his cleats, he'll have a resume worthy enough for a Hall of Fame plaque.
As a long time fan of Utley, I hope that he can keep up his solid start en route to putting up numbers similar to what he once did. Besides, it's hard not to root for someone who responds to !
Look for Utley to keep up his hot start over the next few weeks, and maybe even see the Phillies make a run for the NL East crown. The way that America (and the Yankees) ride on Dunkin, the Phillies run on Chase Utley.
1. Milwaukee Brewers 10-2 (Last Week: 7)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 9-4 (LW: NR)
3. San Francisco Giants 8-5 (LW: 5)
4. Atlanta Braves 8-4 (LW: 6)
5. Detroit Tigers 6-4 (LW: 1)
6. Oakland Athletics 8-4 (LW: NR)
7. Seattle Mariners 6-5 (LW: 3)
8. Washington Nationals 7-5 (LW: 4)
9. St. Louis Cardinals 7-5 (LW: NR)
10. New York Yankees 7-6 (LW: 9)
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