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Sunday, February 17th 2019
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Wade Miley: The Improbable Hero

The Milwaukee Brewers lost in heartbreaking fashion Saturday night, 4-3. A 2-run homerun in the 8th by Justin Turner off Jeremy Jeffress gave the Dodgers a lead that the Brew Crew couldn’t get back. I still don’t know why Counsell kept Jeffress in the game even after a shaky 7th inning, but I didn’t lead this Brewers team to 96 wins and the NLCS, so I’m not going to criticize one questionable move.

Milwaukee lost but you would not think so by the way starter, Wade Miley, pitched. He did everything he could to give the Brewers the win. Miley went 5.2 innings, gave up 2 hits, 0 runs, had 3 strikeouts, and 0 walks. He also helped himself out at the plate by getting 2 hits and scoring a run. After the game, manager Craig Counsell said, “Miley did great, he did his job. He did more than we expected.” Nobody on the Dodgers had solid contact against him except David Freese, a known Brewer killer, who had a homer taken away from him by Gold Glove candidate, Lorenzo Cain. A walk in the 6th inning with 2 outs is what forced Counsell to play his hand. You can bet if it was the regular season, Miley would’ve at least pitched through the 6th and maybe even the 7th. While he was walking off the field, Brewer fans gave him a standing ovation that Jesus Aguilar hilariously tipped his cap too. In 2 post season games, Miley has proved he can be depended on. He has pitched 10.1 innings, faced 37 batters, given up only 5 hits, struck out 5, only walked 1, and has given up 0 runs. This year is the only time Miley has ever pitched in the postseason.

Wade Miley after getting a hit in the NLCS. (Photo via Stacy Revere, Getty Images)

A former All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2012, Wade Miley has fallen a long way in 6 years. He started this current season in Double-A because no team wanted to take a chance on him. This is because last year he was one of the worst qualified starting pitchers in all of baseball. He went 8-15 and had a horrendous 5.61 ERA. Yes, you read that right, over 5 RUNS A GAME. The Milwaukee Brewers picked him up mid-season for help at starting pitcher. For the Brewers this regular season he started 16 games, went 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA. Before this season, the best ERA he had ever posted was a 3.33 which was 6 years and 4 teams ago. Miley has come back time and time again after tough injuries like his right oblique strain in May. He has been incredible all season, surpassing any expectations fans had of him when he was first signed. Miley has become a fan-favorite thanks to his gritty play, high energy, and greasy look. Honestly, I don’t think I could identify Miley if I passed him on a busy street. We can all see ourselves in Wade Miley, a regular looking guy, living out his dream pitching for one of the best teams in the MLB.

Wade Miley’s career has been revived thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers and one particular pitch. Miley started throwing the cut fastball more and more this season, something he had not done previously in his career, and has become a very tough pitcher to time up. When thrown correctly, the cut fastball is one of the most effective pitches in all of baseball. I mean, just look at what Mariano Rivera did with the pitch. The Brewers are on an absolute tear right now so get excited to see more of Wade Miley and his cut fastball.

Wade Miley has been outstanding for the Brewers all season. (Photo via Jayne Kamin-Oncea, Getty Images)

Every Milwaukee playoff run I have witnessed in my lifetime, has always had an improbably hero. Whether it was Nyjer “T-Plush” Morgan, John Axford, CC Sabathia, or Corey Hart, Wade Miley will be a name Brewer fans associate with this playoff run for years to come.

 

*All stats according to baseball-reference.com”

These Brewers Have the “It” Factor

Some teams have “It”, others don’t. That magical spark that kicks in when things look bleak. That loud yet silent mojo which emanates from player to player, leading them from victory to victory. That energy which provides a glimmer of hope for the impossible to happen when you least expect it. A unifying synergy that makes a team greater than the sum of its parts, defying logic and intuition.

Congratulations, Milwaukee. Your Brewers have that ever-important “It” factor.

We’ve seen it all year. Want some evidence? Well, here you go.

On March 30th, at the San Diego Padres, the Brewers trailed 6-3 entering the top of the ninth. It looked like the Brewers would suffer their first loss of the year… until they didn’t. They put up 5 runs capped by a mammoth home run by Ryan Braun with two strikes and two outs to take the lead, resulting in an improbable 8-6 victory by the Crew.

