In the driver’s seat of NL Central at the midpoint of the season

With a six-game winning streak culminating in a three-game sweep over arch rivals the Chicago Cubs, the Milwaukee Brewers closed out the month of June and reached the mathematical midpoint of the season on a high note.

Milwaukee started the month 29-25 and third in the Central, 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs. The Brewers have won 19 of 27 since then and at 48-33, they have a six-game lead over the rest of the NL Central.

There is still a lot going on between now and the end of September that could ruin Milwaukee’s chances of a franchise record fourth straight postseason berth, but for now, the Brewers have established themselves as the team to beat in the division.

“Nothing is decided, nothing is close,” manager Craig Counsell said after his team erased a 7-run deficit in the first inning to beat the Cubs, 15-7. “But when you give yourself a little space, you give yourself a little margin for error.

“We know that there are many games left. Nothing has happened this week. We have to keep playing baseball well. Nothing on our part changes. We have to keep our heads down and keep playing good baseball. The space is great, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything at the moment. “

As the Brewers prepare to open the second half with a three-game series in Cincinnati, here’s a look back at the good and bad of the past month, and what to watch as the schedule shifts to July.

What went well

Start pitching: setting the tone

The opening pitch has been the foundation of Milwaukee’s success this season, and the story was no different in June when the Brewers’ starters continued to dominate the opposing batter.

Not including rookie right-hander Aaron Ashby, who allowed five runs in the first inning of his major league debut on June 30, the Brewers’ starters combined for a 3.97 ERA while striking out an average of 9.93 batters per nine innings. and a total of 151, the fifth-highest mark in all of baseball.

“We’re getting good starting pitchers,” Counsell said. “The incumbents carried the heavy load like those guys have done all year, but everyone on the staff did their job.”

Counsell has been cautious with his staff this season as they readjust to a normal 162-game schedule after a 60-game roster in 2020. To help monitor the starters’ workload, the Brewers have used a sixth starter in nearly each shift. in the rotation to give each pitcher an extra day off.

That plan will stick for the foreseeable future, in hopes of not just qualifying for the postseason, but making it all the way to the World Series.

“Everyone has taken care of their work, their bodies,” said right-hander Corbin Burnes. “As long as we continue to do that, stay in our routines and prepare, I don’t see any reason why we can’t stay healthy and continue this all year long.”

Josh Hader: Still can’t hit

The Brewers closer made sure the starters’ efforts didn’t go to waste, converting all eight save opportunities while limiting opponents to just three hits and four walks while striking out 18 batters in 11 scoreless innings.

He is 20 of 20 in save opportunities this season and has not allowed a run in 31 of his 33 appearances, including the last 17 in a row thanks in large part to an expanded arsenal of pitches from his fastball, which has scored up to the most average. His career high of 96.1 MPH this season, which is even harder to hit.

“It’s special,” Counsell said. “There is no secret about it. It’s amazing, so you feel good when it reaches ninth. “

Willy Adames: The Lighter

With a month to go before baseball’s trade deadline, president of baseball operations David Stearns and general manager Matt Arnold are undoubtedly looking at ways to improve the list, but will struggle to reach a deal that help the team as much as adding shortstop Willy Adames since he came in in a late-May trade from the Rays.

Adames hit .263 in June (25 of 95) with five homers, 19 RBIs and an .818 OPS while stabilizing at shortstop, where Luis Urias had struggled defensively before the trade.

He has made a significant impact off the field as well, establishing himself as a leader in the clubhouse and on the bench where his energetic personality has propelled the Brewers to the top of the rankings.

“Willy has been brilliant since he was here,” Counsell said. “He has impacted us on the field, off the field, in every way possible and in a good way. It was a great acquisition, there is no doubt that it has made its impact feel incredibly safe. In many ways, the fact that we caught him so early makes a huge difference. We basically get it for every week of the season except six. I know it was a different operation at the time, it was before all the attention to operations started, but I know it was shocking for sure. “

What went wrong

The list of injuries continues to grow: Shaw, Vogelbach go down

The Brewers didn’t lose many games on the scoreboard, but they lost more key members of their roster to injuries in June.

The most notable losses were third baseman Travis Shaw, who suffered a shoulder dislocation while throwing for a ball in Cincinnati on June 9, and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach, who injured his hamstring rounding third base but scored, against the Diamondbacks on June 23.

Both are not expected to return for several weeks, further emphasizing the depth of Milwaukee’s roster.

“We’ve certainly been tested, but we feel good about our depth because we’ve had a lot of guys come forward,” Arnold said. “We are fortunate to be where we are and a lot of the guys that we thought would be good depth pieces early in the season have turned out to help us, which has been great.”

Keston Hiura: Back to the minors … again

The Brewers had hoped hitting prodigy Keston Hiura had come out of his rage when they called him up from Triple-A Nashville on May 24, but despite his impressive numbers in nine minor league games, he struggled again on his return and was demoted. for the second time after. going 2 of 29 with 16 strikeouts in 11 games.

Again, Hiura squashed the ball in Nashville and the Brewers had probably preferred to keep it there a bit longer, but had no choice but to bring it back when Vogelbach was lost through injury.

The good side, however, is that Hiura seems to have gotten his blow back. In six games since returning, he is 6-for-19 (.318) with three homers, nine RBIs and a 1,233 OPS.

“The first step was (to be) successful there,” Hiura said about his demotion. “I was really glad that all that hard work I did at Triple-A those two weeks really carried over to here.”

Whats Next

The Brewers face a challenging month with just nine home games on the schedule. They will also face a heavy dose of divisional opponents, starting with four games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, where they will also play another three-game series at the end of the month.

Milwaukee will play seven straight games against the Reds: four at home before the All-Star break, followed by a three-game set at the end of the break. The Brewers will also see three current division leaders in the Mets, White Sox and Braves.

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