Brewers fans may be feeling a little conflicted on how to react to the team ending up in the playoffs despite losing its season finale in St. Louis and finishing the year with a losing record.
On one hand, it’s a (very small) chance at a World Series. On the other, it feels a little unearned. You’d be forgiven if your interest level didn’t exactly match that of the 2018 or even 2019 teams.
There’s one group of people primed to make the Brewers their team to root for over the next week, though — those against the extended playoff format that would love to see an embarrassing result for the league in its first experiment with the larger field. And that’s why the Brewers have a chance to become America’s team.
There’s no doubt that the Los Angeles Dodgers are the best team in baseball, whether it’s by on-field record (an MLB-best 43-17) or just sheer amount of talent collected on the roster. Given how flawed-to-mediocre the rest of the National League is, they likely would’ve been picked to steamroll through the playoffs and once again reach the World Series in any normal year, getting another chance at a championship that has eluded them for more than 30 years now.
But in a three-game series? Any garbage team can win 2 out of 3. It happens all the time in baseball. And despite finishing at 29-31, the Brewers are not necessarily a garbage team.
Sure, their offense is, but the pitching has held the Brewers in just about every game they’ve played this year. Only 13 of their 41 losses were considered blowouts, decided by 5 or more runs. They went 11-5 in one-run games this year. Of the 9 other teams they’ve played this year, they only lost 3 season series — and 2 of those were American League teams. They split the season series with 5 of the others. There was no better team at playing up to (or down to) their opponent.
It’s often said pitching flourishes in the postseason and it becomes much more difficult to score runs. That’s perfect for the Brewers, since they’ve already had plenty of practice in low-scoring games in the NL Central.
Yes, their pitching depth and odds in a three-game series certainly took a hit when Corbin Burnes landed on the Injured List and Brett Anderson’s status became a question after another blister on Sunday. Heading into a best-of-three with Burnes and Brandon Woodruff taking the ball the first two games certainly would have been much more palatable than possible bullpen games in Games 1 and 3.
But if there’s anyone who put the pitching puzzle together over three games, isn’t it Craig Counsell? It’s worth remembering how he handled the 2018 NLCS against the Dodgers with an arguably less talented starting rotation — and that was with having to planning for 7 possible games. Cut that total number of outs down to 81, and things look less intimidating.
The very nature of a three-game series means there will likely be upsets. The league has to know this, and like the NCAA with March Madness, they were likely willing to accept a limited number of upsets in exchange for the postseason money and an “anything can happen” air similar to the one-game wildcard playoff system.
But just like the NCAA would prefer to keep the upsets to the first couple rounds until the “real” contenders make the Final Four — the ratings for the Butlers and VCUs making the Final Four have always been down compared to the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world — there’s little chance the league would want to see one of its biggest ratings drivers knocked out early.
And that’s why maybe — as slim as the possibility may be — the Brewers ending the Dodgers’ World Series hopes could be the kind of chaos that makes Rob Manfred rethink this expanded postseason plan. It’s all fun and games until your NLCS on FOX is Brewers-Marlins.
This week, cheer for chaos.
This week, cheer for the Milwaukee Brewers.