On April 3rd, the Brewers trailed the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in Miller Park entering the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Christian Yelich strode to the plate. Down to his last strike, Yelich launched his first Brewers’ home run to deep right center to tie the game, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Hardly a minute later, and exactly one pitch later, vintage Ryan Braun made an appearance and absolutely wrecked a Dominic Leone fastball over the Brewers bullpen to walk-off those pesky birds from Missouri.

On April 21st, the Brewers were in yet another late inning battle at home, this time against the Miami Marlins. Tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Craig Counsell inserted Jesus Aguilar as a pinch hitter. Aguilar quickly fell down 0-2 in the count, until he proceeded to take three balls and foul off seven pitches before hitting a moon shot on the 13th pitch for the walk-off. It was potentially one of the best at bats of the year in the MLB, and it kick-started Aguilar’s breakout 2018 campaign that led to an all-star appearance.

The list of improbable moments and achievements goes on and on. Josh Hader striking out 8 in 2 and 2/3 innings of work on April 30th. Jeremy Jeffress re-emerging as a dominant force out of the ‘pen and earning his first all-star nod. The Brewers’ 3-run comeback in the bottom of the 15th against the Pittsburgh Pirates, with PITCHER JORDAN LYLES DRAWING A KEY WALK AND SCORING THE GAME-WINNING RUN. Christian Yelich’s two cycles in a span of two weeks. Jonathan Schoop’s grand slam against Madison Bumgarner. Taking the division after trailing the Cubs by as many as 6 games near the end of August. This team just doesn’t stop.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without one thing however – the “It” factor. These Brewers have an aura about them that exudes confidence and accomplishment. Every team that does anything special needs it. It breeds success, and leads to improbable outcomes like the many listed above. Could that lead to an NLCS series win and Milwaukee’s first World Series berth since 1982? It’s certainly in the realm of possibility.

Derek Jeter’s world championship Yankee teams had “It”. The 2016 Chicago Cubs had “It”. And I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers truly do have “It”.

Man, how can you not be romantic about baseball. Go Crew.

Who Will Be the NLCS X-Factor?

As is often the case in October baseball, a certain individual, often an unexpected one, steps up for his team in a huge way and carries the load or perhaps delivers *the* hit that results in a series win. Sometimes it is the superstar of a team, like Madison Bumgarner who put the Giants on his back in the 2014 World Series, and other times it is a largely unexpected hero. For example, who would have predicted that Nyjer Morgan would be the star for the Brewers in the 2011 NLDS? or even Erik Kratz, the 38-year-old catcher making his major league debut for the Brewers in the sweep of Colorado? It’s difficult to predict who this X-factor will be, but looking at matchups as well as other factors gives me a few hints as to who it could be.

 

Broadly speaking, Craig Counsell’s unorthodox methods of managing his pitching staff will be a key determining factor in how this series is decided, as well as how those pitchers execute the plan in place, which they were able to accomplish beautifully in the NLDS against Colorado.

In terms of specific players, let’s take a look at who may be poised to have a big-time series against Los Angeles’ lefty-heavy rotation. One name that sticks out is Lorenzo Cain. As a right-handed batter, Cain naturally performs well offensively against left-handed pitching. The always-smiling Brewers center fielder has a tremendous on-base percentage of .451 this season against left-handed pitching, which will prove to be critical because he typically is followed by Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun in the batting order, both of whom are driving in runs at a very high clip of late.

Matchup factors aside, Cain is due for a big series for more reasons than one. Cain’s presence as a clubhouse leader is just as important as his presence on the field. Being one of two players on the roster with a World Series title, the moment is never too big for LoCain. With a roster comprised of many young and inexperienced players, pitchers and position players alike, Cain’s postseason experience and success are invaluable to the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers.

An additional reason why Cain will have a breakout series is that he is due for some big hits and to once again find his stride at the plate. He had just one hit in the Divisional Round, and if we know anything about Lorenzo, it’s that his slumps don’t last long. Cain is aware of his recent struggles at the plate. After game two against the Rockies, Cain told reporters: “I’ve been playing like (bleep)… I’ve definitely got to get it going.” A slew of left-handed pitchers should help him bust out of it and be the dynamic, base-stealing, offensively and defensively gifted stud of a center fielder. And while it is a good thing that the Brewers have been able to win game after game despite their All-Star center fielder having success who was among league leaders in WAR (6.9), his emergence will make the Brewers lineup that much more formidable.

