Big headline: BEWARE OF THE BREWERS!
Two weeks ago the Milwaukee Brewers got clobbered in a 10-5 loss to the Cubs at Miller Park. The pounding left the Crew staggering around with 71-68 record. They trailed the first-place Cardinals by an imposing margin of 7.5 games in the NL Central.
According to the Playoff Odds report, the Brewers at the time had a 0.6 percent shot at winning the division and a 5.6 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Things have changed.
Milwaukee is on an amazing run, having won 14 of its last 17 games through Tuesday.
The Brewers have rumbled to an 11-1 record since skimming their low point of the season on Sept. 5.
The latest Playoff Odds have Milwaukee with a 55.2 percent crack at making the playoffs, with a 12.8 percent possibility of capturing the division.
A that’s just part of a remarkable turnaround.
The Brewers are 6-1 since losing reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich (broken kneecap) for the season. The devastating injury was supposed to kill the Brewers’ chances. Instead, a proud team has shouldered through the adversity to rise in the standings.
As of Wednesday morning the Brewers were tied with the Cubs for second place in the NL Central, only two games behind the division-leading Cardinals. The Brewers and Cubs were also tied for the No. 2 wild-card spot and trying to chase down the Nationals for the No. 1 wild-card spot.
For a long time, the Brewers seemed to be clinging to not much more than stubborn pride and competitiveness. The pitching staff was torn by injuries, tired, and scrambling for remedies.
Consider that in July-August combined, Milwaukee ranked 11th in the NL with a 4.89 ERA.
But during their current 14-3 run the Brewers have an excellent 3.24 team ERA.
Milwaukee’s team ERA in September, 3.44, ranks third in the NL to St. Louis and Los Angeles.
And the Brewers are getting some arms back. Tuesday, Brandon Woodruff made his first start since July 21 and gave the Crew two good innings before turning the game over to Gio Gonzalez, Brent Suter, Matt Albers and Drew Pomeranz. Pitching carried the night in Milwaukee’s 3-1 win over the Padres. The Brewers will go for the three-game sweep Wednesday night at Miller Park.
The Brewers’ trade-deadline acquisition of Pomeranz from the Giants didn’t receive much attention, but the Milwaukee front office was confident in the lefty’s ability to provide quality work as a reliever. Pomeranz — who was awful as a starter, and pulled from San Francisco’s rotation — has made an impressive transition to a relief role.
In 20 appearances for the Brewers, Pomeranz has a 2.53 earned run average with 36 strikeouts in 21 and ⅓ innings.
Offensively the Brewers have had several players step up in a big way to compensate for the loss of Yelich.
That list includes catcher Yasmani Grandal, who has a .408 OBP, .632 slugging percentage and six homers this month. Third baseman Mike Moustakas has four homers and a .655 slug in September. Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Thames and utility man Corey Spangenberg have chipped in big hits. Rookie second baseman Keston Hiura — .370 OBP, .568 slug this season — just returned from the IL.
And while the Cubs and Cardinals will be spending seven of the final 10 games of the season in a head-to-head conflict that could cause damage to both teams, the Brewers have a much easier closing slate.
After wrapping up the four-game series with the Padres on Thursday night, the Brewers will host the shipwrecked Pirates for three — then go to Cincinnati for three, and Colorado for three. The Crew’s final nine games will be played against three opponents that are a combined 61 games under .500.
The Brewers have a sneaky chance to steal the NL Central if the Cardinals hibernate on offense, flop at Wrigley Field, or allow some late leads to slip away.
“It’s pretty awesome, we keep winning games,” Pomeranz told reporters that cover the Brewers. “We’re on a pretty good run right now. All of us are doing anything and everything we can — just keep pushing.”
We shouldn’t be too surprised here. Last season the Brewers charged to a 20-6 record down the stretch, winning 10 of their last 11 to finish with 95 wins and the NL Central title.
“As a group, it feels similar to what we went through last year,” Braun said Sunday, after beating the Cardinals with a ninth-inning, grand-slam homer. “So many guys stepping up, so many guys contributing. Just this relentless belief that we’re going to find a way to win.
“We’ve all relied on the experience we had last year. We were in a similar situation when we had to win games down the stretch. For all of us, we believe in each other. We believe we’re going to find a way, that somebody is going to step up, if we don’t get it done individually.
“You learn how to control your emotions in big games and big moments. You learn how to handle stress and pressure. There’s a lot of pressure in these big games and big moments. For everybody, having been through that experience is really beneficial. You can’t duplicate it.”
The Brewers are doing an admirable job of handling the September pressure.
We’ll soon find out if we can say the same about the Cardinals and Cubs.
LATE WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Cardinals knocked out Max Scherzer and defeated the Nationals 5-1 on Wednesday to take the series (2-1) from Washington … the Brewers lost a tough one to the Padres, 2-1 … the Cubs fell to the Reds in 10 innings (3-2 score) at Wrigley, losing two of three games to Cincinnati. The Cardinals increased their division lead over the Cubs and Brewers to 3 games … the Brewers and Cubs trail the Nationals by 1.5 games for the top wild-card spot.
Here are the updated Playoff Odds from FanGraphs as of Thursday morning:
Winning The Division: STL 74 percent … CHI 19.8% … MIL 6.3%
Making the Playoffs: STL 92.4 percent … CHI 58.2 percent … MIL 48.3 … NYM 5.8% … PHIL 1.5%
Thanks for reading …