Despite a couple strong acquisitions this winter, the Milwaukee Brewers were viewed as fringe-contenders coming into the season. Some thought they could sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team. No one thought they would have the best record in the National League.
As the calendar turns to June, that’s exactly what has happened. At 36-21, the Brewers lead the NL in wins by four games.
If you’re wondering how they are doing it, you’ve come to the right place. Here are four reasons why the Brewers have dominated their competition in the National League.
Their aggressive approach to the offseason paid off
The Brewers took advantage of one of the slowest winters in Major League Baseball history. Just as player movement seemed to screech to a halt, the team signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract and traded for Miami Marlins standout Christian Yelich on the same day.
Both players have excelled at the top of Milwaukee’s revamped top of the order. Cain is nearly getting on base in 40 percent of his plate appearances. The move to Miller Park has helped Yelich unlock some of his power. His .492 slugging percentage is currently a career-high.
Jesús Aguilar has come out of nowhere
The 28-year-old Aguilar looks like a much improved player at the plate. He’s slashing .307/.377/.555 over 159 plate appearances. Even if he can’t keep that up the entire season, there are signs this could be a breakout. Aguilar has cut his strikeout rate from 30.2 percent to 24.5 percent. He’s also walking more and has increased his contact rate by a pretty decent margin.
Josh Hader has been dominant
The 24-year-old lefty has somehow built on his excellent rookie season. In 33 innings, Hader has a 1.09 ERA. He’s completely dominated hitters, posting a 55.9 percent strikeout rate. That rate leads the league. Not only that, but the player who ranks second in strikeout rate — Adam Ottavino — is a full 10 percentage points behind Hader.
The Brewers also deserve credit for how they are using Hader. He’s only appeared in 19 games, but Milwaukee is allowing him to go multiple innings when he’s in there. Hader ranks fourth among all relievers with 33 innings pitched this season. He’s gone longer than an inning in 15 of his 19 outings. Hader was a starter in the minors, so using him as a long reliever makes sense. That approach has led to Hader having the highest reliever fWAR in baseball thus far.
But the rest of the bullpen deserves credit too
Hader is getting a lot of attention, but the rest of the Brewers bullpen has been excellent as well. Jeremy Jeffress has a 0.62 ERA over 29 innings. Matt Albers has nearly matched that with a 1.08 ERA. The team has also received strong performances from Jacob Barnes, Dan Jennings and Taylor Williams.
The Brewers starting pitching remains a point of weakness, so it’s even more important that the team’s bullpen remain strong. Either that, or the Brewers will have to consider acquiring another starter as the trade deadline inches closer.
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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik
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