Another name to watch as potential X-factors are second baseman Jonathan Schoop who, as a right-handed batter with power, may see more plate appearances this series than he did in the previous one. Travis Shaw’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well-documented, and Craig Counsell stated in a presser earlier this week that he will not hesitate to shake his lineup more against the Dodgers than he did against the Rockies. Schoop didn’t get a start in the Divisional Round, and my gut says he will get one at the very least in the upcoming Championship series.

Clearly, the quest for the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 36 years will have to be a complete team effort. The Crew faces an uphill battle against a much larger market team with what most consider to be a deeper pitching staff, but they don’t seem like the type of group to not step up when the lights are shining the brightest. As Ryan Braun said during the Brewers’ most recent champagne celebration, in their eyes, they have three celebrations down and two more to go.

Let’s do this, Milwaukee.

Brewers Infield Has Strength in Numbers

It’s no secret the Milwaukee Brewers boast a star-studded outfield. There’s a former MVP. (Perhaps) a future MVP. And a World Series champion who was MVP of the ALCS leading up to the World Series. While there’s certainly talent in the infield, that unit goes about things in a slightly different way.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Jesus Aguilar was an All-Star this season. It would be a surprise to exactly zero Brewer fans if Travis Shaw (or Orlando Arcia, for that matter) made All-Star games before their careers were over. That’s nothing to sneeze at

But whereas the outfield is a monsoon of talent, the Brewers infield is more of a pounding rain that just keeps coming … and coming.

Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames bring a one-two, righty-lefty power bunch few teams can have. Why? Because most teams don’t have the versatility elsewhere to carry two players who can really only play first. (Though, to be fair, it wouldn’t be shocking if we didn’t see any Thames over the course of the postseason.) Shaw’s ability to move back and forth from third to first fills in that void should Thames (continue) to be left off the postseason roster.

That could mean more Mike Moustakas in the lineup, too. He also brings the same type of championship pedigree that Cain brings from Kansas City (and a player who’s a two-time All-Star in his own right). Moustakas has never been a big batting average guy, nor a huge power bat in the traditional sense. But he doesn’t strikeout much and puts pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.

Utility man Hernan Perez allows all the other wheels to move. Knowing there’s a player that can virtually play all nine positions (remember, he’s pitched before, too!) in your back pocket allows Craig Counsell to take chances and be aggressive in seeking mismatches elsewhere. If it doesn’t work, sub in Perez. He might not bring the star power of other players on the roster, but he’s a gritty player that doesn’t do anything harmful to the Brewers’ chances of winning.

Jonathan Schoop (an All-Star in 2017) can be plugged in wherever needed. Though mainly thought of as second baseman, he was brought to Milwaukee at a time when they were searching for answers at shortstop. He was kind of an outside-the-box solution to the problem.

Now that Orlando Arcia has settled back in as an everyday shortstop, Schoop has proven to be a really sneaky good pickup. He might not get a ton of action going forward, but that’s exactly the point here: he’s overqualified for his role on the Brewers. As long as he’s cool with it and willing to sacrifice in the name of winning, Schoop is exactly what makes the infield an unrelenting downpour for opposing pitchers.

If an opposing team can avoid giving up the longball to Aguilar, likes their lefty/lefty matchups against Shaw and Moustakas, and can get Arcia to chase pitches out of the zone (as he’s prone to do), Counsell can turn to Schoop. Sure, his production has dropped his coming over from Baltimore, but you really think pitchers want to tempt fate by treating Schoop as an easy out?

That brings us to Orlando Arcia. It’s tempting to say Arcia’s season has been a roller coaster. But that’s not necessarily true. Roller coasters have ups and downs. Arcia’s season has been mostly down. Milwaukee gave him every opportunity to cement his name on the lineup card at short. He’s always been an elite-level defensive player. And should have a couple of Gold Gloves in his future. But he struggled at the plate for most of this pro career, especially for much of this season.

It was his bat that led to a midseason demotion to triple-A. But from Sept. 1st to Oct. 1st, he held a .329 batting average with a crazy .803 OPS. He’s never been much of a home run hitter, and likely never will be, but if he maintains good contact and hit some balls into the gaps he can use his legs to turn singles into doubles, doubles into the occasional triple. Essentially, his speed on the base paths translates into the equivalent of a player who’s raw power numbers are well beyond Arcia’s abilities at the plate.

