When you think about the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers, you probably think about their improbable rise to the top of the National League Central. Or maybe you think about their potent offense, which has scored the second-most runs in the NL.
What you don't think about, at least not right away, is Milwaukee's starting rotation. But you should.
The bats are a significant part of the story, sure. But the Crew's solid stable of arms has quietly fueled their surprising success. The question now is, how far can those arms carry them?
The rotation doesn't have a clear No. 1; it does, however, boast an array of key contributors. Wily Peralta has an MLB-leading 15 wins, and his 3.32 ERA is tied with Yovani Gallardo for the team lead.
Gallardo leads the staff with 118 strikeouts. Matt Garza owns a 1.13 WHIP, best among Milwaukee starters. And Kyle Lohse paces all Brewers hurlers with 159.2 innings pitched.
Garza recently landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique, and Lohse is hobbled by an ankle injury, per CBSSports.com's Dayn Perry. But Mike Fiers has filled in masterfully.
Overall, in three starts, the 29-year-old right-hander has allowed just two earned runs in 21 innings with 25 strikeouts, including a 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 6 SO performance in a 6-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday night.
Collectively, Brewers starters had posted a 3.61 team ERA as of Tuesday, seventh-best in the National League, per ESPN.com.
Hitch that to Milwaukee's offense and you've got a first-place team that might still be flying under the radar.
"Our five main guys are really good," skipper Ron Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "They're not Kershaw, but they're really good."
"Sometimes, we don't get enough credit with our pitchers," outfielder Ryan Braun told Haudricourt. "We don't have the name recognition that some other teams have, but these guys have been incredible."
Some folks are waking up to Milwaukee's unheralded mound men. MLB.com's Mike Bauman, for one, thinks it's high time they got the kudos they deserve:
"At some point this season, the worth of the Milwaukee rotation will have to be fully recognized. Maybe that will require being in first place at the close of business on Sept. 28. But that kind of result, unthinkable in March, is a real possibility for the Brewers now."
Here's how Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez breaks down the importance of a strong starting corps, per FOX Sports Wisconsin's Andrew Gruman:
"We need all the quality starts we can get from our starters. The starters have been going deep in the game, which makes it a lot easier for the bullpen. We've got set roles once again, so you don't have to create or try to reinvent the sixth and seventh inning. We just stick with your plan."
Will the plan translate to the playoffs, when good pitching often trumps good hitting and the strength of a starting rotation (and bullpen) is put to the ultimate test?
That question has yet to be answered. What Milwaukee's hurlers have on their side is veteran savvy. Lohse and Gallardo have pitched in eight postseasons between them, while Garza won the 2008 ALCS MVP with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Talent, as ever, is the trump card. But under the bright lights of October, a been there, done that demeanor goes a long way.
"The guys that we have in this clubhouse, we look forward to that," Gallardo told Adam McCalvy of MLB.com after his showdown with Kershaw. "We're very confident right now with the guys that we have."
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.