Fresh off a tiebreaker win over the Cubs, the Brewers look poised for a deep October run. The team didn’t spend a day in first play between August 1 and September 28, yet they arrive to the postseason as NL Central champs. Might this be the year Milwaukee ends its 36-year World Series drought?
Here’s what you need to know about the Brewers this month.
As Tom Verducci detailed last week in Nine Innings, the rules of engagement in October have changed. A bulletproof bullpen is needed as a means of survival, and the Brewers wield one of the best in baseball. Josh Hader has been a revelation this year and should receive Cy Young votes (not to mention MVP). Dan Jennings, Corey Knebel and Corbin Burnes serve as a sturdy bridge to closer Jeremy Jeffress, who hasn’t allowed a run in September while enjoying a career year.
What’s more, the Brewers have the likely NL MVP on their roster, and he might not even be the best player in the team’s outfield. Christian Yelich has ascended to superstardom this year after Miami shipped him off to Milwaukee last offseason. Through 24 games in September, Yelich boasts a .349/.491/.759 slash line with 10 homers and 33 RBIs.
Yet the man who patrols centerfield, Lorenzo Cain, has a 7.0 WAR that sits just below Yelich’s 7.2. Cain has been superb in his return to Milwaukee after signing an $80 million, five-year contract as a 31-year-old.
Combine those two with slugging first baseman Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas and veteran Ryan Braun, and you have the makings of one of the playoffs’ most potent lineups. Safe to say, if you can beat the best pitchers and disarm the best hitters (especially in the late innings), that’s a damn good blueprint to win postseason games.
There’s no use in bragging about an elite bullpen if there isn’t a close game for it to protect. Milwaukee’s starting rotation doesn’t match the sturdiness of the team’s relief corps. Only two starters (Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson) reached the 30-start plateau, though neither will notch 200 innings this season.
Consistent starts haven’t yielded brilliance out of either pitcher, though. Lefthanders Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez likely represent the top options for manager Craig Counsell to turn to. Yet neither southpaw stands up—on paper, at least—to the “No. 1 starter” billing that many other postseason teams enjoy.
The Brewers’ October fate hinges largely on the starting pitchers. Without steadiness from them, the team’s dominant ‘pen will be a moot point.
X-Factor: Jesús Aguilar, 1B
Before Yelich and Cain took the reins of the offense, Aguilar was the story of the first half in Milwaukee. The 250-pound first baseman belted 24 homers and slashed .298/.373/.621 before the All-Star Game. He’s slowed down significantly since, but still is every bit of the imposing presence he was in April-July. If Aguilar can get rolling again, the first half of Milwaukee’s lineup will be as dynamic as any in the postseason.
Why You Should Root for the Brewers
Simply put: they’ve never won it all. The Brewers have only been to the Fall Classic once, losing in Game 7 to the Cardinals in 1982. Milwaukee has only advanced to the postseason twice since then, losing to the Phillies in the 2008 NLDS and the Cardinals in the 2011 NLCS.
Miller Park is one of the best atmospheres in baseball when it’s packed to the brim like it will be in October. Here’s to a long postseason in Milwaukee.
Most Famous Fan: Bob Uecker
The Brewers lack a true “celebrity fan,” but the voice of the team surely doubles as one. “Ueck” is one of the most indelible voices in baseball history, not to mention cinematic history.
It would require quite a run on both sides, but it’s possible C.C. Sabathia could face the Brewers in the playoffs 10 years after he single-handedly carried the franchise to its first postseason berth in 26 years. He got a little help that year from a precocious 24-year-old named Ryan Braun, who boomed one of the biggest home runs in franchise history. Then he did it again exactly a decade later.