Add it all up, and the Brewers have a title wave of talent up and down the lineup.

Brewers/Dodgers NLCS Preview

Oct 5, 2018; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress (32) celebrates after defeating the Colorado Rockies in game two of the 2018 NLDS playoff baseball series at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

         In their first postseason appearance since 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers are heading back to the National League Championship Series (NLCS). After sweeping the Rockies in the NLDS on Sunday, Milwaukee will get four days rest before Game 1. Earning the one seed in the National League, the Brewers will hosts Games 1 and 2 and if needed Games 6 and 7. Their opponent will be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who hold the season series record at 4-3. We take a look at how these teams have been performing in the playoffs and make a final prediction as to who will advance to the World Series.

Hitting

*Below are the offensive statistics for players most likely to start in the 2018 Playoffs thru 10/11/18*

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           In the first series with the Rockies, the Brewers bottom half of the lineup did most of the producing. Whether it was Moose’s walk off in Game 1, or veteran catcher Erik Kratz hitting .625 in the series, the top four in the Crew’s lineup did not do well. Lorenzo Cain, leadoff hitter for Milwaukee, only had one hit in the series, along with two walks. While Yelich and Braun have been hitting like clockwork, Aguilar has also struggled. The only hit Jesus had in the series was a solo home run in Game 3. Shaw moved up to the cleanup spot in Game 3 and proved to Counsell it was a good decision. The makeshift Second Baseman hit .364 with a .500 on base percentage, and two runs batted in. If Shaw’s production remains the same, and Cain and Aguilar get out of their slumps, watch out Los Angeles.

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          Los Angeles started their journey to the World Series against the three seed Atlanta Braves. Having one of the best lineups in the major leagues, the Dodgers proved to live up to the hype. Third Baseman, Justin Turner, hit .357 with an on base percentage of .500. However, All-Star Manny Machado stole the show, raking in two home runs, six runs batted in, and an on base percentage of .471. The first baseman, Max Muncy, had a clutch series, hitting two home runs with four runs batted in. Los Angeles was also not afraid to steal when on base. The projected eight hitters stole eight times on Atlanta in four games. While many players for the Dodgers have been producing, young Center Fielder, Cody Bellinger, was quiet in the NLDS. But expect him to start heating up in the bottom half of this scary Dodgers lineup as he raked in 25 home runs and 76 runs batted in during the regular season.  

Pitching

*Below are the pitching statistics for all pitchers in the 2018 Playoffs thru 10/11/18*

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           After earning Bullpen of the Week honors, Milwaukee hopes to continue their absurd amount of success as “out-getters”. Throughout the three game set, the only pitcher to post an ERA was Closer Jeremy Jeffress. In 28 innings of work, the Rockies only scored twice. What’s even more ridiculous is the fact that the Crew’s Pitching Staff held All-Star’s Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story to a combined 5-for-35(.142) with 12 strikeouts. With the extended amount of rest, I expect Counsell to use the bullpen early and often. Hopefully Manager Craig Counsell and GM David Stearns will add Pitchers Dan Jennings(LHP) and Zach Davies. While this would mean dropping Freddy Peralta and Jonathan Schoop, the Brewers already have enough bats for Pinch Hitting opportunities and Davies has a career 2.59 ERA versus Los Angeles.

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         While Milwaukee is known for one of the best bullpens in baseball, Los Angeles is known for one of the best starting rotations. Obviously the shining star is three time CY-Young winner, Clayton Kershaw. However, Hyun-Jin Ryu proved to be efficient in his Game 1 start versus Atlanta, going seven innings strong and giving up zero runs. What is scary about the Dodgers rotation is the fact that they can go deep. When pitchers like Kershaw and Ryu going seven or eight innings deep, it leaves closing duties to Kenley Jansen. Jansen is responsible for 268 career saves and a 2.20 ERA. With travel days littered throughout the NLCS, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kershaw pitched three times if seven games is needed.

         Both teams are absolute powerhouses at the plate. When you have players such as Cody Bellinger and Mike Moustakas consistently hitting sixth, your lineup is deep. Where the lines get blurred is in the pitching. If the Brewers can attack Kershaw and Ryu early, who knows how many runs the Crew can hang. However, if those two pitchers go deep in games, I wouldn’t be surprised about an early exit for Milwaukee. Likewise, if the Dodgers can blow through Milwaukee’s bullpen early in games, Los Angeles can manipulate Counsell’s ability to use a short leash on those pesky “out-getters”. But, if the Brewers keep pitching as dominantly as they have been, they will be leaving more than just Colorado’s All-Star hitters in the dust.

