I thought that perhaps an evening to ponder the past week might lend me some perspective on the Milwaukee Brewers final week of the regular season. I was wrong. I’m still as conflicted this morning as I was at the end of yesterday’s marathon loss. That loss meant nothing, and the Saturday loss that cost the Crew a chance at a division title was by a thousand tiny cuts, so they were close. The problem is, this team as quite possibly configured going into the Wild Card game Tuesday night, feels like the longest of long shots to win that game, let alone a World Series.
They are currently without their starting outfield. Yelich, Cain, and Braun might all be able to play if MLB allowed wheelchairs. The bullpen that helped carry them to an epic September is showing cracks (although Denver has a way of forcing tiny fault lines into major fissures). Incredibly poor baserunning probably cost Milwaukee about five runs over the last two games. The lineup Tuesday could look like a split squad Cactus League game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The week started with the best of times, as the Brewers went into Cincinnati and swept three from the Reds, beating nemesis Sonny Gray and ace Luis Castillo. St. Louis kept pace, and the Cream City Nine went to Colorado trailing the Cards by just a game but with little hope of the injured, unmotivated, and rudderless Cubs lending any help. But surprise! Chicago took the first two games of the series, providing the opening the Brewers needed. Alas, bullpen meltdowns on Friday and Saturday left Milwaukee still a game back heading into Sunday, and Jack Flaherty and the Cards’ bats removed any drama quickly from the Sunday tableau. Still, a 3-3 week isn’t awful, and they actually underperformed their run differential, scoring 30 while allowing 25.
TOP HITTING STORY: In honor of me, let’s go with the old men. They did what they could, until Ryan Braun’s calf strain (I did that mowing the lawn this summer) in the first inning of Friday’s game removed him, perhaps for a longer period of time than we would hope. Lorenzo Cain could barely walk, but still managed defensive heroics in the second Rockies game that put the Crew within a more elevated fastball of a tie for the division lead Saturday. But a slide into a brick wall in the 9th inning finally finished off his left leg/ankle, and even if he plays Tuesday you have to wonder how much he can give. Braun only managed eight plate appearances on the week, but had two homers, four runs, six driven in, and an OPS of 2.417. Cain was able to see action in five of the six games, and had sixteen plate appearances. His OPS was 1.429, and his charging, sliding seventh inning catch on Saturday teamed with his homer-robbing eighth inning stunner lent us hope. It wasn’t enough, but it was inspiring. And if the Cards had faltered on Sunday, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see one or both of them pinch hit with the game on the line.
Honorable Mention: With Craigtember comes Late Season Lando. Orlando Arcia had a slash of .364/.391/.455 for an OPS of .846. His seven ribbies led the team for the week, and he had some great defensive plays, too. One can only hope that it continues for another month.
TOP PITCHING STORY: I can’t help myself. I find I’m looking ahead to 2020 and the starting pitching. I see nine legitimate candidates for the rotation on the current roster, although one (Jordan Lyles) is a free agent, and one (Freddy Peralta) seems more suited to the bullpen. Add in Jimmy Nelson, Adrian Houser, Chase Anderson (club option), Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez (another free agent), Brent Suter, and Brandon Woodruff. Big Woo didn’t pitch this week (he will go Tuesday), but the rest combined to throw 35 innings while allowing 22 hits and 10 walks - WHIP of 0.91. They fanned 32, and posted an ERA of 1.54. Certainly they weren’t an issue in the narrow failure to reach the division title.
Honorable Mention: Corbin Burnes continues to be an enigma. His final appearance on the hill Sunday was much like early appearances. Some cheap hits leading to some expensive ones; two innings with four hits allowed, two runs (earned), and seemingly much less movement on his fastball than last season. I didn’t include him in the potential starters because, well, he hasn’t shown anything to recommend him for the job.
IMHO: This is a bandwagon that I refuse to get off of. Anybody that takes a gander at the rosters and season performances of the ten playoff teams will realize that one of these teams is not like the others. That the Brewers won 89 games and qualified for postseason play is little short of ridiculous. Craig Counsell not winning the Manager of the Year award would be much, much more of a travesty than Lo Cain not getting a gold glove.
Some fans think that next season’s new rules limiting teams to 28 players in September will level the playing field and negate the Brewers’ September advantage. I respectfully disagree. Give Craig two more relievers on top of the extra one he’ll have all season and you have a formula for the Crew not even needing a twenty win final month for a post season berth. Heck, they could win 100 games! The player limitation rule should be the Stearns/Counsell Rule.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK: I never did get around to parsing a game thread for a series of comments, but one yesterday from Gator Bytes brought a smile to my face:
Things learned this season
Scooby and the Shagging Wagon. Thanks Rock for that one!
Which leads me to this late inning conversation from Sunday’s game (not verbatim). Rock and BA were discussing the Braves/Mets game going final as the Brewers’ game dragged on, the last one still going on the final day schedule. Where the ‘F’ should go to designate the score as final was only a blank space. Rock said that maybe they ran out of ‘F’s, leading BA to say that they had plenty of ‘F’s to spare in the booth. They laughed almost as hard as me. Sometimes it just feels good to say ‘F’ baseball. AATC&C.
The Brewers might play one game this week. They might play three. You just never know. But since the Nats have a multiple Cy Young award winner starting Tuesday night, and a guy who could very well win this year to follow him, my guess is Week 28’s Sundries will be the 2019 swan song. It has been a blast, as always.
Stats courtesy of fangraphs and MLB