Milwaukee Brewers: How they lost their playoff spot

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Anthony Swarzak
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Anthony Swarzak /

On Saturday the Milwaukee Brewers were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs after a heartbreaking loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Colorado Rockies clinched the second Wild Card spot after the loss.

At the beginning of the season, there was no way the Brewers were going to make the playoffs. At the All Star Break, there was no way the Brewers were going to miss the playoffs. Now, at the conclusion of Game 161, there’s no way the Brewers are making the playoffs.

In such a roller-coaster of a season, the Milwaukee Brewers gave the their fans a reason to hope, a reason to believe again that a championship caliber team was playing in Miller Park once more. But the fans’ joy would turn to disappointment in what was almost an inevitable ending.

Elimination from the playoffs wasn’t always an inevitable ending. But issues that fans and pundits alike were willing to dismiss as minor issues earlier in the season turned into major problems in the second half.

Reason #1: Runners In Scoring Position

Let’s head back to the beginning of July. The Milwaukee Brewers were rolling, both the pitching staff and the offense were playing high caliber baseball. Winning nine of 11 games heading to the Break led the Crew to a 5 1/2-game lead over the Cubs. The Brewers had everything going for them. If they were a few more games over the Cubs, they would have started selling.

But as soon as the second half started, the offense went cold. The 5 1/2-game lead the Brewers built up was gone within a week. Everyone knew this offense centered around the home run. They couldn’t do squat with runners in scoring position. As a team this season, they hit .239 with RISP. But they were hitting dingers in the first half, so the problem was overlooked. At one point as a team, they went 0-for-33 with RISP.

When the long balls stopped flying, the offense got stuck in a rut, averaging nearly a run less per game in the second half than in the first half. The Brewers lost a lot of close games that could’ve been won if the offense was able to add a run or two here and there. The only reason that Milwaukee was able to stay in contention as long as they had was because the pitching stepped up to keep opponent’s run totals low.

The pitching kept opponents’ to two or three runs but when the lineup struggles to score one or two, the team drops a lot of close games. But they had the pitching to make it through to the playoffs. That is until…

Reason #2: Jimmy Nelson

As soon as Jimmy Nelson dove back into first base in Chicago and injured his shoulder, the Milwaukee Brewers season was over. That’s just a fact. Their goose was cooked. Nelson was the workhorse of the rotation, throwing the only complete game of the season for the Brewers. He would’ve been the guy to start the first game of the playoffs. He would’ve been the guy Craig Counsell counted on to get big outs.

The loss of Nelson had a major domino effect on the rest of the pitching staff. The Brewers suddenly lost their rotation depth. Counsell had three starters he could count on down the stretch. That number went down to two after the Nelson injury: Chase Anderson, who had the first good season of his career, and Zach Davies, who had an ERA north of 6.00 at home this season.

You can see how that doesn’t add up to a positive outcome. The Brewers had to put Matt Garza back in the rotation. That didn’t work. Junior Guerra wasn’t the same pitcher as last year and Wily Peralta is still in Triple-A. The pitching depth the Brewers were blessed with in April was gone. The old adage rings true. You can never have enough pitching.

So Counsell was forced to go to a rotation of Anderson, Davies, rookie Brandon Woodruff, and a combination of Brent Suter, Jeremy Jeffress and the entire bullpen to pitch through every fourth game. Those bullpen by committee days may have been effective early on, but the more Counsell had to go to them, the bullpen became less and less effective.

The loss of Nelson forced the rest of the staff to work overtime and the lack of a staff ace pitching every fifth day sunk the Brewers battleship. It put the nails in their coffin. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It took the wind out of their sails. However you want to say it, it ended their season. We just didn’t know it yet.

Fans held out hope as long as possible, but the bullpen by committee games took a major toll on the bullpen. The sweep by the Reds early in September is a moment most fans point to but that didn’t end their season. It didn’t help but there were many other opportunities to gain ground on the Cubs and the Rockies that the Brewers didn’t take advantage of.

How did these factors work together to dash their playoff hopes?

The loss of Jimmy Nelson combined with the inconsistencies on offense for the entire second half are what ended the Milwaukee Brewers playoff chase.

You can criticize Craig Counsell for his management of those bullpen by committee days all you want but he really had no other option. Who could he trust to start meaningful games in September? Anderson and Davies were the only guys he could trust. Woodruff was a rookie and September call up. Suter can’t pitch past the fifth inning. Guerra is a shell of his former self. So is Matt Garza.

But the bullpen had been magnificent of late and Counsell was able to trust his relievers to get outs more than any other option. It worked at first, but that success didn’t last.

So here we are. The Milwaukee Brewers are eliminated from playoff contention. However, it took much longer than anyone anticipated. There’s some pride and joy to be taken in that, but the fact remains the same. The Brewers will not be in the playoffs. What’s worse than that is that the Brewers should be in the playoffs. And they could have surprised a lot of people and made a real run this October. So another Brewers season ends in “What could have been”.

Next: Should Brett Phillips start in 2018?

The success of 2017 has raised expectations for 2018. A lot of players had career years in 2017 and it’s going to be hard to duplicate this success next year. The Cubs are now aware how close the Brewers are. Chicago is not going to get off to another slow start next year. The road only gets rougher from here.