There’s something about late-season baseball that makes Milwaukee turn the tide
By Tyler Job
There’s been a trend in recent years when it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers: they become one of baseball’s best teams when the calendar hits September.
It started even before the Brewers won their second National League Central division title in 2018. In 2017, Milwaukee was still considered a rebuilding team and hardly anyone anticipated the team to be in the playoff race.
Yet the Brewers stayed in the hunt all season long. They were eliminated from playoff contention on the second last day of the season by the St. Louis Cardinals in heartbreaking fashion, 7-6. Milwaukee finished just one game back of the second wild card spot to the Colorado Rockies.
Things changed once 2018 hit. The Brewers made headlines in January when they traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain to a five-year deal, almost instantly making them a better team than the year prior.
The Brewers stayed in the division race the entire season, but found themselves trailing the Chicago Cubs by five and a half games after September 1.
Some thought getting a division title was over, but the Brew Crew ensured to not make that a reality.
Milwaukee went 19-6 the rest of the month, including ending September on a seven-game winning streak. The Brewers’ pitching was not great during their winning streak either (they allowed four or more runs in five of the seven games), but Yelich proved to be an unstoppable force by hitting five homers in their last seven games.
Yelich’s MVP-like hitting carried the Brewers all the way to a tiebreaker game for the division title against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and as most recall, Milwaukee took care of business and claimed the NL Central crown for the second time in franchise history. As a treat, the Brewers earned themselves the number one seed in the NL.
Expectations ran rampant among the Milwaukee faithful before the 2019 campaign started. David Stearns kept most of the 2018 roster intact and added power-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal to a one-year deal. Grandal spent four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to joining the Brewers.
Despite retaining the majority of the roster, the Brewers treaded water from the beginning of the season until the end of August. Milwaukee was 69-66 and did not hold a wild card spot at the time.
A lot of the team’s issues had to do with its pitching leading up to September. Jhoulys Chacin, who was the opening day starter and Brewers ace the year prior, fell off a cliff and eventually got designated for assignment. Chacin was 3-10 with a 5.79 earned run average. Jeremy Jeffress, the former all-star closer, never got it going and ultimately got released. He had a 5.02 ERA at the time of his release. Josh Hader was struggling by giving up career highs in homers.
The Brewers lost big-time to the Cubs at Miller Park, 10-5, Sept. 5 and fell five games back of the second wild card spot to Chicago.
The feeling was bitter. The mood was somber. Nothing seemed to just be clicking properly.
But suddenly, the Brewers took all of their issues, curled them up into a ball, threw it out the window, and hit the largest reset button they have ever encountered.
Following their 10-5 loss to Chicago, the Crew went on a seven-game winning streak, winning three out of four against the Cubs and sweeping the Miami Marlins on the road.
But then, trouble ensued in the clubhouse during the Miami road trip when Yelich hit a foul ball that bounced perfectly off his right knee cap. The impact instantly fractured his kneecap, and Milwaukee lost its MVP. Fortunately for the Brewers, they kept winning.
Milwaukee struck a barrier in St. Louis, dropping its first game 10-0. But the team rallied to win the last two games of the series and keep its playoff hopes alive. Ryan Braun showed his vintage self in the final game against the Cards by striking a grand slam on a 3-2 pitch in the ninth inning to give the Brewers the lead.
The Cubs collapsed, while the Brewers kept steaming along. The Crew won eight of nine games following their series against the Cardinals and clinched a playoff spot against the Cincinnati Reds by winning 9-2 Sept. 25. Braun started the scoring that game with a grand slam in the first inning and Milwaukee never looked back. His grand slam was the moment that defined this unbelievable run.
After struggling all season long, Milwaukee’s team ERA up to clinching a playoff spot was a league-best 2.77. Stearns’ decisions calling up Adrian Houser and trading for Jordan Lyles made a big difference to the team’s overall pitching. It helped the Brewers go the postseason in back-to-back years since 1981-82. Pitching matters.
The Brewers were almost able to at least force a tiebreaker game for the division, but ended the season just one game back of the Cardinals in the NL Central. Milwaukee ended the season with a 90-72 record, giving the team its eighth 90-win season in franchise history.
Whatever the postseason result may be, remember the Crew conquered the ultimate underdog story. They went from a mediocre team to a playoff team within the span of three weeks. It’s a feat that is very rarely accomplished in baseball, and one of the greatest underdog stories in Wisconsin sports history.
On to October.