By now, most of us have watched the movie “Moneyball,” with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, and have wondered why our favorite team doesn’t develop some sort of hyper-analysis that will give them the edge and win their division even though the other teams seem more talented. Well, it appears that the Brewers, under the leadership of the thirty-two year old Stearns, are doing just that.
During the offseason and at the trade deadline, the Brewers brought in a bunch of talented position players to go along with the ones they had left over from the previous year and the many young prospects they were bringing along in their top-rated farm system. Before the season started, there was some hopeful chatter among fans who thought there may be a chance for improvement over the next few years and a glimpse or two at greatness this season, but I don’t think anyone expected anything even close to this.
At the All-Star Break, the Brewers are sitting pretty with 50 wins. This Craig Counsell led team is currently 5 games over .500, and have a 5.5 game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals and the defending Champion, Chicago Cubs. They aren’t unbeatable by any means, but unlike Brewers teams from the past, they aren’t streaky, and they never give up. If they are even close in a game, it’s easy to start wondering how they are going to come back and win, and a lot of times it happens.
The Brewers have done a lot of the damage with their bats. Milwaukee has hit 138 home runs which is good enough for second overall behind only the Houston Astros. They have proven that at any time they can step up to the plate and crush 1, 2, 3 or even 7 home runs. It seems like power is definitely something Stearns looks for when he builds this lineup. That would just make sense, but there is something less complicated which makes even more sense.
Defense. If you look at everyone Stearns has built around, you will see a common theme between them, at least now. Orlando Arcia has started to heat up with the bat, but it’s his glove and arm at shortstop that have been devastating to opponents. (As a matter of fact, four of the hitters who have been a consistent part of the Brewers lineups were primarily shortstops at one point in their careers.) Johnathan Villar was actually Milwaukee’s starting shortstop last season and has great range and a powerful throw. Hernán Pérez was a shortstop with the Tigers but has played numerous positions for the Brewers, although he seemed to find a home in left field when Ryan Braun was out. Pérez has a strong arm and is able to make very athletic catches in the outfield. Keon Broxton is so fast in centerfield that he is able to play very shallow and still get to the wall in time to take away potential extra base hits. We’ve all seen Eric Thames pick a ball out of the dirt to finish off a double play or make a diving stab in the hole at first to take away a hit. Ironically, it’s possible that the glove was just as important to Stearns in this situation as the stick. The other similar situation is Travis Shaw. Everyone is talking about how he has surprised with his bat but he also has one of the best errorless streaks in Brewers history and makes frequent trips to the highlight reel with his surprisingly athletic plays at third base. One of the biggest defensive additions in my opinion is Manny Piña. He was brought in to Milwaukee specifically because of his ability to block balls in the dirt and to cut down or pick off runners with a powerful and pinpoint accurate arm. In the meantime, Piña has turned into a well rounded catcher. The one glaring exception to all of this may be right fielder Domingo Santana, he has struggled with both the bat and the glove. However, he is improving drastically over the course of the season and has made some plays in the outfield which make it seem possible that he could be one of the future stars of the team.
It seems odd, for a team to build around defense, but it seems fairly obvious that that is exactly what the Brewers are doing. The even crazier part, is that it has worked so well this far. There are a lot of times during a game when you hear an announcer mention how important a big defensive play was, when a shortstop made a diving stop on a ball heading towards the gap to take away an extra base hit and save a run or a catcher picked off a runner to end an inning and stall a comeback attempt. We usually just shrug it off and move on. Apparently, David Stearns hasn’t shrugged it off and seems to be building a potential dynasty around the theory.