The Milwaukee Brewers are playing some pretty good baseball so far in September. Yesterday’s victory capped off a winning series against the Marlins and pushed Milwaukee’s record to 9-6 this month, and to 79-70 overall. The offense seems to have awoken once again after struggling mightily through most of July and August, including putting together three 8-run innings in the past week-and-a-half. Milwaukee’s 75 September runs rank 7th in the NL, and their 18 home runs ties them for 5th-best on the senior circuit. That, despite playing in less games than every NL team except the Giants this month.
While the offense has stabilized, the Brewers’ pitching staff has taken their performance up a notch. In 131.2 innings this month, Milwaukee’s arms have yielded just a 3.35 ERA (3rd-best in the NL) and 3.21 FIP (2nd-best). The group’s collective 9.30 K/9 places them 5th in the National League in September, and no team has issued free passes at a lower rate than Milwaukee’s 2.46 BB/9. With expanded rosters in play during the season’s final month, Craig Counsell has gotten the most out of his hurlers by playing matchups and turning to “Johnny Wholestaff” bullpen days almost out of necessity to cover for a short-handed starting rotation. So far, the strategy has been working.
Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Nine, their direct competitors for playoff spots are playing well right now, too. Since the Brewers swept the Chicago Cubs on September 8-11, the North Siders have won six straight contests to push their NL Central lead back up to 4.0 games. In the chase for the 2nd Wild Card, the Rockies have won 7 of their last 10 ball games, keeping pace with the Brewers over that time to maintain a 2.5 game lead.
The Rockies sit at 82-68 and have 12 games remaining, mostly against rather lowly competition. After an off day today, Colorado travels to San Francisco for a two-game set against the cellar-dwelling Giants, then a four-game series in San Diego versus the rebuilding Padres. The Rockies then return home to finish the year with three games against the reeling Marlins, and finally three against a very good (but no longer historically so) Dodgers squad that has already clinched the NL West.
The Cubs, meanwhile, enter play today with an 83-66 record after sweeping three games at home against the Cardinals. They’ll enjoy a day off before heading down to Tampa Bay for a quick two-gamer against the Rays, then will come to Miller Park to face our beloved local nine in a pivotal four game match up. They’ll finish off the 10 game road trip with four games in St. Louis next week, and then the Cubs end their season at home with a three-game series against the Reds.
This late in the season, the Brewers can no longer afford any missteps. Milwaukee begins a three-game series in Pittsburgh tonight before coming home for the aforementioned games against the Cubs. Then it’s three games at home versus the Reds before a season-ending series on the road in St. Louis.
The Milwaukee Brewers need a hot streak. They’ve won 7 of their last 10 games, and probably need to take another 10 or 11 of their next 13 games to put themselves in position to make the playoffs. That would get the Brewers to 89-90 wins and put the pressure squarely on the other two squads they’re chasing. A four-game sweep of the Cubs later this week could especially alter the landscape in the NL Central.
The Brewers not only need to stay hot, but they also are going to need some help. The Cubs could go 7-6 over their final 13 games and still reach 90 victories, so the Brewers not only desperately need to sweep them, but they need Chicago to trip up a few times against their other opponents, too. The Wild Card might be a more realistic shot: if the Rockies go .500 in their remaining games, they’ll end the season with 88 wins. But Colorado faces some pretty easy competition; again, the Brewers will have to pray that the Rockies spit up against some of the weakest teams in the National League.
Facing an uphill climb into the postseason picture, every time Craig Counsell’s squad takes the field over the next two week will be in a must-win situation. The upstart Milwaukee Brewers aren’t dead yet, but time is running short to keep their playoff dreams alive.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs