An early-July hot streak combined with a slump by the St. Louis Cardinals put the Brewers in first place in the NL Central heading into the All-Star break, but even the most optimistic fans would have to admit there were problems with the pitching staff, and David Stearns would have to do something if the Brewers were going to stay in contention in the second half.
Sensing that, Slingin’ Stearns slung an All-Star break trade for an impact relief arm, joining the run on late-inning relievers (Kirby Yates to Minnesota, Brad Hand to Washington, Mychal Givens to LA) by trading minor league outfielder Pablo Abreu and reliever Devin Williams to Toronto for former All-Star Ken Giles. The Jays are also picking up about $6 million of the free-agent-to-be’s remaining 2020 salary as part of the deal.
The move worked well in the second half of July, with Giles picking up 4 saves in his first 6 appearances, allowing just 3 hits and an earned run, but the Brewers mostly treaded water at 7-7 after the break to finish July at 58-51, still good for first place in the NL Central, 2.5 games ahead of the Cardinals.
August saw a big improvement in the Brewers’ pitching, carrying them to a 17-11 month and keeping them in first place in the NL Central. That turnaround was led by Brandon Woodruff, who bounced back from a subpar first half of the season to put up a 2.57 ERA in 6 August starts, striking out 32 in 35 innings. He’s still far from his most efficient self, walking 14 in the month, but he was able to tightrope out of trouble more consistently than he had in his first 20 or so starts of the year.
Corbin Burnes also seemed to finally find his footing in the starting rotation, putting up a 1.71 ERA in 5 August starts, striking out 33 in 31.2 innings while only walking 10 and — most importantly for him — only surrendering 2 home runs. That performance helped cover for fellow rotation mate Freddy Peralta, who struggled mightily after his improbable All-Star run. Peralta got shelled to the tune of an 8.44 ERA in 5 starts, covering only 21.1 innings. Regression can be cruel.
Giles has been a stabilizing force in the bullpen, going unscored upon in August and now carrying a 0.53 ERA in 17 appearances as a Brewer, striking out 19 and walking 6 in 17 innings, picking up 11 saves. Once again, it looks like Stearns has successfully reinforced the bullpen with a midseason deal, even if some dislike having to give up Devin Williams to do it.
Offensively, Keston Hiura is establishing himself as a superstar-caliber bat. While he cooled off a bit in August compared to his scorching-hot July, Hiura enters the final month of the season hitting .273/.327/.533 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI — ranking 2nd in the National League — in 131 games. He’s on pace for 32 home runs and 124 RBI, which would unquestionably put him among one of the best offensive seasons ever by a Brewers second baseman.
Hiura has largely picked up the slack as most teams choose to just pitch around Christian Yelich, which has held the former MVP’s line down to .267/.360/.477 through August, with 24 home runs and just 69 runs batted in. Perhaps Yelich has another incredible September left in him as the Brewers try to make another playoff push.
We now enter our favorite month of the year — Craigtember — with the Brewers sitting at 75-62, 1.5 games against the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh made a run in the second after promoting prospects Ke’Bryan Hayes and Mitch Keller, who have both picked up Rookie of the Month awards in the last couple months. St. Louis has slipped to third place in the division with a record of 70-67.
With September rosters limited to 28 players, we won’t see the slew of arms promoted to Milwaukee that we’ve seen in recent years, but the Brewers did add Zack Brown to the bullpen heading into the final month, and Orlando Arcia was called up from Triple-A to provide some extra depth in the infield and provide some relief for Luis Urias, who is mired in a 1-for-18 slump in his last 5 games as he shows signs of hitting the late-season wall.