Brewlieve 2.0: How the Brewers turned their season around at just the right time
On Sept. 4, I analyzed the Brewers' final series with the Chicago Cubs and how it had "a chance to re-energize their sleepy season."
I hypothesized the Brewers would need an 18-6 run in September to feel good about their postseason chances. The schedule was certainly set up favorably, but 18 wins in 24 games was a far cry from the Brewers' meager .514 winning percentage to that point. And when a Kyle Schwarber grand slam sealed a Cubs win in the first game of that series, hope looked all but lost.
But here we are now, as the Brewers have rattled off 12 wins in their last 13 and have moved into sole possession of the second Wild Card spot, with a legitimate chance to leapfrog Washington for home field advantage in the Wild Card game.
To top if off, the Brewers' final nine games are against the free-falling Pirates, the mediocre Reds and the underachieving Rockies. Heck, with that schedule, even the NL Central crown is in play as the Brewers are currently three games behind the Cardinals. The Brewers should finish no worse than 6-3 down the stretch, with 7-2 or even 8-1 looking very possible.
The Brewers' postseason push is a familiar story for anyone who can remember as far back as 12 months ago. From Aug. 5-18, 2018, the Brewers lost 8 of 11. The pitching was ineffective, and the offense had gone cold.
But then they found the switch. From Aug. 19 through Game 163 on Oct. 1, the Brewers ran off a 28-10 record, including an eight-game winning streak entering the playoffs. Through the first 125 games of the 2018 campaign, the Brewers' starters owned a 4.02 ERA, while the relievers pitched to a 3.79 mark. But down the stretch from Aug. 19 onward, those marks – aided by Craig Counsell's watchful eye – fell to 3.57 and 2.61, respectively, which both ranked in the top 10 in the league during that span.
The switch for the 2019 pitching staff has been even more distinct. Through Aug. 30, the Brewers starters (4.75) and relievers (4.68) both posted ERAs that ranked in the bottom-half of the sport, but over these last 14 games, the starters are sitting at 3.05 ERA, which is right in line with the relievers 3.06 mark. Both rank in the top five in the majors.
Admittedly, these numbers are clearly the work of arbitrary endpoints. "Winning team pitches well" isn't exactly front page news.
But there have been some changes to support the Brewers' success on the mound. Jordan Lyles, who had a 5.36 ERA with Pittsburgh, has posted a 2.35 ERA in his 10 starts since joining the Brewers. Milwaukee is 9-1 in those games. Zach Davies (2.37 ERA in his past four starts), Gio Gonzalez (1.80 ERA in his last four outings), and Chase Anderson (3.75 ERA in his last three starts) have all righted the ship, but are doing so in a way very familiar to last year's success – none have lasted more than five innings in that time. And staff ace Brandon Woodruff looked excellent in his return from an oblique injury, throwing two hitless innings with four strikeouts against San Diego on Sept. 17.
With the minor league season complete – meaning Woodruff could not work through a rehab start at a lower level – Counsell got creative, throwing Woodruff for two innings before turning the ball over to Gonzalez for the next three. That strategy may only apply to Woodruff as he increases his workload following a two-month layoff, but it could be a tactic Counsell deploys for some of his other starters in a potential Wild Card matchup or Division Series.
Much of the starters' success ties in with improving bullpen particularly, as Counsell is able to limit the number of times his starters see the opponent's batting order. Josh Hader has put his mid-summer struggles behind him (11 scoreless outings in his last 12 appearances), Drew Pomeranz has strengthened the bridge to Hader (a 2.42 ERA in 21 appearances with Milwaukee), Freddy Peralta has flashed in September, Ray Black has been impressive and Brent Suter has regained his pinpoint control (0 walks in 12.1 IP) in his return from Tommy John surgery. It's not necessarily a traditionally lights-out unit, but just as it did in 2018, the bullpen is fortifying the organization when it matters most.
The offense sans Christian Yelich is nothing to write home about, yet if Counsell and the pitching staff can keep the game with in a run or two, there are enough professional hitters in the Milwaukee lineup to put the Brewers back on top.
The Brewers pitching staff has done a total 180 in the last month and is now leading the charge to the postseason. With the finish line in sight, can Milwaukee complete yet another miracle September run? Only nine winnable games stand in the way of the franchise appearing in back-to-back postseasons for the first time since 1981-82.
It was certainly tough to see at times, and even during this run, plenty of breaks have gone against the Brewers. But here they are, still standing, with a chance to tack another pennant on the left field façade at Miller Park.
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