Milwaukee Brewers: Just Enjoy The Ride Everyone!
By Dan Larsen
The Milwaukee Brewers have defied the odds to keep themselves in the race for a playoff berth with two weeks left. Given everything that’s happened this season, people should just enjoy this run!
There’s just two weeks left in the Major League Baseball season. The Milwaukee Brewers will enter that final two week sprint just one game out of the second wild card spot in the National League, which is currently held by the Chicago Cubs.
They’ll also enter it 2.5 games back of the Washington Nationals for the first wild card spot, and just three games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central Division lead.
Though the Brewers may be on outside looking in to start this two week run, they may be the team that’s in the best position to make the playoffs. The Brewers have won nine of their past ten games to get themselves back into the race. Their 13 remaining games are against sub-.500 teams: San Diego (four games), Pittsburgh (three games), @ Cincinnati (three games), and @ Colorado (three games).
The Cubs and the Cardinals, on the other hand. play each other seven times over the final two weeks. How those games play out is likely to be decisive to both team’s playoffs hopes.
Given everything that’s happened this season, Milwaukee Brewers fans should just be grateful this team is even in the race at this juncture in the season. The Brewers have defied almost all logic and rationality this year to keep themselves in a position to make the playoffs.
Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019, has gone wrong.
Milwaukee lost one of their electric bullpen arms in Corey Knebel to a season-ending elbow injury before the season even began.
Jeremy Jeffress, the second of the three elite relief pitchers which defined their pitching success the season prior, also got injured before the season began. Even though he came back just a few weeks into the season, he was not the same pitcher as he was the year before. He got designated-for-assignment at the start of this month and was later released.
Once the season kicked off, several more things went off the rails almost instantly.
Milwaukee’s gamble to roll with two of their top prospects filling rotation spots in Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes busted almost immediately. Both were moved to the bullpen just a few weeks into the season because of their struggles as starters. Both were later sent down to the minors too because they continued to scuffle in the pen.
Milwaukee’s best starting pitcher from the season before, Jhoulys Chacin, also suffered a complete collapse in production. He would struggle through the entire season, and suffer two injuries along the way. He would be designated for assignment and released, just like Jeffress.
The Brewers were fortunate enough that a decent starter became a free agent in May and they were able to sign him: Gio Gonzalez. He came in and immediately stabilized the rotation.
However, just when he was getting rolling in the rotation, he would get injured and miss several weeks of the season. That injury put the Brewers right back into the same unstable situation they had in their rotation before he arrived.
The Milwaukee Brewers would weather that storm, at least initially. Zach Davies had an incredible start to the year, though his underlying stats suggested he was an extreme overachiever.
Just when they needed him most,though, he would start to have the long overdue regression starts that his numbers suggested he would have. He then got hurt just days after the Trade deadline had passed, leaving Milwaukee without a clear way to fill his spot in the rotation.
One shining light in the rotation would keep the Brewers afloat through the middle of July: Brandon Woodruff. Woodruff made the most of his chance in the rotation to emerge as a genuine front of the rotation arm.
Then, in a start in Arizona in the middle of July, when the Brewers looked like they may be turning a corner collectively, he got injured. He would miss several weeks with an oblique strain. The Brewers had now lost their best starter.
The Offensive Struggles
In between the series of unfortunate events that would define their starting rotation this season, the Brewers also saw a complete collapse in production out of several of their key position players from last season.
Milwaukee’s second (Lorenzo Cain 5.7 fWAR), third (Travis Shaw 3.6 fWAR), and fourth (Jesus Aguilar 3.1 fWAR) best position players in fWAR from 2018 would struggle to get going offensively in 2019.
Cain has still been somewhat productive because of his gold glove level defense. Shaw has been completely unplayable.
Travis Shaw’s-1.2 fWAR is fifth worst in the Majors this season among position players who’ve made at least 250 plate appearances. He had posted 7.1 fWAR in his previous two seasons for the Brewers.
Jesus Aguilar, the third member of this awful list, would get traded before the trade deadline to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake Faria. In less than 12 months, he had gone from an All-Star, and potential franchise player at first base, to being traded for a reliever.
On top of these three players declining, the Milwaukee Brewers would also experience a slew of injuries to key position players at the worst possible time. Mike Moustakas picked up a wrist injury on a play in the field at the end of August that would keep him essentially out of the line-up for a few weeks.
A few days later, the Brewers rookie phenom at second base, Keston Hiura, would suffer a hamstring strain on a play in the field. He, too, would miss a few weeks with injury. He had been the team’s second best hitter this season when he played.
The icing on the cake would come last week when the Brewers looked to be on their way to making an improbable playoff run. Christian Yelich, the second best position player in baseball this season according to fWAR, would foul a pitch off of his knee in the opening at-bat of a game in Miami. It would turn out that he fractured his kneecap, and would miss the remainder of the season.
All of this, of course, overlooks a few other things that have gone wrong too. Milwaukee’s shortstop position has once again been a black hole for offensive production in 2019. Orlando Arcia, who’s played the majority of the team’s games at the position, has the worst WRC+ in the Majors at 57. He’s been 16 points worse than the next qualified hitter. None of his replacements would prove adequate to fill his spot either.
The Brewers bullpen would also struggle for the first few months of the season. They’ve become a major asset now, but they played a big part in Milwaukee’s early season struggles too.
How Are They Here?
If you had said before the season that even a third of the things that I’ve just listed would have happened, I would have guessed that Milwaukee would be in the bottom three of the National League with a record of ten games below .500 or worse. Almost everyone else would have said the same thing.
Milwaukee has not only had to overcome the obstacles we’ve just laid out, but they’re also outplaying their underlying stats by a massive margin.
The Brewers are outplaying their run differential right now by eight wins. In fact, their win total on the season entering play on Monday (80) exceeds what their total for the season is expected to be based off of their current run differential.
Only five teams in the past 50 years of Major League Baseball have managed to make the playoffs with a negative run differential, which is something we wrote about a few weeks ago. The Brewers look like they may be that once in a decade team that manages to do that this year.
The Brewers have no business being in this position, given everything that’s happened to them this season. Yet, here they are, just two weeks from the end of the season, one game out of playoff berth with an extremely favorable run of games. This team has been unbelievably resilient!
Just enjoy the ride everyone! No matter where the final two weeks (or more?) take us, this Milwaukee Brewers team has done all we could have asked for given everything that’s transpired this year.