How Have the Milwaukee Brewers Stayed On Top of Their Game?

The Milwaukee Brewers have been one of the biggest surprise performers this season, so how have they managed to stay on top of their game?

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - APRIL 21: William Contreras #24 of the Milwaukee Brewers returns to the dugout on a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 21, 2024 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Milwaukee Brewers are off to an impressive start to their 2024 season. They have the fourth-best record in the National League at 20-13, and they sit atop the NL Central standings despite being a popular regression candidate heading into Opening Day.

The Brewers excel at getting the most out of their players, and that has continued to be the case this season.

They have one of the youngest lineups in baseball, and their offense has managed to take an impressive step forward while their young hitters develop at the plate.

The club subtracted long-time co-aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff from the starting rotation, and they’ve seemingly found a way to compete regardless of who is toeing the rubber for the Crew.

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It might look a bit different than the past several of seasons, but the Brewers continue to find a way to win ballgames. So, how exactly have they managed to stay on top of their game despite all the organizational turnover?

It all starts with their offense, which has been the biggest storyline of the club’s early season thus far.

1. A Step Forward For The Offense

It’s early, but the Brewers have been one of the best offenses in baseball through the first month of the season. They’re third in runs per game (5.26) and OPS (.745) and fourth in wRC+ (115). It’s a refreshing start for an offense that was so stagnant at times last season, and their uptick in production is a large reason why they currently sit at the top of the NL Central standings.

Specifically, the offense has been much more consistent in the early goings of the season. Two areas the club has improved upon is their production with runners in scoring position, and the efficiency from the bottom of their lineup.

When hitting with runners in scoring position, the Brewers are hitting .289 and they are fourth in MLB in slugging percentage (.473) and wRC+ (138); fifth in wOBA (.365); and seventh OPS (.835). It’s a substantial improvement for an offense that has struggled with scoring droughts in recent years, and their performance with RISP has played an enormous role in the overall consistency of the offense thus far.

Secondly, the production from the back of the order has been outstanding through Milwaukee’s first 32 games. Spots seven through nine in the lineup are currently slashing .288/.350/.427 for a .777 OPS. Last season, the back of the order hit just .235 and posted an OPS of .672. It’s inevitably a smaller sample size, but if the Brewers can continue to get strong at-bats from the hitters at the tail end of the lineup, that also plays a huge role in this offense’s stability.

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Several Weapons Elevating Their Game

Several players in Milwaukee’s lineup have elevated their play in the early goings of the 2024 season.

Willy Adames is in the midst of a bounce-back campaign, as he is sporting an .800 OPS and a 129 wRC+ thus far. Rhys Hoskins hasn’t missed a beat in his return to the diamond with his new ball club, as he leads the team in homers (6) while sporting a wRC+ of 120. Even Christian Yelich, who should be returning from the injured list in the near future, was off to a scorching start to the year.

In addition to the veterans stepping up, several young talents such as Brice Turang and Joey Ortiz have been strong options for the Brewers. Ortiz has fit in nicely since coming over from the Baltimore Orioles this offseason, and Turang looks like a completely new hitter this season and has been swinging the bat extremely well to start his 2024 campaign.

However, no player has made more of an impact for the Brewers than backstop William Contreras.

Contreras continues to build upon his breakout 2023 campaign. He has been one of the best offensive weapons in the entire sport thus far, and his ascension at the catcher position is a major reason why the offense is soaring.

His hard hit rate of 57.7% is nearly a 10 percent jump from a season ago and is in the top two percent of baseball. Relatedly, he has one of the best average exit velocities in the entire sport (94.4 mph), and he is sporting a barrel rate of 11.5%, which is well above the league average.

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On top of his impressive quality of contact, he has managed to drop his strikeout rate while maintaining his disciplined approach, and that has led to him being one of the top offensive weapons in the sport through the first month of the season.

In 147 plate appearances, Contreras is slashing .336/.411/.519 while posting the second-best OPS (.930) and wOBA (.407) among National League catchers. Likewise, Contreras is second at the position in wRC+ (165) and tied for the lead in fWAR (1.6). Additionally, he already has 27 RBIs on the year, which is tied for the fifth most in MLB.

Contreras is the engine that makes this offense run, and his step forward is a major reason why the Brewers have been one of the top run producing teams in baseball to start the 2024 season.

Overall, the Brewers’ success may hinge upon the offenses’ stability as the season progresses. In recent seasons, the club could withstand bouts of offensive lethargy thanks to their outstanding pitching staff. However, they’re still adapting to an entirely new starting rotation, and the offense must continue to produce if the Brewers wish to hang around the top of the National League.

2. The Starting Rotation Has Stayed Afloat

As was just alluded to, Milwaukee’s starting rotation hasn’t been as dominant as fans have been accustomed to seeing. Yet, they have found a way to get the job done thus far despite the heavy turnover in the rotation.

They entered the 2024 season down three key long-time starters in Burnes (traded to the Baltimore Orioles), Adrian Houser (traded to the New York Mets), and Woodruff (season-ending shoulder surgery), and they’ve managed to compete despite the rotation looking so much different from a season ago.

