The Milwaukee Brewers have parlayed their strong September into a near playoff berth with just a week left to go in the season. Just like last year, the surge has been led by the team’s pitching staff.
By now, Milwaukee Brewers fans have said or heard everything when it comes to Milwaukee’s pitchers. The starters aren’t good enough. The bullpen will never survive without Corey Knebel and a less effective Jeremy Jeffress. GM David Stearns didn’t do enough at the trade deadline to improve the pitching staff.
And some of the concerns obviously haven’t been entirely without merit. Apparently in September, though, none of that matters anyway. Because once it’s time for the rosters to expand, that’s when Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell goes to work.
Once again, Counsell has used the additional players on the roster to catapult the Milwaukee Brewers toward the postseason. When August ended, the Brewers found themselves 6.5 games behind the Cardinals for the NL Central lead and four games behind the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot. They also needed to climb past the Mets, Phillies, and Diamondbacks.
23 days later, and the Brewers have stormed past all of those teams and tied themselves with the Nationals for the top Wild Card spot, as well as just 3 games back of the Cardinals in the division. During that time, the pitching has led the way, and if that sounds familiar, well it should:
Since that tweet and a few more dominant performances against lesser competition, the Milwaukee Brewers have jumped into first place in the Major Leagues in ERA at 2.81 for the month of September. Those pesky St. Louis Cardinals, at 2.94, are the only other team in the majors with an ERA under 3.00 this month.
If ERA isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other stats in which the Brewers rank right near the top. The team’s FIP of 3.54 ranks fourth in the Majors, showing that the pitchers aren’t necessarily showing an impending crash back to earth. They also rank top five in the majors this month with a .202 batting average against (2nd), 28.5% strikeout percentage (3rd), 1.1 HR/9 (tied 4th), and a 3.7 K/BB ratio (4th).
To be towards the top of the league in so many categories requires a group effort, and that’s exactly what the Brewers have gotten in September. Of the 20 players who have thrown a pitch for the Brewers this month, 15 of them have an ERA under 3.30. 14 of them have a WHIP under 1.20.
Interestingly, of the five players with an ERA over 3.30, two of them have been some of the Brewers’ more reliable arms this season. Adrian Houser is sitting at a 5.51 ERA this month, but his FIP of 3.40 insists that he may have just run into some bad luck. Matt Albers is higher at an 8.31 ERA in September as he’s run into some rough outings lately, though he has been arguably one of the top two or three bullpen arms for most of the season.
Brewers on the leader boards
There are a few Brewers pitchers who are sprinkled among the league leaders in a number of statistical categories, some expected and some not. Perhaps the most unlikely of which is a player who hadn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since last July.
Brent Suter, who returned in early September after being out for over a year due to injury to amazingly become the team’s best bullpen arm, is 4th in the majors among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched with a 0.63 ERA. Suter also leads those qualifying pitchers with a 0.42 WHIP and is top 15 in slugging against and batting average against.
But of course Suter isn’t the only pitcher among league leaders. Gio Gonzalez, one of last year’s late-season heroes, is rolling again this September and sits 22nd in all of baseball for the month with a 1.47 ERA. Josh Hader has led the league for most of the year in K/9 and K%, is continuing to do so in September with a 18.0 and a 59.5%, respectively (both higher than his totals for the whole year).
But just like everyone probably expected going into the month (or more likely did not), fellow lefty Drew Pomeranz sits right behind Hader in second place in the Majors with a 17.1 K/9 and a K% of 51.3. Hader (2nd, 0.45) and Pomeranz (17th, 0.70) also join Suter in the top 20 in the league in WHIP.
It’s unfortunate that this will probably be the last time we get to see Counsell masterfully utilize the expanded roster in a way that allows his pitching to dominate. Unless something changes in the off season, each team will only be allowed to call up to 28 players to the active roster in September next year as opposed to the full 40 that is currently allowed in the month.
But for now, Counsell gets to use all of his added firepower. And while he does, the Milwaukee Brewers should continue to keep rolling. By the end of the week, they may roll themselves right to a second consecutive playoff berth.