For the past two years, this is where the Brewers made their name.
It is time for Craigtember.
This time, a late-season surge isn’t needed to make a playoff push — they were already there, entering September at 75-62, 1.5 games ahead of the surprising Pittsbugh Pirates and 5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. But losing that top spot in the division could be costly, with the Pirates, Padres and Braves all fighting for the second wildcard spot behind the Mets, who started the month 1.5 games on top of that race.
The month started with a very important series against the 2nd-place Pirates, the first of two series with the Bucs in the season’s final month. The Brewers stormed their way to two wins to start the series, including a 12-0 romp in the first game, before Pittsburgh was able to salvage the series finale.
Pittsburgh pulled even in the standings over the weekend, though, as the Brewers lost 3 of 4 against the Dodgers, then dropped back-to-back games against the last-place Reds to cap off a disappointing 1-5 homestand. To that point, it was not the September we had gotten used to, and there was plenty of speculation that the newly-restricted September rosters caused the Counsell magic to wear off.
Still, at 80-69, the Brewers still had good playoff odds ahead of the final two weeks of the season — although things would not be easy with a gauntlet of a homestand against the Braves and Pirates after an easy weekend trip through Baltimore that saw the Brewers take 2 of 3.
Naturally, the Brewers ended up sweeping the homestand — and fairly convincingly.
After needing 13 innings to knock off the Braves, 5-4, in the homestand’s first game, the Brewers reeled off wins of 11-4, 9-4, 9-3, 9-1 and 6-2. Add in their win in the finale in Baltimore, and it all added up to a 7-game win streak that padded their division lead to 4.5 games and a magic number of 3.
A 7-1 win in St. Louis — with all 7 runs coming in the top of the 9th inning — extended the win streak to 8 and officially knocked the Cardinals out of the playoff race, adding an extra bit of satisfaction to another September run.
A 5-4 win in the series’ second game ran the win streak to 9 and officially clinched the NL Central crown. Milwaukee would complete the sweep the next day with a 7-1 win over Carlos Martinez, pushing the win streak to 10.
The streak would end at 11 in a close 3-2 loss against the Giants that saw the Brewers score 2 in the top of the 9th but All-Star Omar Narvaez strand Christian Yelich on third base as the tying run. The Brewers would split the remaining two games of the season to finish the year at 91-71.
Predictably, the Dodgers ran away with the NL West, while the Nationals won the NL East. The Mets and Padres walked away with the wildcards, with the Braves being eliminated on the last day of the season. The Brewers will face the Nationals in the NLDS in a rematch of last year’s fateful Wildcard Game.
Looking at the Brewers’ final statistics for the regular season, it’s clear there was no sophomore slump for Keston Hiura, who led the team with 4.8 WAR after hitting .285/.342/.543 with 32 home runs, 48 doubles and 127 RBI. Narvaez, the Brewers’ other offensive All-Star, finished the year with a .312/.403/.487 line and 4.5 WAR, with 17 home runs and 84 RBI. He figures to be a top contender for the NL’s Silver Slugger at catcher.
Christian Yelich rebounded from an average first half to finish strong, putting together a 20-20 campaign with 28 home runs and 26 stolen bases, with a .341/.436/.541 line in September pushing his final numbers to .278/.371/.487 after a year of being pitched around.
On the mound, it was Brent Suter putting together one of the most surprising seasons in all of baseball, finishing the year with an NL-leading 18 wins and a 3.75 ERA in 187.1 innings over 38 games.
Trade deadline acquisition Ken Giles ended the year with 15 saves in 25.1 innings for the Brewers, striking out 31 batters and allowing all of 2 earned runs in 24 games.
Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger look like your clear MVPs for 2020, posting 9.5 and 9.3 WAR, respectively, outpacing the next-closest competitors by more than half a win (and in Bellinger’s case, by 2 full wins). Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer look like the best bets to take home the Cy Young Award in their leagues.
How will the Brewers fare in the 2020 playoffs? That will have to be the topic of another post. Stay tuned.