Every so often, we poll our iHeartMedia Wisconsin sports personalities for their opinions on Wisconsin sports issues for the BIG Roundtable. On this edition: the first-place Milwaukee Brewers... why are they doing so well? Who have been the biggest reasons for the success?
Today's panel on the BIG Roundtable:
Drew Olson, host of The Drew Olson Show in Milwaukee and co-host of The Mike Heller Show @DrewOlsonMKE; Brian Posick, iHeart Milwaukee/Madison sports director and the voice of Wisconsin hockey @brian_posick; Mike Pilch, iHeart Madison sports reporter @mdplich, Armen Saryan, producer/host of The Drew Olson Show in Milwaukee @ArmenSaryan; Mike Sullivan, WBA Hall of Fame sports broadcaster in Eau Claire @Michael10075034; Pete Knutson, iHeart Eau Claire sports director and the WBA's Medium Market PBP person of the year @SportingPete; Mitch Nelles, Milwaukee sports radio host @mitchnelles; Joel Finkelman, Madison producer/host of BIG Sports Saturday @joelfinkelman; Spenser Williams, Milwaukee sports producer @SpenserWilliams; Jimmie Kaska, who routinely overthrew first base from left field in Cadott Little League @jimmiekaska
All photos: Getty Images
How surprised are you at where the Brewers are in the standings at the halfway point of the season?
Drew Olson: I’m quite surprised. The fact that the Brewers have been north of .500 is surprising enough, but it’s been REALLY stunning to see the Cubs bumbling around like they have. I figured the Brewers would be inconsistent, because they have so many young, untested players trying to get established. The Cubs went through it last year. I thought they’d have more poise.
Armen Saryan: Surprised is an understatement. With all the optimism in the world I wouldn't have guessed it. Mostly, because the Cubs struggles would have been impossible to predict.
Mitch Nelles: SHOCKED – not because of their record, but because the CUBS aren’t MUCH HIGHER in the standings
Spencer Williams: Very surprised. I thought they would be in third place at this point.
Brian Posick: Very surprised, even more so considering Ryan Braun missed the last month with a calf injury before returning this week.
Mike Sullivan: VERY … I think they are, too. Now the question is, should they believe it? Should they be buyers or sellers?
Jimmie Kaska: On a scale of 1 to 10, a solid 9. The defending World Series champions reside in-division, and the Cardinals are perennially contenders. Nobody expected much from the Reds, but the top three teams in the division (Pittsburgh) are all playing under expectations, while the Brewers are probably five or so wins over what was expected. Seems like forever ago that their over/under for wins was 69.5.
Joel Finkelman: Obviously, I think we should all be surprised by their current standings. The thing that isn't surprising though is that the team appears to have hit a bit of a plateau. This is a young team and we knew that Eric Thames wasn't going to hit .759 (estimated) forever. Unfortunately he has hit about .105 (estimated) since his initial hot streak. The team we are seeing lately is more of what I expected them to be when the season started. Talented, but ultimately capable of puking away some games due to inexperience.
Mike Pilch: I’m very surprised. It’s still pretty early in the season, but this is unexpected.
Pete Knutson: I’m not terribly surprised since we’re still not out of June yet. The All-Star break isn’t far away so if the Brewers are still hanging on to first at that point you can call me surprised.
What do you make of the success the Brewers have had while Ryan Braun has been injured?
Drew Olson: It’s been amazing that the Brewers didn’t suffer more of a drop-off when Braun was sidelined. He’s still an elite offensive player and a presence in the lineup. I think it was impressive that spirits didn’t sag when he went out, as often happens when a star gets hurt, but this group doesn’t seem to get rattled by much.
Armen Saryan: I think it speaks to their overall depth that they've been able to handle this big of a lineup hit. Many teams wouldn't have been able to. I think smart baseball people still see his value as a great hitter.
Spenser Williams: I think it shows that there is plenty of talent in the organization.
