Milwaukee's spirits surely had to have been high over the All-Star break. The 2021 Brewers have battled a plethora of injuries and relied on a few trades, acquisitions and promotions to carve a path to first place in the National League Central. Boasting a four-game lead over Cincinnati despite dropping three straight to the Reds to close out a strong first half, Milwaukee is sitting pretty at 53-39 with a franchise record-tying five All-Stars for the third consecutive season (note: There was no All-Star Game in 2020).
To highlight the Brewers’ success, we’ve distributed a few unofficial midseason awards before the team resumes action Friday night:
MVP – WILLY ADAMES
Statistics tell part of the story -- a big part but not the whole tale. The Brewers are 32-16 since May 22nd, an epoch that reverberates as “Willy Adames Day,'' when the 25-year-old infield wizard made his Milwaukee debut and lit a fire in the belly of a club that was searching for energy and confidence. In 48 games with the Crew, Adames has slashed .291/.374/.535 with 15 doubles and nine home runs. He’s provided the Brewers with a consistent bat, plating 30 runs -- Adames has recorded two or more hits in 11 games and reached base safely at least once in all but nine -- and a strong arm and reliable glove in the field. It’s difficult to measure the rest of Adames’ impact because numbers don’t adequately quantify leadership and charisma. It’s not a stretch to suggest the greatest value he has brought to the mix is the effect he has had on his Brewers teammates. From the sky-touching high-fives, to the absurdly cool bat flips and chest pounds and the joy he injects into the ball club daily, Adames has epitomized what being the team’s MVP is all about.
CY YOUNG AWARD – BRANDON WOODRUFF
Consistently dominant perfectly describes Woodruff’s 2021 campaign. Milwaukee’s ace and All-Star selection narrowly beats out fellow Brewers hurlers Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta in this category. How? His team-best 2.06 ERA (not counting closer Josh Hader, 1.49), team-high 113 1/3 innings pitched and .821 WHIP, which ranks third among MLB starters. “Big Woo” as he’s affectionately known has proven big for the Crew in each of his 18 starts -- Woodruff has gone six or more innings 15 times and held opponents to one or fewer earned runs in 12 outings. Teams aren’t taking him deep (see his nine homers allowed) and are mustering 5.4 hits per nine frames.
COMEBACK PLAYER – OMAR NARVÁEZ
Best way to gauge the level of bounce back Narváez has experienced? Just glance at his 2020 numbers -- 19-for-108 (.176 AVG), two home runs and 10 RBI. He’s practically...scratch that...precisely a different player this year. The 29-year-old catcher is slashing .300/.396/.469 (all career bests) with 20 extra-base knocks and 34 runs in 250 plate appearances. Narváez ranks fourth on the team in doubles (12) and dingers (8) and is the only Brewers batter perched 100 points above the Mendoza line. Not to mention on July 3 he became the third catcher in franchise history to tally five hits in a single game. Narváez isn’t just stuffing his own stat sheet, either -- his comeback performance has been critical to Milwaukee’s success. He’s caught more than 500 innings, called countless gems and thrown out base runners on 14 occasions. Narváez, named an NL All-Star replacement, is a catalyst for good things on the top team in the NL Central. Talk about a revival.
BEST SURPRISE – FREDDY PERALTA
Fastball Freddy. Strikeout Freddy. Try All-Star Freddy. Peralta, who became the first Brewers pitcher to strike out the side in an All-Star Game, has blossomed into an elite starting pitcher in 2021. His ascension has solidified Milwaukee’s rotation as one of, if not the best in baseball. The team leader in strikeouts (135) has allowed just 44 hits in 98 innings pitched. Peralta came within five outs of tossing a no-no on his 25th birthday and is blazing the course to career bests in ERA (2.39) and WHIP (.898). He’s fanned at least six batters in each of his 17 starts (he also sat down six the hard way in two innings of relief on Opening Day, so technically 18 appearances with 6+ K). Peralta’s .156 opponent batting average is second best among starting pitchers (Jacob deGrom, .146). Some pundits predicted Peralta’s rise but few likely saw it coming this quickly.
