The most impressive series of the first half of this week belongs to the Milwaukee Brewers. They went into San Diego and swept the Padres, allowing just three runs in three games to a pretty talented ballclub.
The Brewers now head to Chicago to take on the Cubs in a weekend series. They'll be in first place at 11-7 when Friday's afternoon game in Wrigley begins.
Keep in mind, the Padres came into this series at 10-7, having just lost two of three to the Dodgers and simply saying "two of three" does no justice to that series. After a marathon extra-inning affair on Friday and a game that was just about a blade of grass from being tied on Saturday, the Padres weren't too far off of sweeping baseball's best team. At the very least, they showed they could stand toe-to-toe with the Dodgers.
And then the Brewers showed up and swept them, barely allowing an offensive whimper from the Padres.
Of course, those paying attention to the Brewers so far this year wouldn't be taken aback.
We could start with Corbin Burnes, who shut the Padres down Tuesday. After revamping his arsenal last season, he's leveled all the way up to ace status. So far this year, he's allowed just one run in 24 1/3 innings. He's got a 0.37 ERA, 0.33 WHIP, 0.69 FIP and those aren't even the most impressive figures. The 1107 ERA+ really jumps out as laughably impressive even in these tiny samples. How about 40 strikeouts and zero walks? That's the first time in modern history a pitcher has had at least 40 strikeouts without a walk to start a season.
While Burnes deserves spotlight, he should at least share a little of it.
Brandon Woodruff took the victory Monday. He's now sporting a 1.96 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with 26 strikeouts against six walks in 23 innings this season. He gave up three earned runs in four innings on opening day, but has since been nearly untouchable (19 IP, 5 H, 2 R).
Wednesday, it was the work of back-end starter Adrian Houser to get through the opposing lineup a few times. He would give up two runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings of work. He's not one of the top three starters, but he's still sitting there with a 3.32 ERA and the Brewers have won two of his four starts. That'll play from the back-end.
The other top-three starter would be the emerging Freddy Peralta. He didn't stick in the rotation after his rookie year in 2018, but now he's back and looks every bit the part of a frontline starter. Through 18 innings this year, he has a 2.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 31 strikeouts. The 12 walks are high, but he's only allowing an opposing average of .133 and with all that swing-and-miss, he's stranding traffic. And if you haven't seen him pitch, watch for the nasty slider.
Lefty starter Brett Anderson has mostly been good, too, sitting 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.
Overall, Brewers starters this season have a 1.99 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 99 2/3 innings.
We know how stellar the Brewers' bullpen can be behind Josh Hader and 2020 Rookie of the Year Devin Williams (he's struggled a few times this year due to control, but the stuff is still there) with manager Craig Counsell pulling the strings. The group has actually been a bit of a weak link so far, though, and provided quite the stroke-inducing eighth on Wednesday. They had carried a 4.10 collective ERA heading into the game.
Let's also consider the other side here. One might point out that offensively the Brewers haven't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball, entering Wednesday's action 14th in the NL in average, 12th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging. It's true. What's also true is that Christian Yelich has been hurt (only nine games played out of 18). We can't be sure how much offense they'd be providing, but we also know that Kolten Wong and Lorenzo Cain have track records to suggest they could well help the offense. Each has appeared in just seven games, also injured.
Speaking of Wong and Cain, both will also strengthen the defense greatly upon their returns. Along with new addition Jackie Bradley as an excellent defender in the outfield and Omar Narvaez being a greatly-respected backstop, the Brewers figure to field very well this season. In fact, prior to Wednesday's game, they ranked first in all of baseball in defensive efficiency -- which is the percentage of balls put in play converted into outs -- and that's mostly without the exceptional range of Cain and Wong!
We'll go through the necessary caveats that this is but April 21 and the Brewers still have only played 18 games with 144 to go. There's so much more that can happen. Given everything we've seen with the context and circumstances behind it, however, the Brewers look like the best team in the NL Central right now.
Their dominant rotation -- notably Corbin, Woodruff and even Peralta -- has led the way.