As we approach the end of the regular season, attention around the baseball world has started to turn towards October. A lot of that attention is going to the team with the best record, the Atlanta Braves (96-50), who arguably boast MLB’s most complete team. The other team that will generate loads of hype is the Los Angeles Dodgers (88-57), who have the second-best record in the National League.
But what about the Milwaukee Brewers at 82-64?
Sure, they play in the Central so there is less buzz surrounding them, but they’re en route to their fifth postseason appearance in eight seasons since Craig Counsell took over as full time manager. In 2018, they made it to the NLCS only to be eliminated by the Dodgers in seven games. The Brewers may not be a juggernaut team, but they have some pieces that could end up leading them to postseason success.
Back in 2019, the Washington Nationals basically had three pitchers and a couple of effective bullpen pieces when they won the World Series. They also had a roughly league average offense during that regular season. If you’re looking for a reason to hope on the Brewers, it’s that they can follow the Nats’ model, but with a few more arms, in October.
Pitching leads the way for the Milwaukee Brewers
As is the case with most Brewers’ clubs in recent years, pitching is the calling card of this team. Their team ERA of 3.82 ranks fourth in all of baseball over the course of the season, and that has largely been without one of their aces, Brandon Woodruff. The 30-year-old right-hander made two starts to begin the season before being placed on the IL with right shoulder inflammation on April 11. He didn’t come back until August 6th, and in his seven starts upon returning he has posted a 2.24 ERA (1.93 on the year), and in two September starts he has allowed zero runs in starts of seven and nine innings.
Add 28-year-old Corbin Burnes and his 3.47 ERA to the mix, and the Brewers have two starters that can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the National League Playoffs. The Dodgers’ two best starters by ERA, Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller, hold a 2.61 ERA and a 3.98 ERA, respectively. Atlanta’s Max Fried has a 2.70 ERA in 12 starts followed by Bryce Elder’s 3.38 ERA. Spencer Strider would likely get the nod in Game 1 or 2 for the Braves, and his ERA sits at 3.83 while his FIP is at 2.89.
All three teams have pitching, but Milwaukee’s Devin Williams is the best closer from this group with 34 saves this season, a 1.65 ERA and a 13.33 strikeouts per nine rate. Atlanta boasts familiar foe Raisel Iglesias as their closer, who spent six seasons playing in the NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds. If these two teams were to match up in the postseason, that could give Milwaukee a needed boost.
Freddy Peralta (3.79 ERA) and Wade Miley (3.30 ERA) are options for Counsell and the Brewers to start games in a longer series as well. However, the question with this team every year isn’t their pitching, it’s their offense.
Milwaukee Brewers’ bats brewing since deadline
Atlanta and Los Angeles have the two best offenses in baseball by wRC+ at 125 and 118 (100 is league average), while the Brewers rank 24th over the course of the season, 10 points below league average with a 90. They rank 18th in runs scored (643), but again, the Braves and Dodgers are one-two.
While it’s not necessarily an earth-shattering jump, the Brewers rank 17th in wRC+ with a 98 since the MLB trade deadline. Deadline acquisition Mark Canha is leading the way with a 136 mark, followed by off-season addition William Contreras’ 127. Josh Donaldson was activated on Monday, and on Tuesday he thumped his first home run with Milwaukee. He’s batting .160 on the season and 11 of his 19 hits have gone for homers, but with Milwaukee he’s 4-for-13 with four walks through four games. If he’s able to stay healthy and provide some thump in this lineup, he could be a difference-maker in the postseason.
It’s unfair to ask this of a rookie, but Brice Turang could be another key for Milwaukee to get things brewing in October. The 23-year-old is batting .222 with a .291 on-base percentage (OBP) this season, but he has also swiped 22 bases and has only been caught four times. He ranks in the 96th percentile in sprint speed, so getting him on the basepaths to wreck havoc could be another advantage for Milwaukee. Over his last seven games, Turang is 6-for-19 (.316) with a .381 OBP. That is the kind of production the team needs.
Sal Frelick is another 23-year-old rookie, but he has fared a little better in his 40 games played, batting .252 with a .363 OBP, thanks to a 15.4% walk rate. He also has six steals in 41 games. The Brewers are going to need someone to step up this postseason in order to advance a round or two. This could be an excellent opportunity for the two rookies to announce themselves to the league.
National League Playoffs: A clearer picture
The Brewers hold a 4.5-game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the Central, so while their ticket isn’t quite punched, they have a 93.6% chance to win the division according to FanGraphs. Assuming they stay atop the Central, that would set them up with a wild card round date with the final team to squeak into the postseason.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Cincinnati Reds are all currently tied for the final wild card spot in the NL, with the Miami Marlins just a half-game back of the trio. Any of those four teams could be headed to Milwaukee in the first round of the postseason. The Brewers just wrapped up a four-game series with the Marlins, taking three of the four. They could play a role in eliminating the Marlins from playoff contention with three left to play against the fish next week.
Arizona is 4-2 against Milwaukee on the season, but those series were played in April and June back when the Diamondbacks were atop the NL West, and before the Brewers made their deadline additions. The Giants also went 5-2 against Milwaukee back in May, but that was without Woodruff. The Giants have also been very up and down this season, especially of late. The Brewers are 10-3 against the Reds this season, so that may be the ideal opponent for the wild card round. In a short series, it would be tough to pick against the Brewers playing at home with the pitching they have on hand.
If Milwaukee made it to the NLDS, they’d get to face a rested Dodgers club. They’re also a team that will be relying on some inexperienced pitchers to take on big roles for them. L.A.’s bullpen has been solid for them this year, ranking sixth in ERA (3.67), but they’ve also racked up the eighth-most innings across the league. Milwaukee’s bullpen has a 3.70 ERA and ranks 28th in innings. The Dodgers may get a few extra days of rest, but they also may need those days more.
Injuries and suspensions have done a number on the Dodgers this season, and while it’s true that they still hold the third-best record in all of baseball, this club could be a vulnerable 88-57. Josh Donaldson is still searching for a World Series ring. Mark Canha is set to hit free agency again and searching for his next contract. Christian Yelich, Woodruff, and Burnes have already been eliminated from the playoffs by the Dodgers twice. You have to think they’d like to do the eliminating for a change.