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Brewers better than given credit for

The Chicago Cubs were thought to be the runaway favorite in the National League Central this season. After winning their first World Series since 1908, Chicago looked like it would be the dominant team for the remainder of the decade with a nucleus consisting of Kyle Schwarber, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and so many others.

Instead, the Cubs are a bumbling mess after losing 11-2 at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon. Chicago now sits 4.5 games out of first place, trailing the team that beat it so soundly … the Milwaukee Brewers.

Nobody is bringing up the Brewers when the best teams in baseball are talked about, and perhaps there are good reasons for that. Major League Baseball is littered with teams that raced out to hot starts, only to fall short as the heat of the summer catches up with them. Looking at Milwaukee, it is hard to see where the pitching staff can rely on over the next two and a half months. Chase Anderson was a revelation this season, but he’s now dealing with a DL stint that is expected to last into early August.

Other than Anderson, Jimmy Nelson is the only starter really worth talking about. Nelson, though, is a non-descript pitcher in his own right, a 28-year-old with a career record of 28-42. Still, Nelson is doing well this year, pitching to a 3.20 ERA with a team-best 112 strikeouts.

Is that enough to get Milwaukee into the playoffs? In most years, no, but the Brewers have an outstanding lineup and the luxury of a bad division.

Milwaukee has gotten serious production throughout the order, including a shocking jolt from Eric Thames. Thames, 30, is pacing the club with 23 home runs. He’s surrounded by a now-healthy Ryan Braun, who went deep against the Cubs on Thursday in the win. Then there are the contributions of men like 27-year-old Travis Shaw, who has mashed his way to a .296 average with 18 home runs and 61 RBI. Shaw is supported by Domingo Santana, a once mega-prospect who is batting .288 with 14 homers, 47 RBI and nine stolen bases.

Milwaukee doesn’t have any one hitter who stands out as the major cog. Braun is likely that guy in the eyes of most, but he’s not the same player he was five years ago. At this juncture, the Brewers’ best feature is that nobody is a weak link, save Jonathan Villar, who is struggling mightily. In that same vein, should the 26-year-old shortstop get back to playing as he did last year, that’s even more reason to believe in Milwaukee.

The baseball world is waiting for the Cubs to wake up, but the Brewers are stealing the division right in front of our eyes.

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