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Understanding the Brewers’ position and strategy these past few weeks

Winning games has not been the priority for some time now — and that’s fine.

MLB: New York Mets at Milwaukee Brewers
It feels like forever ago that the Brewers clinched the division, which is because they are so good. Don’t forget that.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

As we watch the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants blow past 100 wins, some may wonder if they are that much better than the Milwaukee Brewers. Realistically, Milwaukee is much closer than their 95 wins suggest, and it is because they have not put a priority on winning at all costs since at least September 13.

The Brewers had just completed a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians on September 12, pushing their NL Central lead to an insurmountable 14 game advantage with 18 games to play. They had won seven of eight games overall and knew they could settle into cruise control.

From that point on the focus was on getting players healthy, keeping arms monitored and fresh, and putting different players in various situations to both test them and ensure they stayed sharp.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Giants have pushed each other, both trying to win the NL West and avoid the dreaded one-game Wild Card contest where anything can happen. This difference in strategy was on full display Friday night in the Dodgers 8-6 win over the Crew.

Had it been a playoff game or Milwaukee was fighting for a postseason berth, manager Craig Counsell would have made many different decisions to play for the win. As it stood, he stuck to his script.

Bottom of the 5th, Brewers leading 5-1

  • Trea Turner hit a grand slam off starter Eric Lauer to tie the game after hitting a solo homer in the 1st.
  • Had this game mattered, Counsell would have gone to the bullpen for a right-handed pitcher to face Turner - possibly Adrian Houser or Hunter Strickland. Counsell may have even brought in a reliever to face Mookie Betts two batters earlier with two runners aboard.

Top of the 6th, game tied 5-5

  • With left-hander Justin Bruihl on the mound, Omar Narvaez bats and weakly flies out to left field to end the inning.
  • Maybe this seems small, but if this game mattered, Manny Pina likely pinch hits in this spot. Narvaez has a .445 OPS in September/October - and in a tie game with a lefty on the mound - Counsell likely takes a shot with Pina there, especially how he has been hitting. In fact, with Clayton Kershaw starting the game, Pina may have gotten the start normally.

Bottom of the 7th, game tied 5-5

  • Jandel Gustave remains in the game for a second inning of work and allows a home run, hit by pitch and a single, before throwing two wild pitches. Los Angeles scores three runs in the inning for an 8-5 edge before Brent Suter gets out of the inning.
  • Had this game mattered, Gustave doesn’t even pitch the 6th inning, let alone the 7th inning, too. Counsell would have used a high-leverage pitcher in a tie game with likely a much better result — and impact in the following frames.

Top of the 8th, Dodgers leading 8-6

  • With two out in the 8th, Daniel Vogelbach drove in Christian Yelich to cut the Dodgers lead to two. Dave Roberts then pulled reliever Joe Kelly to bring in his closer, Kenley Jansen, to get a four-out save.
  • This is a move you make when a game truly matters. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Counsell brought in Josh Hader to pitch the 8th inning on Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals with the Brewers trailing by a run. He would never normally do that, but Hader was “scheduled” to pitch that day and get the day off on Friday.

These were just a few examples of the difference in strategy. And keep in mind, it has been proven time and time again, there is no correlation between how “hot” a team is to end the regular season and their postseason results. We all just tend to remember the teams that play well into the playoffs and continue all the way through to the World Series.

A great example is the 2018 Boston Red Sox who went 108-54 en route to winning the World Series. The Sox lost three of their last four games and were 3-5 in their final eight contests. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees (100-62) went 7-3 to finish the regular season, won three of their final four (including two against the Red Sox), and won the Wild Card game. That “hot” team then lost to the “slumping” Red Sox three games to one in the NLDS.

Sure, it can be frustrating to see Milwaukee lose a few games because of cautious decision-making; however, the key is making sure you have the players ready to go 100 percent when the NLDS starts on Friday. That is why guys like Avisail Garcia, Kolten Wong, and Willy Adames are getting sporadic time off. That is why Brett Anderson still started a couple of games and relievers pitch in close games when they likely won’t be on the playoff roster.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs
Counsell and his staff have a specific plan focused on playoff success.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

So again, it may look like the Brewers are 10 games worse than the top NL West teams or that they are limping to the finish line. Neither are true. Yes, you’d like to see individual players having good at-bats and all of your top hurlers shutting down the opposition. But in the end, so long as they feel good heading into the opening series, that is the most important factor.

Regardless of their recent 6-10 run, a healthy Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Josh Hader already give Milwaukee a huge edge. Then throw in all of the rested regulars in the lineup, the number of talented arms at Counsell’s disposal, and the variety of bats on the bench...and it doesn’t matter what the final records end up being.

Keep in mind, at one point the Brewers were 34 games over .500 at 91-57, a record for the franchise. Milwaukee also set a club record with 50 road wins (as of Saturday morning), one of only two teams in MLB to reach that mark. Only the Giants have more road wins, and they own the best overall record in baseball at this time (106-54). These two stats alone should make you feel good. You can’t fluke your way into those marks.

Each and every Milwaukee Brewers fan should be excited and confident in this club. Enjoy the ride and let the smart people who got your team here see if they can finish the job - in the playoffs — not in meaningless regular season games.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference