CINCINNATI -- Try figuring this one out: The Brewers' offense is better without Prince Fielder. Fielder was a force in Milwaukee's lineup before departing via free agency for Detroit. The Brewers replaced him with third baseman Aramis Ramirez, whose terrific 2012 season is one big reason why Milwaukee, earlier on this road trip, surpassed two key totals from last year, when the team set a franchise record with 96 wins. Last Thursday in Pittsburgh, Ramirez's first-inning home run was the Brewers' 186th this season, one more than all of 2011. The next day in Washington, when the Brewers scored three runs in the ninth inning to stun the Nationals, they also pushed ahead of their run total from all of 2011 (721) with 12 games to play. They also have a better on-base plus slugging percentage.
"Is the hitting guy getting any love for this?" asked another member of the staff. Hitting coach Johnny Narron, the subject of public criticism early in the year when the Brewers' offense was struggling, indeed deserves some credit for its turnaround. Beyond steady veterans Ramirez, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, the Brewers have gotten more than expected from center fielder Carlos Gomez, right fielder Norichika Aoki and catcher Martin Maldonado, to name a few. But several players insisted they were not surprised by the post-Prince numbers. "I thought we would be good when we picked up [Ramirez]," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "He's right up there with the best power hitters in this league. After playing against him for two years already, I knew how good a hitter he was, and with everyone else coming back with the exception of Prince, I had a feeling we would be pretty good." Said Hart, who began the year as the right fielder but moved to first base: "I think [Ramirez] has had a bigger year than a lot of people expected. You figure he would step in and fill the big hole, and it turns out his year has been just as good as Prince's year. Then everyone else who has stepped in for us has found a way to contribute."