Disaster struck the Crew on Tuesday night in their 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins. In his second at-bat of the game, MVP-candidate Christian Yelich fouled a pitch off his knee and was removed from the game. President of Baseball Operations David Stearns revealed the extent of the injury post-game: Yelich had fractured his knee cap and would miss the remainder of the season.
Just two days from the date on which Jimmy Nelson suffered his own freak injury two years ago, the Brewers once again face yet another hurdle on their road to the playoffs. Over the past ten games, the Brewers have made a playoff push that has seen them cut the Chicago Cubs’ lead on the second wild card spot from five games to just one. However, with Yelich sidelined, the Crew lose their best player and their clubhouse catalyst, making it that much harder to continue to separate themselves from the pack of teams competing for the playoffs.
The injury of Yelich will significantly hurt this lineup– you can’t replace arguably the best season in franchise history with the snap of your fingers – but they are not without options to fill in the gaping hole that now exists. Trent Grisham has proven to be a major-league caliber hitter and should now slot into a near-everyday role. Through 33 games and 111 plate appearances, he carries a respectable .263/.324/.455 slash line and can play adequate defense at all three outfield positions.
Veterans Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun will also see an increased pressure to play to their potential. Cain has scuffled for much of the year before recently starting to turn it around, hitting .304 over the Brewers’ past seven games. He still has little to show in terms of power, but him operating as an on-base threat that sets the table for the middle-of-the-order will be adequate for his offensive contributions given how much value he adds on defense. Ryan Braun is on the opposite – he has seen a resurgent offensive year that he will need to continue building upon in order to fill in for Yelich, hitting .282/.338/.484 with 18 home runs. However, he has not been playing every day, and will likely need to take on a larger role for the Brewers’ to continue to roll out their best lineup down the stretch.
Past those three, manager Craig Counsell still has outfield options on the bench like Ben Gamel, Tyrone Taylor, and even Tyler Austin if he’s needed in a pinch. With only one series remaining against a team with a winning record, the hope is that the Crew will be able to hide the loss of Yelich with timely contributions from all of these players and sneak into the playoffs.
There are no words that sufficiently describe the Brewers’ “luck” this year. They lost star reliever Corey Knebel prior to the season, have seen miniscule contributions from several players thought to be key cogs (Aguilar, Chacin, Jeffress, Nelson, Shaw), and now need to make a playoff push without the MVP. The injury to Yelich simply adds to the heap of misfortune. However, there is still a lot of baseball yet to be played and a wild card berth to win, and if this bad luck has taught us something, it is that anything can happen in baseball.