Reigning MVP Christian Yelich was lost for the season after taking a foul ball to the knee two weeks ago, but the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t collapse in their quest to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. To the contrary, they shook off the loss of their best player and surged down the stretch even more impressively than they did last season. Assuming you consider the Wild Card play-in to be “the playoffs,” the Brew Crew clinched a berth on Wednesday night with a 9-2 win over the Reds, and at 1.5 games back, the team still has an outside shot at catching the Cardinals for the NL Central crown. It was all exciting enough to get an 85-year-old legend to party like a college kid.
“What we just accomplished is really against all odds,” Ryan Braun said during the postgame clubhouse celebration. “We obviously enjoyed playing this month.”
Milwaukee hasn’t just survived without Yelich—they’ve dominated, winning 12 of 14 games without their star slugger to get to 88-70 on the year. They’ve done this not by hitting the cover off the ball—although they didn’t really collapse without Yelich anchoring the lineup. “The story in this whole thing,” said manager Craig Counsell, “is just how well we’ve pitched.” Their starting rotation doesn’t have any one standout—the closest thing to it is Brandon Woodruff, who has been ultra-limited by an oblique injury. And yet a casserole of deadline pickups, unlikely comebacks, homegrown arms, and overpowering relievers have combined to put up a league-best 2.45 ERA during the span of Yelich’s absence; they’ve limited opponents to just a .182 average over the past two weeks.
Pick a random unremarkable pitcher’s name from the last few years of baseball, and he’s probably contributed to the Brewers in September. Counsell has stretched his 40-man roster to feature 20 different hurlers, all working together in limited roles to help the team. Drew Pomeranz, whom the Giants were happy to unload at the trade deadline, hasn’t allowed a run in 17 of his last 18 bullpen appearances. Gio Gonzalez, who couldn’t make the Yankees’ MLB roster at the start of the season, has an ERA of just 1.47 in 18.1 September innings as he’s transitioned from starter to versatile bullpen arm. Jordan Lyles, traded by the Pirates at the deadline, has seen his team win in each of his last eight starts, and has a 2.39 ERA this month. And of course, the Brewers’ one truly intimidating weapon, Josh Hader, continues to get swings and misses at a terrifying rate, putting up 16.45 K/9 for the year.
It’s foolish to try and make predictions for a one-game play-in round or even a five-game NLDS, so I’m not going to! The streaking Brewers, despite having by far the lowest run differential in the postseason field at +7, have just as much chance at a run in October as anyone else. They did the hard work by extending their season and closing what was a five-game Wild Card deficit earlier this month, even without their best player. They’ve been really good. Now they just have to get lucky.