(BaseballStL) -- No one had truly predicted the Milwaukee Brewers would sit in the top spot in the NL central, prior to the start of this season, believing the race belonged to the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds.
But the Brewers rolled through opponents from the start of the season, going 20-8 through the end of April. They continued to dominate the central during May and June, amassing another 31 victories, but a sluggish start to July has allowed the Cardinals and Reds to sneak up in the division race.
First Half MVP: Jonathan Lucroy
The Brewers' catcher is a career .285 hitter, but he's torn through opposing pitchers and posted a .315 average at the break. While his RBI total is low for a number three hitter, at just 44, he has scored 45 runs himself. The highest number of runs he's scored in a season is 59 set back in 2013. Lucroy has accounted for 20 percent of the Brewers 423 total runs scored in the first half, second in all of the NL.
He's also raised his career combined on-base and slugging percentage by 100 points and he's been the number one catching choice for fantasy baseball nuts.
Lucroy started in place of Yadier Molina in the All Star game, but did lose the fan vote to the Cardinals' backstop. Controversy arose when the Brewers marketing department targeted Molina in a campaign to elect Lucroy as the fan favorite, but when comparing statistics, there are two places where the catchers don't come close.
Both catchers have a defensive WAR of 1.0, but Molina's caught stealing percentage surmounts Lucroy's by .486 to .261. Lucroy has thrown out 18 would-be stealers to Molina's 17, but Lucroy has allowed 51 stolen bases. Molina has allowed just 18.
Biggest first half disappointment: Matt Garza
The former Cubs' starter is making $12.5 million this season, the highest of any Milwaukee pitcher, and has collected just six wins and six losses. That's a lot of money for a .500 pitcher at the break. While most baseball experts will diminish a pitcher's win-loss record, it's worth noting that Garza has started 19 games. He's only gained a decision in 12 of those games, 6 of those being negative decisions. Not what the Brewers had in mind when signing the 30-year-old to that large contract.
He's also lacking in the strike out department, amassing just 93 on the year, which doesn't rank in the top 40 among starting pitchers. Even more frustrating for the Brew Crew is his inconsistency with the strike outs.
In 7 of his 19 starts, Garza has struck out 7 batters or more, but in 5 of those same 19 starts he's struck out 3 or less.
Kyle Lohse has a 9-4 record and he's only making $11 million.
Overall first half grade: A-
The Brewers have been in first place since April 5 and haven't let go, but as their lead dwindles, as the Cardinals sit 1.0 back and Cincinnati is 1.5 games, the race between the top four teams in the NL Central gets crazier and tougher. The Brewers haven't suffered any majors injuries to starters, a minor delay with Ryan Braun, but none have been significant. If they stay healthy, the Brewers have a good chance to stay in first place through the end of September.