My Prediction: A very good series between two great teams leads to #CrewInSix

Fear the Beer!

The Brewers “Broke” September

The Brewers have officially completed the hard part, getting to the postseason. You could look back at the individual successes and the great moments, or you could look at what got them to where they are. September was an exceptional month for the team, winning 9/10 series and having an overall record of 19-7. However, it’s not just for the cycles and home runs, its the strategy behind it.

 

September Call-ups

This started the heroic strategy of September. When you think of a September call-ups, you think of a team bringing in a few young guys to get experience or to add a little depth. The Brewers took this idea to the next level. They went from 25 guys to 36 guys in the dugout contributing to a postseason run.

 

Here is where they really got smart. They called up five pitchers and moved Junior Guerra to the bullpen, that turned an eight man pen into a 14 man pen. Every single pitcher who was in the bullpen at the start of September all had some sort of major league experience.

 

Starting Pitching

Going into the season, the starting pitching was something to be expected as a weak point. Over the course of the season, and September, the pitching has flourished. The pitchers have not been asked to do anything they can’t. They haven’t been asked to go seven innings every start and allow only two hits.

 

What they have been asked to do this September is pitch four to five innings and allow the bullpen take over. This month the average start is around 4.2 innings. The rest of the game has been covered by the bullpen  – A team strength. This works because they have 14 guys in the pen who can all perform very well. Both these points connect to the last point.

 

Dan Jennings Starting? “Out of the Box Thinking”

At the onset of the season, if you were to say that Dan Jennings would start a ballgame, disbelief would have overcome the moment. Even saying the word “start” doesn’t cover all bases. He came in and pitched the first at-bat to lefty Matt Carpenter. He pitched three pitches and got a ground ball out.

 

Then Freddy Peralta was called in to cover the next couple of innings. This plays into how Counsell manages the pitching staff. No one is called a closer, set-up man, or even a starter. He calls them all “out-getters”. Using the correct “out-getters” in the correct situations has resulted in winning all series in September except for one.

 

The Brewers have done some very interesting things this September and it has led to their first playoff berth in seven years. The way Counsell has managed this team has made them incredibly consistent with little fatigue. In a month were teams either press hard or prepare for the future they have kept an even attitude and keep finding ways to win.

Predicting the Brewers Playoff Roster

After a torrid September, the Brewers culminated their regular season with a division-clinching win over the Chicago Cubs, bringing Milwaukee its first division title since 2011. Part of the Brewers tremendous success down the stretch was due to the versatility of their roster, which was expanded to 36 players for most of the final month. Craig Counsell and the front office will need to trim that down to 25 players for their divisional series against the winner of the Cubs and Rockies, giving this team a much different feel than fans have become accustomed to over the past month. What will that roster look like? Here are my predictions:

Catchers (2): Erik Kratz, Manny Piña

No surprises here. Piña and Kratz will fill the two roster spots the Brewers will assign to the catcher position, with Jacob Nottingham missing the cut. Piña and Kratz have both been integral to the success of the Brewers pitching staff.

Infielders (6): Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, Mike Moustakas, Hernan Perez, Jonathan Schoop, Travis Shaw

Despite the charisma and moxie Eric Thames brings to the clubhouse, it looks like he is a longshot to make the postseason roster, at least for the divisional series. He has struggled greatly recently, and has no defined role on the team anymore as it currently stands. His positional versatility pales in comparison to Hernan Perez and even Jonathan Schoop, and the acquisition of Curtis Granderson makes Thames second fiddle as a left-handed bat off the bench. Tyler Saladino will also not appear on the first edition of the playoff roster, which is no surprise.

Outfielders (5): Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Lorenzo Cain, Curtis Granderson, Christian Yelich

Keon Broxton has proven his worth to the Brewers over the final month of the season, and provides the Crew with an elite-level defensive replacement and pinch running option. Players like him can be extremely valuable come playoff time, when one run can make the difference between a World Series berth and packing your bags (see Exhibit A, Dave Roberts/Boston Red Sox 2004). Granderson provides a solid left-handed bat off the bench as well, as was mentioned previously. His acquisition at the waiver trade deadline has paid dividends for the Brewers. Domingo Santana was one of my hardest cuts, as he provides a great bat off the bench, but in choosing between the impact Broxton can make in the field and Domingo’s impact with the bat, I think Keon adds more value.

