COMMENTARY | Even if the Milwaukee Brewers exceed expectations this season, they know they are going to have their hands full in the NL Central.
A 2-8 start to the season gave the impression that Milwaukee wouldn't even come close to matching those expectations, with many pundits projecting a .500 record for the Brewers in 2013. But a nine-game winning streak, the squad's longest streak in 10 years, turned things around in the blink of an eye.
Part of this can be attributed to the slow start, but the fact that the Brewers remain behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in the standings is because they are two of the best teams in the National League. They never get too high, they never get too low, and it doesn't hurt that they also match up pretty well with Milwaukee.
The Reds already had the pitching in place entering 2013 and bolstered their offense during the offseason by acquiring Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians. Across the Mississippi, the Cardinals have dealt with injuries in the early going, but their starting pitching has been off the charts -- the best in baseball through 20 games by a wide margin with a sparkling 2.38 ERA.
Of course, there is also the potent Cardinals offense, anchored by Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, David Freese and Allen Craig among others. These big bats have St. Louis ranked in the top five in runs. It's really been only the bullpen holding back the Cardinals, and the Brewers know exactly how that feels.
Believe it or not, the Reds' offense has produced more runs than St. Louis, good for second in all of baseball. When you combine that with a pitching staff that features Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey with Aroldis Chapman shutting the door at the end, it's almost unfair.
The Brewers have managed to climb out of the cellar with an impressive winning streak thanks to a much-improved bullpen and a string of quality starts from their rotation, but they will have to continue their winning ways to keep pace with the cream of the division.
For a team that hangs its hat on scoring a lot of runs, Milwaukee's offense has held it back early in the season, but the imminent returns of Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart, two of the Brewers' big boppers, should help to resolve that situation.
Until then, the Brewers need to hope their arms can carry them a little while longer, because falling too far behind either the Reds or the Cardinals will be difficult enough to recover from. But both? That might not be feasible.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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