Craigtember is back, baby! This time jam-packed with even more history and 25% more record-breaking goodness!
The Milwaukee Brewers under manager Craig Counsell in the month of September are a marvelous thing. So much so, that Brewers’ fans have become to define the ninth month of the calendar as ‘Craigtember’, a moniker that honors the significant achievements of Counsell’s teams in MLB's final month of the regular season. A month where the games still technically count as much as the ones in April and May, but seem to matter oh so much more than just a single win or a single loss.
A history lesson:
In 2018, the Boys of Brew won 19 of 26 games in the month of September, catching the Chicago Cubs on the last day of the day of the regular season to force a game-163, winner take all matchup in Wrigley on September 31 (sometimes called October 1). Milwaukee would go on to win that game, of course. Those ’18 Brewers were propelled by an insanely hot MVP-in-waiting named Christian Yelich, who clubbed 10 homeruns in the month and hit .352/.500/.807 over the final month to claw back from a 5-game deficit on Sept 1. Craigtember was born.
But it was far from a flash in the pan.
In 2019, Milwaukee went an astonishing 20-7 and this time did so without Yelich, who fractured his kneecap on a foul ball on Sept 10 and missed the remainder of the season. The Brewers failed to catch the Cardinals for the NL Central crown this year, but their torrid Craigtember put them back in the playoffs as a Wild Card – losing to eventual World Series winner Washington in heartbreaking fashion.
But a second consecutive monster September was all the Milwaukee faithful needed to know that Counsell's teams were developing a reputation for saving their best for last. NL Central teams were put on notice. No division lead was safe.
The next year, Craigtember took a bit of a year off. 2020 wasn’t a normal year in any sense of the word, and September didn’t carry the same magic for the Brew Crew as the years’ previous. But given the fact it was only the second month of a shortened season, maybe Craigtember is just more of a slow build.
Perhaps you just can't rush the magic.
The Crew only went 13-13 last September, but they did manage to toss six shutouts over the course of the month and found their way into the National League’s eighth and final playoff spot – putting the Brewers in the postseason for a franchise best third year in a row with a bit of help from the wonky playoff format. Not quite the classic Craigtember we've come to expect, but certainly not a complete skunk.
But this year, Craig and his boys may have truly saved the best for last. It turns out, when the Brewers don’t need to be great in September - by virtue of a double-digit lead in the NL Central – they might actually be at their very best. Because you see, the Milwaukee Brewers may have just completed their most historic week in their 51-year history.
And of course - it came in September.
Let’s recap this team’s last seven games (in eight days):
Last Saturday, September 4th the Brewers beat the Cardinals 4-0 behind Adrian Houser’s complete game shutout. It was the first complete game for Milwaukee since Jimmy Nelson in 2017 and the first CG shutout since Kyle Lohse blanked the Reds in September of 2014. Houser was terrific, needing just 100 pitches to finish the game. He walked none and struckout seven, while allowing just three base hits – all singles.
The following day, Sunday Sept 5th, the Brewers walked off the Cardinals in epic fashion with pinch hitter Daniel Vogelbach delivering a grand slam on the second pitch he saw from Cardinals All-Star reliever Alex Reyes. It was the first walk-off granny in Brewers franchise history by a pinch-hitter, just the second walk-off GS in team history with the Brewers trailing and just the 30th "ultimate slam" (where the batter represents the winning run) in the live ball era of Major League Baseball.
It was also a great moment for Vogelbach, who was the team’s primary option at first base before he severely injured his hamstring on June 22 and wasn’t even assured a role on the team after they acquired Rowdy Tellez via trade. It is a moment that will follow Vogelbach forever, like the Sveum HR on Easter Sunday or the Sabathia CG on the final day of the season.
It should have been the Brewers biggest moment of the week. Spoiler alert: it wasn't.
The next day (9/6), the Philadelphia Phillies came to town and spanked the Brewers 12-0. Not a great result for the club, but history was still made(and also nearly missed). The Phillies mashed six homeruns and former Brewers accounted for half of them. Jean Segura belted his first career grand slam and Brad Miller hit a pair, nearly becoming the first player named "Miller" to hit multiple HRs in the ballpark of the same name – but as we all know, this is the first year of American Family’s naming rights deal. So alas, this one falls under a missed opportunity.
Tuesday, September 7th was a bounce back for the Brewers with a 10-0 switch-a-roo on the Phils. Eric Lauer pitched seven shutout innings, lowering his second half ERA to a sterling 2.25 and Avisail Garcia hit a homerun in the bottom of the seventh that still hasn’t landed. History-wise, the Brewers extended their lead in the NL Central to a franchise record 11-games over the Reds. A record that would stand for just 24 hours.
Wednesday, September 8th was a more closely contested affair with the Brewers coming out on top 4-3. Escobar hit a go-ahead HR int he 7th inning and Josh Hader saved the game for Milwaukee, earning his 30th of the season. It was Hader's second season topping the mark (Hader also led all of MLB with 13 in the shortened season last year) and in doing so, he became just the 4th Brewer and second lefty with multiple 30-save seasons.
