It’s “What If” week at SB Nation, so we’re taking a look back at one incredibly painful question from the Milwaukee Brewers history: what if the Crew won last season’s Wild Card game?
It was a painful loss to finish the season. We all can still feel the sting, the Brewers come into the eighth inning of a game at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. Josh Hader was sent to dominate the rest of the game. He strikes out his first hitter, then there’s an awful plate appearance against Michael Taylor that results in a hit by pitch. It should have been an out for Hader. If so, Josh Hader strikes out Trea Turner in the next at-bat, inning over.
Let’s assume the good result happened. Hader was still wild, but managed to get out of the eighth. Maybe the Washington Nationals still score a couple in the ninth, but the Crew locks it down and makes it way to the NLDS. If they win, do they have the tools to make a World Championship run like the Nats?
The actual result of the NLDS was a game 5 extra-inning victory by the Nats. It was the theme of their NL playoffs. Keep it close, then win in the last opportunity.
Milwaukee would have had to travel to the West Cost to face Walker Buehler. Since Brandon Woodruff started the team’s Wild Card game, he would’ve been unavailable to start, so the Crew likely sends out Zach Davies, who’d have about six days of rest, maybe Chase Anderson. Milwaukee is also without Christian Yelich, and as good as the Brewers’ bullpen is with Brent Suter, Drew Pomeranz and Josh Hader being available after a day of rest, the Dodgers’ pen can go toe-to-toe with Milwaukee.
I think it’s pretty easy to chalk this one up as a loss. The Dodgers had the superior offense and Walker Buehler was one of the best starters in baseball last season.
So, we move to Game 2. Clayton Kershaw took the bump for the Dodgers in this one. Although he was hit up a bit by the Nationals — they put up three runs in 6 innings — the Crew struggled mightily against left-handed pitching in 2019. They didn’t have the dominant right-handed bats of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto to help propel the offense here. Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe Adrian Houser, even on four or five innings, can hold up as well as the combo of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer could. The Dodgers’ power-lefty lineup would likely be an awful match up for the Crew, making it difficult for the good part of the Brewers’ pen to ever be a difference here. Milwaukee could win this contest if Craig does some aggressive managing of the pitching staff. This could be an opportunity to bring in Jordan Lyles or Chase Anderson in quickly if Houser is shakey; however, the Dodgers offense is primed to dominate all of them.
Although I don’t want to, I can’t imagine the Brewers being in a good place to beat Clayton Kershaw, so Milwaukee goes down 0-2 in the series.
Game 3 brings the series to Milwaukee. With the home fans behind them in a must-win game. There’s little doubt that Brandon Woodruff is on the hill for this one. The Dodgers start a flaming hot Hyun-Jin Ryu, but Woodruff and the home crowd are certainly pumped up for this. It’s another left-handed pitcher, but I suspect the Brewers piece together a couple runs in front of a crowd spewing with Dodgers hatred from 2018.
Woodruff leads Milwaukee to victory, as I can’t imagine Milwaukee being swept in the Keg. The series goes to 1-2 for Milwaukee.
Game 4 stays at Miller Park. If he hasn’t been used at in game two, you’d have to see Jordan Lyles coming in here. After being acquired by Milwaukee, Lyles dominated in the rotation and helped guide them to success. It’s a win-or-go-home scenario, so Craig is probably making Gio Gonzalez available here if Lyles is shaky. The Brewers face Rich Hill on the mound. Although he is a good lefty when used in short bursts, Hill struggled with control in his game 4 against the Nats. I think similar issues bother him into this game and Craig manages the rotation into a prime setup for victory.
The series is now tied, 2-2. Finally, we get to game 5. Walker Buehler is back. The Brewers are forced to use Zach Davies, Chase Anderson or maybe a very well rested Gio Gonzalez. Having the six-man rotation toward the end of the season makes it really hard to guess. The bullpen is likely tired after being used extensively. The Dodgers offense hammers whomever is on the mound, taking an early lead. Buehler pitches six great innings. For the second consecutive year, Milwaukee is eliminated from the playoffs.
Although who pitching could be substantially different, I feel pretty comfortable with the end result. I don’t think the rotation, as strong as it can pitch when managed vigorously by Counsell, can hold up to the extreme power in LA’s batting order. They get peppered, and with no Yelich to help get the Brewers’ stale offense going, Milwaukee just can’t hold up.
I believe what helped the Nats through this series was their rotation. On top of that, they had superstar sluggers in their lineup.
If the Brewers make it to game 5, are you happy? Is that more satisfying than losing the Wild Card? I think it shares a similar level of disappointment. Probably not quite as crushing, because you make it substantially further into the playoffs.
I don’t think it’s impossible that the Brewers can win here, just extremely unlikely. Craigtober would be the magic to carry them. In this scenario, the magic was all used in a September without the best hitter in the NL.