Brian Posick: Without Braun hitting behind him, Eric Thames' production has dropped, but Eric Sogard, Travis Shaw, and Domingo Santana picked up the slack, and Orlando Arcia appears more comfortable at the plate. If the Brewers remain in the mix through the end of July, I don't think they'll deal Braun unless they get 2-3 prospects in return and a young starting pitcher.
Pete Knutson: It’s certainly a good sign for the Brewers. There have been multiple examples of teams across many sports who lose a star player for a long period and figure out how to win without him. The best part for the Brewers is that when he comes back, the Brewers won’t feel like they need to rely on Braun to have a good night to win.
Jimmie Kaska: It's not significant enough to call it Ewing Theory material, but it probably hurts the trade value of Braun. For the Brewers on the field, it doesn't hurt to add him back in now either. He's a good weapon offensively. It's almost like making a trade, getting him back.
Mike Pilch: The Brewers have a young, talented lineup so it’s not too surprising they are scoring runs without The Hammer hitting third. His trade value is likely nil, but I don’t see a Ewing Theory at play here. Getting him back in the lineup only lengthens the Brewers starting nine and makes them more dangerous.
Joel Finkelman: I was a big fan of trading Braun and frankly, I think it's ridiculous that they didn't find away before his 10 year rights came into play. At this point I don't think he really has ANY trade value because teams know he can turn anything down and is consistently banged up. When Braun is healthy he still is an offensive force. Unfortunately, the lengths of the healthy times are getting shorter and shorter.
Mitch Nelles: I think it hurts his trade value, which bums me out. I hope he can come back, rake for awhile, and clear a space for 2018 ROY Lewis Brinson.
This is a two-parter. Who has been the biggest impact in terms of veteran player acquisitions, and who stands out to you among the stable of Brewers prospects?
Drew Olson: I think Travis Shaw has been a consistent producer on offense, and his defense has been better than expected. With Tyler Thornburg recovering from season-ending surgery and Dubon and Pennington on the rise, that deal [with the Red Sox] looks like larceny.
If Orlando Arcia counts, he’s my choice. Scouts and personnel guys have been raving about his defense for years. We’re seeing that every night now and his offense is starting to pick up. The kid is 22. He’s going to be special.
Armen Saryan: It has to be Travis Shaw, I think. Eric Sogard may stake a claim right behind him however.
Orlando Arcia. Very respectable offensive numbers and he is emerging into a pure fielding protégé at short.
Jimmie Kaska: Travis Shaw. The corner infields were not in great hands as of late. Now, with Shaw and Thames, they're getting production from key spots in the lineup. Eric Sogard is a close second.
Orlando Arcia is going to be fun. As he figures out pitchers, he'll be an even bigger part of the future. I'm also a huge Corey Ray fan.
Brian Posick: Travis Shaw. Too bad Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant and Jake Lamb are in the National League; otherwise, Shaw would be an All-Star third baseman.
I really like Josh Hader. Only one hit allowed in 6 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Would love to see him in the rotation.
Spenser Williams: Travis Shaw is the Brewers' MVP so far.
I'm a big fan of what Josh Hader has been able to do in his opportunities.
Mitch Nelles: Travis Shaw. No doubt. Right?
I love Lewis Brinson, even though he struggled [when he was called up].
Mike Pilch: Does Travis Shaw count as a veteran? Otherwise Thames, if he counts as a veteran. If not…wait…does Guerra count as a veteran?
Overall Domingo Santana, who has a good all around game but needs to make better contact. Otherwise it’s Arcia’s glove solidifying things up the middle.
Joel Finkelman: I'm not sure if Eric Sogard counts as a big time veteran, but he's my answer. It would have been Thames (sort of a vet?) but he has been nothing short of a disaster for the last 30-40 games. Sogard has batted about .653 (approximate) and has solidified a decent hold on the second base position. Brewers fans expected a lot from Jonathan Villar and well... let's just say Sogard was a nice addition in the infield.