Starting Pitchers (3): Jhoulys Chacin, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley

This is where things get really tricky. The Brewers’ approach to their starting pitching has been very unpredictable in September, so it is tough to judge what they will do. My guess is that they will rely on three starters rather than four, as Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have been unreliable as of late and Freddy Peralta has been seldom used. A three-starter rotation is manageable in the playoffs, and while Miley and Gonzalez may only be good for five innings on occasion, the Brewers can then turn to their stacked bullpen for the final four. Chacin has been a rock, and you can assume that the Brewers will want him to start their most important games if possible.

Bullpen (9): Corbin Burnes, Xavier Cedeño, Junior Guerra, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Dan Jennings, Corey Knebel, Joakim Soria, Brandon Woodruff

Cutting the bullpen down was very challenging, given the important role that every single member of the Brewers current 14-man outfit has played down the stretch. Ultimately for me it came down to choosing between Jacob Barnes, Junior Guerra, Dan Jennings, Freddy Peralta, and Taylor Williams for the final two spots in the bullpen. I ended up siding with Guerra and Jennings. Guerra provides a second long relief option in addition to Brandon Woodruff, and Jennings gives the Brewers a second lefty-on-lefty option in addition to Cedeño. Counsell loves playing match-up games, so having this versatility in the bullpen is very important. Neither Peralta, Barnes, or Williams contributes to a versatile bullpen in a significant way, so ultimately, I had to cut them off.

So, there are my predictions. While there are sure to be a few misses on my part, let’s hope the Crew that ultimately comprises the final-25 can bring a title back to the Cream City!

CC gives the ball to Gio with the division on the line

Today is the day, game 162 the final game of the 2018 regular season. For some teams they scratched their stars from starts, because they have nothing to play for. Milwaukee is not one of those teams. They’ll be handing the ball to Gio Gonzalez with a division title on the line. This will be Gio’s fifth start in a Brewer uniform. It will also be the most important. This game is huge and not just for the Brewers, but for Gio as well.

               Gio has pitched better in Milwaukee compared to Washington this season. He’s posted a 2.66 ERA in his first four starts with the Brewers as opposed to 4.57 in the nation’s capital. He’s also pitched into the fifth inning in 3 of his first 4 starts here as well. Length will be extremely important for the Brewers today. The Brewers bullpen has been used early and often all season, but especially in September. It’s been short start after short start for the starters. Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, and Joakim Soria have all pitched in each of the first 2 games of this series. Now if CC needs these guys, there’s no doubt they’ll all be more than willing to take the ball. Josh Hader could also be available today. However, the biggest problem with this is they could potentially play on Monday and Tuesday as well.

               Locate the changeup, control the edges, get guys to chase the high fastball, and throw a few good curveballs to plant into hitter’s heads. That’s what Gio needs to think about today. There’s a ton on Gio’s shoulders today. If he can give this team a strong 6 innings and a win, he’ll be looked at as a hero and a great choice. However, if he has a bad start and can’t go deep into the game it becomes a big problem for Gio and the Brewers. A bad start today and Gio may not get a playoff start and this would be a terrible look going into free agency for him. Not only is this get a must get for Milwaukee, but Gio needs to have a strong showing as well. A division title, a fresh bullpen for two potential one-game play ins, playoff starts, and a contract. Those are all the things Gio Gonzalez will be pitching for today. You couldn’t stress enough the magnitude of today’s start for Gio.

How David Stearns Made Milwaukee Win Again

After ending a disappointing 32 games outside of first place in 2015, the Brewers decided to part ways with former General Manager, Doug Melvin. Under Melvin’s reign, Milwaukee had made the playoffs twice, the NLDS in 2008, and the NLCS in 2011. However, while making the playoffs twice, Melvin missed out 11 times over 13 years.

Enter David Stearns. Three years later, for the first time since 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers have clinched a postseason spot. The Crew are currently in the Wild Card Game, however they’re only a half game out of the NL Central lead. Whether it was picking up All-Star Jesus Aguilar off waivers or trading for MVP candidate Christian Yelich, we take a look into how David Stearns has made the Brewers one of the best teams in the National League.

