Time to recognize Brewers are no fluke
Conquering Rockies in Colorado latest success for NL Central leaders
DENVER -- All right, it's time to believe.
This is no longer Spring Training gibberish about the Milwaukee Brewers having a chance to be a factor in the National League Central. It's not back-to-back sweeps in Boston and Philadelphia on the first road trip of the season that fed into the confidence in the clubhouse.
It's the first day of summer, and the Brewers are playing every bit as good -- if not better -- than even they could have expected.
Hey, manager Ron Roenicke, who on Saturday morning pushed aside talk about Milwaukee having the best road record in the big leagues and best overall record in the NL, had to fess up in the aftermath of a 9-4 victory over Colorado in Coors Field that only a mother (or the winning team) could enjoy.
"We're playing great," he admitted.
So great that with back-to-back wins in the first two games against the Rockies, the Brewers have clinched a series victory in Coors Field for only the fourth time out of 20 series they have played at the altitude since moving to the NL in 1998. And on Sunday, Milwaukee will be looking for only its second sweep in a ballpark where the club has been swept 20 times.
And this comes on the heels of winning three of four in Arizona.
"To win five of six is outstanding coming to these two places," said Roenicke. "Arizona is some place we have not played well, and then coming to this place. ... It's very tough on us."
Even with back-to-back wins in this visit, the Brewers are 20-40 all-time at Coors Field, their worst record at any NL park, and against a team that has had only four winning seasons since Milwaukee came over from the American League.
The confidence is growing.
Things like a 46-30 record, a 5 1/2-game lead on two-time defending NL champion St. Louis in the NL Central, and that gaudy 26-15 road record can provide a team with reason to be confident.
They are, after all, doing things that no Brewers team before has done. Take a glance at that 26-15 road record, and consider that a year ago, after 41 road games, Milwaukee only had 16 wins, and it wasn't until Aug. 23 that the club won its 26th road game for the season. The Brewers do, after all, have a composite road winning percentage of .440.
In finishing in fourth place in the NL Central a year ago with a 74-88 record, Milwaukee was never in first place except for Opening Day, and it was 37-44 on the road.
This year, the Brewers have been in first place 79 days, tops among NL teams and only one day shy of the Tigers' Major League-leading 80-day stay atop the AL Central.
But then this year, the Brewers have a healthy Aramis Ramirez, the middle-of-the-lineup bat who was limited to 92 games by injuries a year ago, and former NL MVP Award winner Ryan Braun, who between injuries and a 65-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy missed 101 games a year ago.
Kyle Loshe, who starts Sunday's series finale, had all winter to get ready for this season, instead of signing with Milwaukee in the final week of Spring Training a year ago and still stepping into the rotation for the fourth game of the season.
And the Brewers made a four-year, $50 million offseason investment in free-agent starting pitcher Matt Garza, in addition to a low-cost gamble ($3.25 million) on bringing back closer Francisco Rodriguez, who has registered a Major League-leading 24 saves in 26 opportunities.
"When we signed Garza, I think that's when we started to feel something could happen," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
"It showed the front office and ownership felt we were a good team," he said.
But plenty of teams feel like they can contend in the spring. The challenge comes when the season starts.
The Brewers met that challenge early. After opening the season at home losing two of three to the Braves, they went on the road and swept three-game series at Boston and Philadelphia, and suddenly the believers started to show up.
"We swept the defending world champ and we swept series in two places that have the most hostile crowds in baseball," said Braun.
They have pretty much stayed on course since, including winning 10 of 13 games from the Pirates, who claimed an NL Wild Card spot last year, and splitting six games with the Cardinals.
And now they have conquered their demons in Colorado.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.