The Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-1 in the NL Central tiebreaker on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field and advanced to the divisional series as the top seed in the NL. The Cubs must now attempt to stay alive in the Wild Card game tomorrow against the loser of Monday's second divisional tiebreaker between the Rockies and Dodgers. The winner of that game will face the Brewers in the NLDS.
Here are three thoughts on Milwaukee's victory:
1. The Brewers' superior bullpen was the difference in the game
The Brewers are legitimate threats to reach the World Series because of their two strengths: a deep, star-studded lineup and a deep, star-studded bullpen. The Cubs have the former, but not the latter, and that weakness was exposed in the game-deciding eighth inning. Jesse Chavez pitched two outstanding innings in the sixth and seventh, but Joe Maddon's bullpen melted down when he left the game. Justin Wilson was the first man up in the eighth, and he promptly gave up a single to Orlando Arcia—his third of four on the afternoon—and a double down the line to Domingo Santana. That left runners on second and third with no outs for righthander Steve Cishek, who surrendered a RBI single to Lorenzo Cain. Ensuing reliever Randy Rosario struck out Christian Yelich, but Ryan Braun added a big insurance run with a single off of Brandon Kintzler. When the smoke cleared, four Cubs relievers (with one combined career All-Star appearance between them) had pitched in the eighth. From there, Milwaukee simply turned to arguably the best reliever in baseball and asked him to go get six outs. Josh Hader did just that, striking out three and allowing just a two-out hit by Javy Baez in the ninth.
2. Christian Yelich remains the toughest out in baseball
Christian Yelich was the hottest hitter in all of baseball during the month of September. On the first day of October, it was business as usual for the likely NL MVP. Yelich, who hit .352 with a major league-leading 1.307 OPS last month, knocked base hits in each of his first three at-bats. His second hit was a two-out rocket up the middle off Cubs starter Jose Quintana that drove in the first run of the game. Yelich had a chance to secure the triple crown if he homered in the eighth, but was retired by Randy Rosario. However, the damage had already been done, and the man who played such a massive role in getting Milwaukee to Game 163 was a big reason why they won it.
3. The starters performed admirably in what was always going to be a game decided by relievers
Given the stakes of this game and the way managers think in 2018, it was going to take pretty special performances by starters Jose Quintana and Jhoulys Chacin for either of the them to go deep into the game. Both pitchers did about as well as their teams could've hoped for. Quintana gave up the RBI single to Yelich in the third inning and was pulled with no outs in the top of the sixth after a leadoff single to ... you guessed it, Yelich. Three of the six hits Quintana allowed were off the bat of Yelich; other Brewers went 3-for-15 with four strikeouts off of the lefty. Chacin, meanwhile, was even better—with one exception. After four innings, Chacin hadn't allowed a hit and had faced the minimum, with the only baserunner (Kris Bryant via walk) being erased on a double play. That ended quickly when his second pitch of the bottom of the fifth was launched 429 feet into the right-center bleachers by Anthony Rizzo to tie the game at 1. Chacin did settle down to get five more outs, and Joakim Soria came up with a massive strikeout of Javy Baez with two outs in the sixth after Xavier Cedeno had allowed two straight batters to reach.