By Jeffrey Newholm
“Get up get up get outta here CAUGHT!” Not Bob Eucker’s regular call? Perhaps not, but with the Brewers leading 3-1 in the division tiebreaker game, Brewer fans were begging for an easy fly. Thankfully Anthony Rizzo’s rip only required a calm Uke to dictate “Broxton is there!” and the Brewers playoff is on for the first time since 2011. And with the wild card Rockies the next victim, surely the 96 win crew will barrel into the NLCS. But an experienced Brew Crewer may groan at this point with a “oh wait a minute!” The Brewers have blown it plenty of times before. Is 2018 different?
Game 163 was actually a rather ordinary affair, apart from the stakes. Josh Hader was able to shrug off a ruined reputation to obtain the last six outs:
But all 96 wins were necessary for Milwaukee to make it. Who were the key contributors? Obviously near-triple crown winner Christian Yelich was the most important slugger. Granted, the Brewers did need to send some “impactful, championship-caliber players” to Miami to obtain the sure MVP. (Who, ironically, appears himself to be an impactful, championship-caliber player). Ryan Braun, another star with a long-ago soiled reputation, provided a experienced clubhouse voice and contributed to an automatic fly-out outfield. The starting rotation was beset by several serious injuries and doesn’t host a sure ace, although Wade Miley and Jhoulys Chacin did pitch well. Chacin pitched the clincher and will pitch game two, with manager Craig Counsell declaring a “bullpen day” for game one. Oh dear, bullpen day. This actually bodes rather well for Milwaukee, however.
After many blown-out closers, the Crew’s bullpen was a unquestioned strength this year. The pen sported a 3.47 ERA, fifth in baseball, and covered an average of 3.77 innings. Hader’s unique delivery is the biggest asset. Former journeyman Jeremy Jeffress now presents a stoic demeanor and wicked slider. And Corey Knebel can cover difficult innings even if it’s no longer the ninth. And with ten walk-off wins for the year, and home-field for the NL playoffs, the bats can step up even in the case of rare failure. Crazed sellout crowds are certain to pack the park this weekend. Will they be fulfilled, or cheated again?
In 2011 Nyjer Moragn Tweeted of 2nd place St. Louis, “I hope those crying birds enjoy watching the Crew in the Playoffs!!!” Well they had fun watching the Crew lose at St. Louis’s expense. Three years later Milwaukee set a major league record for days in first place…for a non-playoff team. But (and please find the nearest wood Brewers fans!) the (GM) David Stearns and Counsell regime has a better attitude and expectation. The Brewers play to win but aren’t the least bit afraid to celebrate it. Michael Lewis argued three is the most important number in baseball. Before it, anything can happen. After it, nothing can. Well then, Milwaukee simply has to check off three more wins against a less celebrated team before rolling out the barrel for the franchise’s third LCS appearance.