Well, my boy Lewis Brinson had a pretty nothing-cup-of-coffee with the Brewers, so let's go with Josh Hader for the heck of it. 8.1 innings in his brief time with the Brewers but is yet to give up a run. Maybe he hasn't put together the biggest stats, but he has shown that he may actually have the ability to be a stud pitcher in the near future (and we ALL know how much this team needs that).
Mike Sullivan: Eric Thames... even though he has cooled down somewhat.
Orlando Arcia is starting to “get it” and is fun to watch. I don’t think he’ll ever be a superstar, but I think he’s a key part of “The Process.”
Pete Knutson: I’d say Matt Garza has been a big positive as a veteran in the clubhouse. He surprises me with how well he’s done this season. I wouldn’t underestimate the stability of Stephen Vogt as well. He hasn’t had the offensive production yet, but could be one of those calming presences for the Brewers moving forward.
Lewis Brinson seems like the real deal. I’m excited to see what he can do with the Brewers since he’s hit .381 for Colorado Springs.
Awards time! Name your position player, pitcher, and fielder (defensive) mid-season MVPs.
Drew Olson: Position player is Travis Shaw. Pitcher is Corey Knebel, though Chase Anderson would get some mention. And, defensive stud is Orlando Arcia, without question.
Mike Pilch: Best position player has been Travis Shaw. He’s been very consistent at the plate, and has even added seven steals. Best pitcher has been Corey Knebel. Defensive stud is Orlando Arcia.
Jimmie Kaska: Position player: Travis Shaw, with honorable mentions to Eric Thames (MVP through the quarter pole) and Eric "Babe" Sogard. Pitcher: Corey Knebel. Setting MLB records will move you to the top of this list. Fielder: Orlando Arcia is so, so good. I don't care if he boots one every now and then, he's awesome.
Mitch Nelles: Travis Shaw; Corey Knebel; Orlando Arcia.
Brian Posick: Travis Shaw; Corey Knebel. [ed. note: no fielder picked by Brian]
Armen Saryan: I almost want to give Hernan Perez the best position player award because he has been so good at MULTIPLE positions. I will still settle on Eric Thames even though his numbers have recently fallen. Corey Knebel for best pitcher. He's been incredible. Orlando Arcia is without a doubt the best fielder.
Joel Finkelman: Position Player: Travis Shaw (17 HR, 57 RBI's) - dude has been consistent as heck from day one. Pitcher: Chase Anderson - Before injury was leading team in ERA... has been the defacto 'ace'. Fielder: Orlando Arcia... dude man... this dude is amazing... man. Plus he's batting .279!!!!!
Spenser Williams: Travis Shaw; Chase Anderson; Orlando Arcia
Who is the Milwaukee Brewers' mid-season MVP?
Brian Posick: Travis Shaw.
Spenser Williams: Travis Shaw.
Jimmie Kaska: The stupidity of other teams. Look at this group of cast-offs and poached prospects. David Stearns is your GM of the year. I'm handing in my ballot with Travis Shaw at the top of it, but there are so many contributors on this team.
Joel Finkelman: Travis Shaw: The fact that it isn't Eric Thames is truly a testament to how bad he has been at the plate recrently. Shaw is leading the team in AVG, RBI's, and Hits (of qualified batters). He is doing this while playing quality defense at third base AND dealing with an extremely stressful situation at home with his infant child that he is constantly away from. No brainer here.
Armen Saryan: Picking the best fish out of this pond is as tough as any year I can remember at this point. Not one obvious player stands out anymore with Eric Thames's recent struggles. I will say, with everything he has dealt with: Travis Shaw.
Drew Olson: I’d split it between Corey Knebel, for the job he did seizing the closer’s role when Neftali Feliz flamed out, and Travis Shaw, who has become a dependable producer.
Mike Pilch: Corey Knebel. With just an average reliever the Brewers may have five fewer wins.
Mitch Nelles: Corey Knebel. It’s amazing how straightening out a crooked bullpen can help an entire team
Pete Knutson: Eric Thames gave the Brewers all that early momentum. He has to be it.
Mike Sullivan: Eric Thames.