TOP ROOKIE – JAKE COUSINS
The sample size is small, yes, but the sample is head-turning. Cousins, cousin to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (maybe one day, so long as he keeps impressing, he’ll shed this preface), is the latest addition to a strong core of relievers in the Brewers’ bullpen. The 27-year-old righty made noise in his major-league debut June 21 against Arizona, striking out five in two innings of work. He immediately introduced a mean slider and quickly proved he’s got the stomach to escape grisly circumstances. Cousins has fanned 14, walked three, surrendered one lonely hit and has yet to give up any runs across 9 1/3 innings. He earned his first big-league win July 8 in the second game of Milwaukee’s doubleheader versus the Mets. Albeit a small sample size, we’re excited by this rook’s long-term potential in a Brewers uniform.
NASTIEST STUFF – CORBIN BURNES
Confession: This honor could easily be dealt to Josh Hader, who earlier this year became the fastest pitcher to notch 400 strikeouts in MLB history (234 2/3 innings) and received All-Star accolades for the third time in five seasons. But our choice is Burnes -- especially given Hader’s minor meltdown before the break -- and 58 hitters would likely concur. That’s how many batters stepped into the box and whiffed before Burnes allowed his first walk in 2021 -- another MLB record for Milwaukee’s staff. That’s nasty. Actually, that’s disgusting. The 26-year-old ace is maintaining his flamethrower pace, to boot. He leads the Brewers’ rotation with 13.1 K/9 IP and punches out about nine for each free pass he’s permitted. His best performance? Thirteen strikeouts in seven scoreless innings June 6 versus Arizona. Burnes, an All-Star in his own right, has limited teams to two or fewer hits in 1/3 of his starts. In all seriousness, his stuff makes the competition sick.
MOST VERSATILE – LUIS URÍAS
What doesn’t Wicho do? Urías is the rare utility player who swings a big bat. Once believed to be Milwaukee’s everyday shortstop of the future after the Brewers traded away Orlando Arcia, his role was briefly jeopardized by Willy Adames’ arrival from Tampa Bay. Except Urías kept hitting into more opportunities -- his 12 big flies and 42 RBI rank second on the team’s leaderboards -- and the pressure taken off his back at short, paired with mentorship from Adames, did wonders for the 24-year-old’s prowess in the field. He has made web gems at second base in Kolten Wong’s absence and at third with Travis Shaw recuperating on the 60-day IL. Urías three-run homered in a pinch-hit appearance against stingy rival Chicago in April and launched two bombs during the Crew’s “football game” versus the Cubs on the last day of June. Urías also was on the receiving end of the frontrunner candidate for Milwaukee's play-of-the-year. We’re unsure how he’d fare on the mound or in center field but we’re pretty darn certain Wicho is the closest thing the Brewers have to a Renaissance man.
BEST SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE – CHRISTIAN YELICH
There seems to be a correlation between Milwaukee’s tear on the diamond and Yelich’s activity on social media, specifically Twitter. We’re here for it. We love it. We want more of it. More of the lighthearted, simple and sweet and savvy social media posts that Brewers fans (and us, if we're unmitigatedly honest) adore. Whether it’s highlighting an interaction with an opposing fan who shares his name and steals a fly ball in the outfield, acknowledging Big Dan Vogelbach’s legendary Fourth of July onesie or revealing a Tom Brady-esque post-win montage put together, for all we know, in the clubhouse, Yelich is finding ways to cultivate his following while adding flare and fun to what’s been a great first-half run for the Brewers. Sure, all this feels secondary to what we expect from the 2018 NL MVP -- Yelich fought to stay healthy in the early going and is missing far more than he’s mashing after a dismal COVID-19-shortened campaign in 2020. But it remains worth mentioning because it solidified what MLB ought to and likely already knows: Yelich is an MVP-caliber person first and foremost, and we’re privileged to witness his career unfold in the era of social media.
Three of our favorite posts from Yeli: