For most teams to reach the playoffs, they need a couple of guys to play above expectations and contribute in ways the team and its fans didn’t anticipate. That is especially true for a team like the Milwaukee Brewers, who have been saddled with a number of major injuries. Not the least of which being Christian Yelich’s fractured kneecap earlier this month.
But the Brewers have not just found a way into the postseason (most likely) – they have been incredible over the last month, going 18-4 in September (through Tuesday’s games) with 15 wins in their last 17 contests. That kind of push – and the chance to be in this position – takes more than a couple of surprises. In the Brewers’ case, they have at least five unexpected contributors in 2019 that have helped the squad reach the doorstep of postseason baseball once again.
Returning to the States from Japan, Jackson was intriguing to watch, but he was a dark horse at best of make the MLB club. Even now, if you just look at Jackson’s 4.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, you probably don’t understand why he’d be on this list; however, relief pitcher stats can be tricky to assess. Jackson does own an eye-popping 14.4 K/9 ratio, and if you’ve been watching on a regular basis, you’ve noticed Jackson’s gradual ascension to bigger situations thanks to his overall success since mid-July.
In his last 20 outings, Jackson has a 2.66 ERA and allowed a .194 opponents’ batting average over 20.1 innings. During that time, opponents have a meager .289 OBP and .306 slugging percentage with 35 strikeouts. Additionally, Jackson has stranded all 10 of the runners he has inherited. Break it down to his last seven appearances and it’s a 1.59 ERA with an opponents’ slash line of .150/.261/.300/.561.
Some command issues have been a concern lately, but with his mid-90s fastball and fantastic slider, he’s become a mid-game weapon for Craig Counsell, especially against right-handed hitters. Part of his success stems from major trust in that sharp slider. Jackson is throwing his slider 55.5% of the time with hitters finding it harder and harder to make contact each time out.
Thames was rumored to be traded in spring as Milwaukee’s backup first baseman – thank goodness it never happened. Considering the enormous struggles of Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw, Thames’ relatively consistent production has been invaluable. He’s also come through with big hits in a number of games, including a pair of home runs in the Brewers’ 4-3 win on Sunday (which included the game-winning RBI) and a walkoff bomb to beat the Texas Rangers earlier this season.
He may not be an All-Star, but Thames has somewhat quietly been among the better first basemen in the NL offensively – at least in his role. He doesn’t have the counting stats since he usually sits against right-handers, but before the week began, Thames ranked 6th in wOBA at .355 and 7th in wRC+ (117) – better than both Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto.
His .503 slugging percentage and .854 OPS also ranked 6th among NL first baseman, strong numbers to plug into the middle of a lineup that has often found it challenging to score a bunch of runs on a regular basis. His defense will always be sketchy, but the value his left-handed bat continues to be important – and it will may result in the Brewers picking up his $7.5 million team option for 2020.
Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates via trade, Lyles had a 5.36 ERA and was struggling mightily. However, the Brewers had familiarity with him, knew how well he threw before a mid-season injury, and were desperate for starting pitching. Talk about your surprising contributors.
In 10 starts with Milwaukee, Lyles has gone 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP over 53.2 innings. While he hasn’t been dominant, he has allowed more than 1 earned run in a start just once, often pitches into the sixth inning, and helped the Brewers win 9 of the 10 games he has started. His consistent, predictable production has been huge for a staff that was wildly up-and-down all season.
Lyles has utilized a fantastic curveball on 31% of his pitches to get punch outs and keep hitters off his low-90s fastball. Though Lyles won’t stand out to the casual fan, those that watch the Brewers on a regular basis understand the value in his quiet, workman-like efforts in the second half, which has made him arguably their most reliable starter outside of Brandon Woodruff (when he’s healthy).
As Suter was going through rehab from Tommy John surgery, the Brewers weren’t sure he could contribute to the 2019 club. Even if he did pitch this season, how effective would he be? Well, Suter not only came back to pitch in the big leagues quicker than many hurlers, he has been a phenomenal piece of Counsell’s bullpen in September.
On Tuesday, Suter didn’t allow a run over three innings, extending his scoreless streak to 17 consecutive frames and seven straight appearances. He did finally walk a batter on Tuesday, the first free pass in 17.1 innings pitched this season compared to 14 strikeouts. Through those 17.1 innings across eight appearances, Suter owns a stellar 0.52 ERA and 0.58 WHIP.
The funky lefty has pitched multiple innings in all but one of his outings, giving Counsell a valuable bridge from the openers to the back of his bullpen. Suter serves as a fascinating change of pace in relief, working at a fever pace and pounding the strike zone mostly with sub-90s fastballs (with some cut), utilizing his command and occasional changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Suter has been everything and more the Brewers needed in relief, and he has been invaluable down the stretch.
Most fans expressed disdain over the Brewers’ acquisition of Drew Pomeranz (along with Ray Black) for prospect Mauricio Dubon. The 30-year-old southpaw had an ERA near 6.00 as a failed starter in 2019 for the San Francisco Giants, and his 5.56 ERA as a reliever last season left little to the imagination. Cue David Stearns and company seeing “something.”
Pomeranz has been incredible for Milwaukee, striking out 15.3 hitters per nine innings with a 2.35 ERA and 1.000 WHIP entering Tuesday’s action. On Tuesday, Pomeranz hurled a scoreless frame with a pair of strikeouts and no walks. In his last 17 innings pitched, Pomeranz has allowed just 2 runs (both in the same outing), with 32 strikeouts and just 4 walks. During that stretch, he owns a 1.06 ERA while holding opponents to a .169/.219/.220/.439 slash line.
Throwing out of the bullpen, Pomeranz has increased his fastball velocity up to 96 MPH at times, then compliments it with a sharp, biting curve. Pomeranz has given Counsell an option besides Josh Hader to take down the oppositions’ best hitters or get the team out of a jam. With a 191 ERA+ in his first 23 innings with the Brewers, he’s provided more to the team than anyone could have imagined.
Now just take a minute to imagine where the Milwaukee Brewers would be right now if two or three of these players didn’t step up their games...or if they weren't even on the team. Keep that in mind as you enjoy however many games this squad has left in this potentially magical season.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference