Heavy Hitting Brewers

Can anything slow down the Brewers offense? Over the past couple of weeks, they’ve dealt with absences from the Eric Thames, Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw — the entire heart of the order — and yet they’ve continued to produce. Even with Sunday’s loss to the Cubs, the Brewers are 10-2 over the past 12 games, a hot streak fueled by an offense that has scored 78 runs, a whopping 6.5 per game, behind a .299/.370/.485 composite batting line.

Milwaukee’s pitching staff is going to be a concern the rest of the season. If anything is going to bring this team crashing down after this fantastic start, it’s the club’s undeniably thin starting rotation. But so far, the Milwaukee Nine has had the most potent offense in the entire league. The Brewers lead the entire circuit with 65 home runs, and their 5.3 runs per game trails only Washington’s 5.8 in the National League. Milwaukee’s only chance at contending over a full season is for this offense to keep up this fantastic performance.

Is there any shot? The Brewers have had a few high-octane offense teams flame out in recent years, most notably in 2007 and 2014, and it would be understandable if Brewers fans were a bit gunshy about trusting this squad. But since we can already acknowledge that this is a season played with house money, a season where the Brewers had no business competing whatsoever according to every single prognosticator, I’m going to indulge myself. I believe in this offense, and here’s why:

1) This team is built to hit at Miller Park
Miller Park has small corner outfields, especially in right field, where the addition of the Beerpen created an extremely short porch for left-handed hitters to target. Over the previous three seasons, Miller Park has been among the top three most favorable parks for home runs from left-handed hitters, with a park factor of 120 or greater over all three seasons.

The two major additions the Brewers made to their offense this offseason, Travis Shaw and Eric Thames, are perfect for this ballpark. Because the walls are so tight, the kind of gap power that leads to doubles and triples isn’t as rewarded as the kind of raw power that can turn fly balls into home runs. With this team currently relying on left-handed power in a big way, as well as sluggers like Domingo Santana in there as well, it should come as no surprise that the Brewers are performing much better at home. They have hit 36 of those 65 homers at Miller Park and own a 63-point superior OPS at home.

The Brewers are still a decent offensive team on the road, where they own a .757 OPS, nine percent better than the league average in the split per Baseball Reference. But the fact that this club has players who are tailor made for the ballpark lends a bit more credence to their excellent play at Miller Park, and gives some reason to believe they can continue it.

2) The lineup has shown remarkable depth
Obviously, Eric Thames has been the story of the season, but the lineup’s success goes far beyond his monster performance. The Brewers have been below average at only two spots in the batting order this year: the leadoff spot, thanks to Jonathan Villar’s struggles, and the sixth spot, where no single player has taken more than 42 at-bats. Naturally, the Brewers have had the best production out of the second spot, where Eric Thames has powered a .289/.401/.620 line. But they’ve also gotten the fourth-best production out of the seventh spot, where Keon Broxton has powered a composite .302/.355/.553 line. And in the eighth spot, huge games from Eric Sogard and Jett Bandy combined with Orlando Arcia’s recent hot streak have produced an .810 OPS, eighth in the league and 98 points above the league average.

When the season first started, I was thinking this club might resemble some of the late 2000s Brewers teams that had extremely top heavy lineups revolving around Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and one or two other solid hitters. But that hasn’t proven to be the case. The Brewers have seven qualified hitters with at least a 110 OPS+, and even if a couple fall off the pace, this is still a lineup that won’t allow pitchers to let their guard down at any point.

3) Eric Thames and Ryan Braun are a dynamic duoIn 2011, Braun and Fielder finished with OPS+ marks of 166 and 164 respectively. This year, Thames owns a 185 OPS+, and Braun sits at a cool 143. Having a duo of such quality hitters back-to-back is such a boon for a lineup. Thames’s plate discipline provides RBI opportunities for Braun, and Braun’s power makes hitters afraid to put Thames on base. Additionally, the lefty-righty double punch of Thames and Braun sets up a gauntlet for opposing managers in the later innings. Even if the lefty specialist can retire Thames, Braun is waiting, one of the best hitters in the league against left-handed pitchers.

Braun has performed at this level before and has been excellent over the past couple of years. Thames, of course, remains a bit of a wild card. But he has always had tremendous power, and the changes that he has made in regards to his approach and his discipline appear substantial. Even if he doesn’t sustain this level, Thames should be a major power threat the rest of the year, and having to retire the duo of him and Braun four times a game will be a terrifying notion for opposing teams.

There is, of course, so much that can go wrong over the next four months. But for now, this Brewers club is an offensive juggernaut, and there are very real reasons for optimism going forward. By all means, Brewers fans should feel free to ride the wave as long as it lasts.

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