AP NEWS

Brewers: Milwaukee begins homestand leading NL Central

May 23, 2017 GMT

MILWAUKEE — During spring training, Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell were asked repeatedly what they thought were realistic expectations as the team entered Year 2 of a full-scale rebuilding process.

Common logic seemed to suggest a .500 record at season’s end would constitute progress but Stearns and Counsell chose to play coy, suggesting that there were no expectations other than being competitive every day.

So, almost two months into the season, the Brewers sit atop the NL Central Division, six games above .500 and leading the St. Louis Cardinals by 1½ games.

“I don’t think you ever should put limits on a baseball season,” Counsell said Sunday. “David has talked about this, too. You only get so many seasons, I don’t care who you are. Certainly, at the start, why put limits on it? I think we’ll always think like that.”

The offense continues to lead the way — ranked third in the majors in runs, home runs, stolen bases and OPS.

“Offensively, we have been in a good groove all year,” said third baseman Travis Shaw, who is on a career-high 11-game hitting streak. “We have a lot of young, hungry guys. There’s a lot of new faces in this clubhouse, myself included, and when a young team like this clicks at the same time, it can be a fun thing, and I think that’s what we’re in the middle of right now.”

Milwaukee did some work during its recent six-game road trip, taking three of four at San Diego then splitting a weather-abbreviated two-game set with the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

The Brewers’ offense maintained its level of production during the trip despite playing without Ryan Braun (calf) for all but one game, while first baseman Eric Thames (strep throat) was limited to one pinch-hit appearance for the first four games and Shaw (finger) sat out a pair.

Losing your 2-3-4 hitters could be devastating for a team, but the Brewers didn’t miss a beat thanks to players such as Eric Sogard and Jesus Aguilar stepping up and filling the void.

Sogard hit .500 (11-for-22) with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs on the trip. Aguilar batted .353 (6-for-17) with two doubles, a triple, a home run and four RBIs.

“We always want to focus on the guys with the biggest numbers, and rightfully so,” Counsell said. “But I think on this team, right now, there are a lot of guys being the best version of themselves, and that is what has led to a lot of our offensive production is a bunch of guys contributing.

“It doesn’t have to be Eric every day or Ryan every day. Guys have taken their turns being that guy and driving the bus, as we like to say. It’s been a lot of different guys, and that’s to me how you consistently score runs in this league.”

The Brewers have been a surprisingly strong road team, posting a 13-8 mark. It’s been another story, though, at Miller Park, where Milwaukee is 12-11 entering the opener of a six a six-game homestand tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We like playing at home, everybody likes playing at home, and we’re trying to make that into a home-field advantage with the dome,” Shaw said. “The crowd has been coming out in pretty good force the last homestand, so we’re just looking to build off these last couple weeks.”