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Even further, since the season began, Wade Miley hit the shelf with a tear in his UCL that will require season-ending Tommy John surgery, Jakob Junis only made one start with his new club before hitting the injured list with a shoulder injury, and newcomer DL Hall struggled mightily to start the season prior to hitting the injured list with a knee sprain.

Yet, considering all that turnover amongst their starters, the Brewers have leaned into the “next man up” mentality, and it has helped them win ballgames.

In a pivotal year for Freddy Peralta‘s player development, he has evolved into an ace for the Milwaukee Brewers through the first month of the season. Opposing batters are hitting just .170 against him. In turn, he is rocking a WHIP of 0.98, which is seventh in the NL among qualified starters.

Beyond Peralta are a handful of starters who might not have the same level of name recognition, but they give the club a chance to win each time they take the mound.

Colin Rea continues to out perform his expected statistics and has been an extremely valuable arm for Milwaukee. The Brewers know what they’re getting out of him every time he toes the rubber, and that stability has been massive for this starting rotation.

Rea is 3-0 to start the year with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. As mentioned, his peripheral metrics aren’t as encouraging (5.74 xERA, 4.77 FIP, 4.57 xFIP), but he has gone at least five innings in each of his six starts, and that has been extremely valuable for Milwaukee. His ability to pitch to soft contact and lean on the strong defense behind him will be a formula Rea will continue to utilize all season long.

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Veteran newcomer Joe Ross is second among starters in fWAR (0.4), and it feels as if he has pitched better than his 4.65 ERA would indicate. Ross has done a good job at limiting hard contact, and is generating ground balls at an above average rate of 45.5%. In turn, he has an expected ERA of 3.90, a FIP of 3.92, and an xFIP of 4.41 through his first six starts.

Ross now has an important role in the middle of the rotation, and his offseason signing is proving to be mightily important for Milwaukee.

Bryse Wilson has been spectacular for the Brewers working as a swingman this season, and he is a big reason why the Brewers are in the position that they’re in. He has answered the call since transitioning from the bullpen to the starting rotation, providing the Brewers with efficiency and length in his first few turns through the rotation.

Across three starts, Wilson has a 1.93 ERA with an opposing batting average of just .184. He’s pitching to soft contact, as is illustrated by his 34.4% hard hit rate, and his most recent start was his best outing of the year, in which he went six inning of one run ball while only allowing four hits against the Tampa Bay Rays.

There’s a long way to go in the season, but the starting rotation has stayed afloat thus for the Brewers. This is an area on the roster where they could certainly look to add reinforcements, and they will need to get more length out of their starers as the season progresses in order to compete for a division title. That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed with what the group has done through the club’s first 32 games of the season.

3. Rock-Solid Bullpen

As mentioned, Milwaukee’s starters have struggled with stretching out ballgames in the early goings of the season, and the Brewers’ bullpen deserves a lot of credit for picking up the slack in that area. Their overall metrics may not fly off the page, but their performance is a big reason why the club is in the position that they’re in today.

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Milwaukee’s bullpen has been about average when compared to the rest of the league. They’re 12th in ERA (3.61), 19th in FIP (4.10), and 15th in WHIP (1.25). Moreover, they’re 11th in baseball in fWAR (1.0), but they rank third in MLB in Win Probably Added (3.01). Each of their relievers has an important role in the bullpen, and they’ve heavily leaned upon their deep group of relievers in the early goings of the 2024 season.

In the absence of All-Star closer Devin Williams, the Brewers have utilized several different arms to fill the closer role. Five different pitchers have recorded a save for the Crew, with Joel Payamps leading the way with four of them.

On top of Payamps successfully filling the closer role for the Brewers, there have been a handful of standout performers through the first month of the season who have played a big role in the club’s success.

Perhaps the biggest story thus far has been newcomer Bryan Hudson, who has pitched to a 0.93 ERA across 19.1 innings of work. Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, Hudson has been a pleasant surprise and a key lefty out of the bullpen this season.

Southpaw Hoby Milner continues to hold an extremely valuable role for the Brewers and has settled down after a bumpy start to the year, Elvis Peguero is building upon his breakout 2023 campaign and is one of the Brewers top setup options, and Trevor Megill has emerged as an essential arm and has the stuff to be a devastating closer in Williams’ absence.

All in all, as was the case in 2023, Milwaukee’s bullpen has played an essential role in the club’s hot start. If the Brewers wish to defend their division crown, they’re going to rely upon this group to get the job done.

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Final Thoughts

The Milwaukee Brewers have been one of baseball’s best regular season performers in recent years. Their impressive ability to get the most out of players all throughout their roster has been a key factor in the club’s ability to consistency churn out wins, and that has continued to be the case this season.

Many expected the Brewers to take a major step back this season. Having lost so many key names in the starting rotation heading into Opening Day, it felt like 2024 was going to be a transition year for the Brewers as a new regime starts in Milwaukee.

While it is still plenty of baseball left to play, the Milwaukee Brewers have been one of the baseball’s biggest surprises to open the season. With a slight step back in the rotation came a major leap forward in their offensive production, and the Brewers appear primed to defend their division title.