ST. LOUIS—The Brewers had a message to send to the rest of baseball.
Consider it done.
These guys are good.
It's something the Brewers felt from the start of spring training, but given the missteps of the last two seasons, nobody really wanted to listen.
They can start talking now. No, teams do not get sized for championship rings at the end of April. But a statement can be made, and the Brewers are making themselves heard, loud and clear.
Not even a series-closing 9-3 loss to the Cardinals in late April can obscure what's transpired since Opening Day. The Brewers equaled the best start in franchise history (20-8), and they entered May leading the second-place Cardinals by 51/2 games in the National League Central.
They spent 27 of the first 31 days this season in first, moving into the top spot alone on April 9, and they were a startling 11-2 on the road. It wasn't until June 12 and their 29th road game last year that they won their 11th game away from Miller Park.
The Brewers won their series in St. Louis the hard way. They rallied from 3-0 deficits in the first two games, winning in extra innings against a team that had won 25 of the previous 37 games the two teams had played. And they did it without their Nos. 2-4 hitters—shortstop Jean Segura, right fielder Ryan Braun and third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
“Any time you compete with these guys like we have, where it's a battle, where you have to grind it out, where you come from behind and are winning in extra innings, it gives you confidence you can beat anybody," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “These guys have had our number since 2011. We came in here and had to earn those wins.
“When you have your two best power hitters and an all-star shortstop out of the lineup, and the other guys step up, it is important
. . . It shows how talented we are. We showed tenacity. That's important down the stretch. Now it's May. It is important for us not to let up."
The Brewers learned that lesson a year ago. They had a decent April, finishing the month 14-11, but they lost 22 of their first 27 games in May and never recovered in a division race that not only ended with the Cardinals on top but also saw the Reds and Pirates claim the two NL wild-card berths.
“The last couple years, we dug a hole with a bad start," Braun said. “We made it an emphasis from the start of spring training to make sure we were ready to grind it out. We challenged ourselves to move forward. (Last year) we had a nine-game winning streak, but it was not against good teams, and we were terrible in May. That's not the case this year. This month, almost every team we played was a playoff team."
This season didn't start particularly well. The Brewers opened the regular season slate with a win at home over the Braves but lost the next two games. Then, they took off. The Brewers went to Boston for the home opener of the defending World Series champions and completed a three-game sweep, followed by a sweep of the Phillies in Philadelphia.
“Those are two of the hardest places in baseball to win," Braun said. “That gave us a lot of confidence in what we can do."
And the Brewers haven't slowed down since. Oh, they did lose two of three to St. Louis at Miller Park from April 14-16, but they went into Busch Stadium two weeks later and repaid the Cardinals.
The Brewers have had plenty of contributors. Braun was slugging .591 with six homers before getting hurt. Carlos Gomez has emerged as one of baseball's most exciting stars, and Yovani Gallardo (1.91 ERA) and Wily Peralta (2.56) have been dependable on the mound.
“We've been that team like they are right now, that team that gets off to the good start that sets that level of expectation that this is how it's supposed to look the rest of the year," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team led the NL Central at the end of April each of the past five seasons. “That's what Milwaukee has the benefit of right now. They've got a lot of players that are going to say, 'We're not going to settle for anything less than this.' "
And now the rest of baseball has been put on notice.