And, by extending their lead in the NLC to 12, the Brewers broke their one-day old record of largest division lead ever.
Friday, September 10th saw the Crew travel to face the Cleveland ‘Indians’ for the final series ever as the Cleveland franchise will be renamed the ‘Guardians’ after this season. This game had all kinds of baseball/Brewer-specific oddities that you might never see over a full 162-game season, let alone happening in the same game.
For this, we’re going to need a bullet list:
- In the top of the 1st, Kolten Wong was awarded home plate on a catcher’s balk –yes, that’s a real thing – for Cleveland backstop Ryan Lavarnway stopping a live ball with his facemask. Catcher’s balks are notable, because it is one of the few cases where an error is awarded, but any runs scoring count as earned against the pitcher.
- Then with the bases loaded in the 5th inning, Luis Urias made contact with the catcher’s glove on his swing resulting in catcher’s interference. This was Lavarnway’s second error of the game. However, catcher’s interference with the bases loaded is one of the few plays in baseball that can result in an RBI when reaching on error. Except, it’s not a technical 'reach on error', because the batter is not charged with an at bat. Baseball, man…
- And so of course the next batter, Lorenzo Cain, smoked a deep drive to LF for the Brewers second Grand Slam of the week. It was Cain’s third career Grand Slam - but the first for the team that drafted him. And his first since 2017.
- Also in the game, Eduardo Escobar hit two home runs – one from each side of the plate as Escobar is a switch-hitter. They also both led off the inning. It's Escobar's fourth time hitting a HR from each side of the plate in a single game. Although the Brewers haven't had this happen since Jonathan Villar in 2016.
- Houser actually extended his scoreless inning streak to 16, seeing as both of the runs he allowed were unearned – and in the process, won his second game of the week. That win brought his season total to nine, which makes him the fourth Brewers SP with at least nine victories this year. The Crew haven’t had four SPs with at least 9 wins since the 2011 season.
- On the other side of the field, the Indians stole six bases in the game tying for the most in a game this season by an MLB club. They also extended their consecutive stolen base streak to 35, which is approaching the MLB-record.
- And finally, Luis Urias hit his 20th homer of the season for the Brewers and gives Milwaukee two players with 20+ homeruns (along with Wily Adames) who started at least 50 games at the shortstop position. The Brewers as a franchise have only ever had six players swat 20 HRs in a season with that many starts at SS: Robin Yount (twice), JJ Hardy (twice), Jose Hernandez (twice), Dale Sveum, Bill Hall and Jose Valentin.
Finally, Saturday, September 11th saw the Brewers save their best for last (at least this week) as they threw just the second no-hitter in franchise history with Corbin Burnes striking out 14 and walking one across eight remarkable innings and Hader coming on to close it out. The game was the closest the Brewers have ever come to perfection and only the second time the Brewers had held the opposing team to a single baserunner through 9 innings. The other was Ben Sheets who held the Angels to just one hit over nine innings, but exited the game with the score tied 0-0 only to see the Brewers win it 1-0 in 17 innings.
And with it, the Brewers added what may well be the final no-no to the season of No-Hitters. Already in baseball this year, there have been an MLB-record nine of them. And it was the third time this season the Indians have been no-hit (also a record). Omar Narvaez secured a 25-year broadcasting career with the club after his playing days are over by virtue of catching a Brewers no-no and admittedly it felt like Milwaukee got a bit of a monkey off their backs by finally adding their second to their ledger. After close calls from the likes of Steve Woodard, Ben Sheets and Sabathia, the Brewers finally got '#2' on the backs of two of their most electric arms in franchise history.
Burnes’ performance was his seventh double-digit strikeout game of the season, all of them coming with one walk allowed or less. It marked the third time Burnes pitched at least eight innings and his 17th start of the season allowing one run or fewer. He also eclipsed 200 strikeouts on the season, finishing the game with 210 and tied with Max Scherzer for second among NL pitchers. Additionally, by virtue of his performance, Burnes overtook Scherzer and Walker Buehler for the MLB lead in ERA and built upon his lead in K/9.
Oh, and the Reds lost to St Louis again on Saturday, so Milwaukee extended their franchise record division lead to 13 games and reduced their magic number to clinch the NL Central to 7. At this point, the Brewers have a realistic shot to clinch against the hapless (not Happ-less) Cubs when the team returns home from Detroit next weekend.
So, that was a week.
The Brewers played in four shutouts in seven games, winning three of them. Had a CG shutout and then a combined no-hitter. All told, the team hit nine homeruns. two grand slams and their starters threw four quality starts.
But possibly the most important takeaway from this week is that the Brewers looked good. They have the air of a championship team – never out of any game with their offense but fully capable of shutting down an opponent with great pitching top-to-bottom.
Houser’s complete game shutout to start the week might only have been the team’s third or fourth most impressive pitching performance when you factor in Burnes’ and Lauer’s outings. Additionally, how often do you have a guy like Escobar hit three dingers in a week (including a game winner against Philly) and he’s basically an afterthought?
That is how impressive this past week was for the Brewers.
They might only be 7-3 to start Craigtember, but already it has been a special one. And it seems very likely the best is yet to come.