  1. Tyler Thornburg traded to Boston Red Sox for Travis Shaw and three prospects. (Offseason, 2016)

Ranking 25th in runs scored, and 15th in Homeruns, Stearns went on the hunt for a power hitter. After Tyler Thornburg finished the 2016 season with a 2.13 ERA, Stearns sold high, getting Travis Shaw and three prospects. Stearns would prove to be the winner, as Thornburg did not play in 2017 due to surgery on his right shoulder. Shaw however, was one of the teams MVPs, hitting .273, with 101 runs batted in and 31 home runs. In 2018, Shaw consistently bats fourth for Milwaukee and currently has 31 home runs and 85 runs batted in.

2. Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to Texas Rangers for Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. (8/1/16)

 

As much as trading Lucroy hurt me as a Brewers fan, it ended up being one of the biggest moves in franchise history. Stearns, willing to rebuild, picked up two first round draft picks in Brinson and Ortiz. In addition the Rangers added their sixth overall prospect, Ryan Cordell, to finish the deal. Seen as a rebuild move at the time, trading for Lewis Brinson would play a big role in the acquisition of Christian Yelich. Milwaukee has since traded Texas back for Jeffress.

3. Jesus Aguilar claimed off waivers from Cleveland Indians. (2/2/17)

During the beginning of the Year in 2018, Jesus’ primary role was a pinch hitter. And man was he good. Walk off after walk off, Jesus worked his way into the Brewers lineup and has been making a major impact ever since. Aguilar has hit .275, tied second in the National League with 34 home runs, and is top ten for runs batted in, with 105. His consistent bat has helped propel Milwaukee from a middle of the road ball club, to leading the National League in wins.

4. Brewers sign Jhoulys Chacin from San Diego Padres for a Two Year Deal. (12/20/17) 

Not knowing when Ace Jimmy Nelson would return, Stearns looked to add a great starting pitcher. In Chacin, the GM felt comfort, as the veteran put up steady numbers in San Diego. While taking over as the ace, Chacin has done wonders. Logging fifteen wins and only eight losses, Chacin finished the regular season with a 3.56 ERA and 1.182 WHIP. With 187 innings of work and 34 games started, Chacin will be the probable starter for the Wild Card Game.

5. Prospects Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto to Miami Marlins for Christian Yelich. (1/25/18)

One of the more shocking trades of the MLB this offseason was the Brewers acquisition of OF Christian Yelich. Throughout the season, trading for Yelich has paid dividends. The MVP candidate leads the National League in average, slugging, on base + slugging and runs created. He is second in runs and wins above replacement, while also being sixth for on base percentage. Christian Yelich has brought Milwaukee to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and fifth time in franchise history. Oh, and did I mention we have him until 2022?

6. Free Agent Lorenzo Cain signed to a 5 year/$80 million deal from Kansas City. (1/25/18)

Within hours of trading for OF Christian Yelich, GM David Stearns wasn’t done filling his outfield. Originally drafted by the Brewers, Cain was traded away to Kansas City. After winning a World Series, the two time all-star has returned home and is putting up insane numbers. Cain leads the National league with a wins above replacement of 7.0. He is in second for on base percentage and fourth for batting average and stolen bases. Cain has been a wonderful leadoff hitter for the crew, and an even better outfielder ranking second in defensive wins above replacement.

7. Wendell Rijo to New York Yankees for Erik Kratz. (6/16/18)

When originally acquired from the Yankees, Kratz’s job was to backup Manny Pina at Catcher. Since being in Milwaukee, Kratz has played in 63 games, batting .251 and having a .297 on base percentage. The Catcher has been a breath of fresh air, adding depth to Milwaukee’s lineup.

8. Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez to Chicago White Sox for Joakim Soria and Cash. (7/26/18)

Needing a key SP heading into the trade deadline, David Stearns went a different direction. The 33 year old GM added a veteran reliever to increase depth in the bullpen. In 2018, Soria has posted a 3.22 ERA with a 1.176 WHIP.

9. Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez to Kansas City Royals for Mike Moustakas. (7/27/18)

Needing a bat in the lineup but still an excellent infielder, Stearns set out to get Moose. In 2018, Moose has hit .250, with 28 home runs and 93 runs batted in. Not only did the Brewers upgrade in hitting, but acquiring Moose meant the Brewers could move Shaw to second base and trade away Jonathan Villar.

