How Brewers are riding power to top of NL Central standings

MILWAUKEE — The Brewers lost their manager and best pitcher during the offseason. A step back would have felt understandable. Instead, two months into the season, Milwaukee is in a familiar place: atop the National League Central.

Replacing stars and reloading is nothing new for small-market teams such as the Brewers, but what is surprising is that Milwaukee returned to the top of the standings. Its offense ranked third in the National League in home runs entering Wednesday’s games, behind only the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers.

Milwaukee’s explosive lineup has the attention of opponents used to prepping for the Brewers’ vaunted pitching staff.

“Their offense has been really, really good this year. They’re scoring a ton of runs and have a lot of guys performing at really high levels. Last year, they had great pitching and defense and they struggled to score runs,” Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “This year, they’ve flipped the script and they’re really scoring runs. I give them credit for being resourceful.”

Craig Counsell leaving for the Cubs and ace Corbin Burnes‘ trade to the Baltimore Orioles dominated the headlines this winter, but the Brewers quietly upgraded their offense. Now, the moves are paying off.

First baseman Rhys Hoskins, who signed a two-year deal in late January, leads the team with nine home runs. Veteran catcher Gary Sanchez has six (and, so far, his best batting average since 2019) on a one-year deal. Joey Ortiz, acquired from the Orioles in the Burnes deal, and infielder Jake Bauers, another trade acquisition, have also contributed.

“We [acquired] guys for a reason,” GM Matt Arnold told ESPN this week. “Those guys have that kind of pedigree. We weren’t where we hoped to be in power last year.”

Arnold’s additions helped, but they alone didn’t take the Brewers from 25th in slugging last season to sixth in the majors this year.

In all, Milwaukee has eight players with five or more home runs, tied with Baltimore for most in MLB. That list includes holdovers Willy Adames (eight), William Contreras (eight) and Christian Yelich (five), as well as second-year players Blake Perkins (four) and Brice Turang (three), both with power increases since their rookie seasons.

The Brewers have been getting performance throughout their lineup rather than relying on one or two superstar sluggers for power.

“It’s a collective unit understanding you can pass the baton,” manager Pat Murphy said.

That collective unit has come in handy since Hoskins and Yelich have missed time. The Brewers have leaned on Contreras, who is developing into the type of player who can carry a lineup through tough stretches, making the leap from solid contributor to potential National League MVP candidate.

“I’m super impressed with William and what he’s doing,” Hoskins said. “You look at him and see power in him but he’s not a power hitter. He’s a really, really good hitter that accidentally hits home runs, which is always impressive.”

Contreras and his teammates’ focus on hitting for power without selling out for home runs is no coincidence: It’s the product of a philosophy instilled from the start of spring training.

“A lot of our data-driven talks were about what we do well, individually and as a team,” Hoskins said. “And how we can forge a plan or approach to what we do well and then power usually follows.”

It has led to a lineup that ranks in the top 10 in home run percentage, hard-hit rate and ISO power, helping turn a rebuilding year into a possible sixth postseason appearance in seven seasons.

“We’re trying to do both. It’s really tricky,” Arnold said. “We know our challenges being one of the smallest markets. “We’ve had a lot of success to this point but no one wants to sit here and put our feet up.”

If they keep hitting like they have, it’s hard to see the Brewers falling out of first place. Always expected to play good defense and pitch well, Milwaukee’s newfound power has one scout calling them “the little engine that could.” Hoskins, a longtime member of one of the sport’s big-market powers in Philadelphia, believes this version of the Brewers is built to go toe-to-toe with the NL’s heavyweights in October.

“The only surprise is we’re not the same type of market,” Hoskins said. “It’s a testament to pregame work, both physical and numbers driven. It’s putting us in a confident position.”

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