The Milwaukee Brewers have been riding in first place in the NL Central for the better part of the season now. And while they are well back of the other division leaders, the rest of the lackluster squads in Milwaukee's division have the Brewers set up for a battle for the postseason.
Here are five facts to know as the Brewers get ready to dive into the heart of the season.
Chase Anderson is one of the premier pitchers in the National League.
Anderson really scuffled in 2016, his first season with Milwaukee. He paired a poor walk rate with too many long balls, which led to a mediocre 4.39 ERA and questions about his spot on the team in 2017.
But this year, that has all flipped. He has sliced his walks and home run rate, while seeing a significant uptick in strikeouts (7.12 K/9 last year to 8.37 K/9 in 2017). After hitting a rough patch in May, Anderson has rebounded, allowing one run in 27.2 innings over his past four starts.
Anderson has seen such a turn around that he now ranks seventh among NL starters in WAR (according to Fangraphs). A big part of the Brewers' success can be credited to Anderson's surge to the top of the rotation.
Eric Thames has the best eye in baseball.
Thames' season has hit the brakes a bit after his monster start (he slugged 11 homers in April), but his batting eye still makes him a crucial part of this lineup. The 30-year-old first baseman is walking an MLB-best 17.6 percent of the time, helping him maintain a .396 OBP even though he has only collected four hits this month.
Thames' batting average has clearly been impacted by several nagging injuries. Still, his ability to get on-base makes him a perfect fit for the two-hole in the lineup. Ideally, manager Craig Counsell will be able to slide Ryan Braun into the three-spot between lefties Thames and Travis Shaw, giving the Brewers three power bats in a row.
Hernan Perez has manned six positions so far in 2017.
Perez has developed into the ultimate utility player over the last two seasons. This year, he has forced his way into the lineup every day with his versatility and his bat. Amidst injuries to other players, Perez has stepped in and made an impact.
The 26-year-old spark plug is striking out less than he was in 2016, while bopping more extra-base hits and maintaining a solid .278 average.
Counsell is going to have to figure out which outfielder is the odd man out once Braun returns - right now, it looks like Keon Broxton and his 39 percent strikeout rate might be taking a seat.
The bullpen is one of the worst units in baseball.
Recently DFA'ed Neftali Feliz has been one of the main culprits (6.00 ERA), but several other relievers have not helped the cause. Milwaukee's bullpen has racked up a 4.51 ERA, which ranks 20th in MLB.
Wily Peralta's ERA is pushing seven, and Carlos Torres has already been bombed for six home runs. Even Corey Knebel, who has been filthy all season, has let a few leads slip away.
The Brewers' bullpen was always going to be in a tough spot after trading away Jeremy Jeffress and Tyler Thornburg, the two best relievers on the team last year. Perhaps the recent addition of top pitching prospect Josh Hader will help the pen. Either way, Milwaukee needs to hold onto leads if it wants any hope of sneaking into the playoffs.
Manny Pina has been better than Jonathan Lucroy.
Pina is still splitting time with Jett Bandy, but in his limited chances, the 30-year-old rookie is batting .302/.341/.452 with excellent defensive numbers. Meanwhile, the since-traded Lucroy is posting his worst offensive season since he was a rookie in 2010. It might be time to give Pina the bulk of the AB's behind the plate.