10. Jonathan Villar and two Prospects to Baltimore Orioles for Jonathan Schoop. (8/1/18)

With Jonathan Villar struggling at the plate and Travis Shaw getting the nod to play second base, Schoop was a perfect pickup for Milwaukee. Before being traded, the former All-Star had won AL Player of the Week honors. Even though his year hasn’t been tremendous, Schoop can pay dividends for the Brewers in years to come, as he is signed until 2019.

11. KJ Harrison and Gilbert Lara to Washington Nationals for Gio Gonzalez and Cash. (9/1/18)

Looking for a consistent LHP, the Brewers acquired Gio Gonzalez. While he struggled in D.C. with a 4.57 ERA, he has been lights out with the Crew. In four appearances, Gonzalez has gone 2-0, with a 2.66 ERA and a .984 WHIP.

12. Demi Orimoloye to Toronto Blue Jays for Curtis Granderson (9/1/18).

In the same day as Gonzalez, Granderson was traded to the Brewers. The polished veteran has done wonders for the Brewers in the outfield as the health for Cain and Braun being a concern. With Ryan Braun’s age comes injuries, and Granderson has filled in nicely. When in the lineup, Granderson hits leadoff, as his on base percentage is .385 with the Crew. While he might not start in the Wild Card Game, Granderson would be a perfect fit for a pinch hit at-bat against a RHP in the Playoffs.

Brewers 2018 Postseason Projected Lineup:

  1. Cain CF
  2. Yelich RF
  3. Aguilar 1B
  4. Shaw 2B
  5. Braun LF
  6. Moose 3B
  7. Kratz C
  8. Arcia SS
  9. Chacin P

*Bolded names are players who weren’t apart of the organization before Stearns was GM*

It’s safe to say Stearns has had one busy year with the Brewers, and his hard work is paying off. Milwaukee is currently twenty five games over .500, and only half a game back of the Cubs. While popping champagne bottles after clinching a playoff spot, Counsell told ESPN, “We have the weapons to win the World Series…we’re deep enough where I think we can make a good run”. With that being said, you can’t help but think David Stearns has had a major role in the Brewers success thus far.

 

Corey Knebel’s Resurgence

Corey Knebel was riding high coming into 2018. Fresh off an all-star appearance and a truly dominant season that saw him sport a 1.78 ERA over 76 appearances, he looked poised to continue his ascension towards being one of the elite relievers in the game today.

However, the baseball gods had other plans. Knebel was hampered by a knee injury in spring training, and did not look to have the same effectiveness. Then, on April 5th, he suffered a hamstring injury while pitching against the Cubs. He did not return until early May, and from then on he struggled to a 5.08 ERA in 39 innings pitched before being demoted to the minors on August 24th.

With the September roster expansion, the Brewers recalled Knebel hoping he could rediscover his 2017 dominance and help anchor the bullpen down the stretch. In 10 and 1/3 innings since his recall, Knebel has been nearly perfect. He has allowed no earned runs, held opponents to a .065 batting average, and has struck out 18 batters while walking only 2. He looks to have harnessed the command of his curveball, a pitch that is utterly dominant when it’s “on”. In addition, his confidence looks to be back, which is potentially the most important component of any relief pitcher.

Knebel’s revived success isn’t the result of luck either – advanced stats back up his improved performance. Based on QOPBaseball’s “Quality of Pitch” statistics, Knebel’s fastball and curveball quality have improved significantly since his September recall. His fastball’s quality rose from 4.56 to 5.30 (from MLB-average to Good/Great quality), and his curveball rose from 5.05 to 5.58 (from Good to Great quality).

Knebel’s addition to the bullpen could prove to be invaluable down the stretch. Given Craig Counsell’s careful bullpen management, the Brewers have been in a bit of a bind when those two are unavailable, having to use less reliable options like Dan Jennings and Taylor Williams in high leverage situations. Knebel changes that. His addition provides an elite option for Counsell to utilize when his other two “stoppers” can’t be used. Given a starter can go five or six innings, the Brewers should generally be in good hands if they have a Jeffress/Hader or Knebel/Burnes combo ready and available.

With October baseball looming, a Brewers bullpen with an effective Knebel could prove to be a huge advantage in the postseason. If Knebel is truly back, the Brewers have three all-star caliber relievers in himself, Josh Hader, and Jeremy Jeffress that can shut down an opposing lineup in the final innings on any given night.