Before the 2009 season started, there were three teams that were widely viewed as possible contenders for the National League Central crown: the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cubs were the defending NL Central champs, had the best record in the National League in 2008, and were easily the most talented team in the division.
The Cardinals had the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols, several talented role players, and expected to see a return to dominance of Chris Carpenter.
The Reds were the choice of those that like to be viewed as "the smart kid" in the class. They were picked by some to win the division in 2008 and those same people picked them again in 2009. The Reds had very talented young players in their line-up as well as their rotation.
Ninety-nine percent of people that voiced their opinions gave the Brewers virtually no chance at a second straight playoff appearance due to the departures of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets.
The perception was with the losses of Sabathia and Sheets that the Brewers would not have enough pitching to compete with the rest of the division.
The Brewers have not only competed with the rest of the NL Central, but they sit alone at the top of the division. In fact, to those that have watched the Brewers closely this season, the Brewers are actually a better all-around team this season compared to last.
The Brewers play well no matter where the games are held. The Brewers are one of only two teams in the National League with a winning record both on the road and at home. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the other team.
Starting pitching has gone from a perceived weakness to the strength of the team.
Yovani Gallardo has become the ace of the staff that everyone thought he could be. Dave Bush has continued his success from the second half of last season and developed into an upper of the rotation pitcher. Braden Looper and Jeff Suppan have eaten innings and given the Brewers a chance to win almost every time they have taken the mound.
The lone weakness of the staff was Manny Parra. The Brewers have a record of 34-29. If you take away the starts that Parra made, the Brewers had a record of 31-19. Parra was demoted to the minors after Saturday's game. The team won't need a fifth starter until June 27.
The bullpen has been solid for the Brewers as well. They have been led by Trevor Hoffman, who finally gave up his first run of the year on Sunday.
The bats have seen their ups-and-downs this year but several players are having very good years.
The offense has been led by Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Mike Cameron. All three are in contention for an All-Star game appearance. The three have combined for 40 home runs and 128 runs batted in.
Corey Hart has seemed to turn the corner after a slow start. He currently has a five-game hitting streak, including two home runs against the White Sox on Sunday.
JJ Hardy, Bill Hall, and Jason Kendall are all hitting under .230. Kendall as also recently turned things around at the plate, but Hardy and Hall both seem lost when at the plate.
Critics now say it is only a matter of time for the Brewers to be overtaken by the Cubs, Cardinals, and Reds because of injuries that have plagued all three teams.
The other contenders in the division will get players back from injuries and will improve. However, you can also expect Hardy and Hart to turn slow starts around and return to their previous All-Star form.
There is also no reason to think that the starting pitching can't continue to have success. If the Brewers find a fifth starter in their organization or trade for one, it will ensure the chance to win every night.
The bullpen should also continue to be rock solid. Seth McClung, Mark DeFelice, Todd Coffey, and Mitch Stetter have all had great seasons to support Hoffman.
Management has also shown they are willing to do what it takes to maintain a winner. Doug Melvin will not hesitate to make a trade to help the team down the stretch. Owner Mark Attanasio has said repeatedly that as long as the Brewers are in contention that he will approve potential trades to improve the team.
All the pieces are there for the Brewers to continue to reign supreme atop the NL Central. To those that continue to doubt the Brewers, I simply say, keep doubting them. If you don't respect them, they will continue to win ball games against the rest of the league until there is no choice but give them the respect they have already earned.
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