The Milwaukee Brewers are one of the best teams in the National League. But do they really want to be the “best” team in the National League at the end of the regular season?
After Wednesday’s game, the Brewers sit 3.0 games back of the San Francisco Giants for the best record in the National League. The Giants also conveniently come into town for a 3 game series against Milwaukee this weekend.
While the Brewers should obviously desire to win those games and continue to bury the Reds in the division standings and prove to themselves and others that they can take on and defeat the teams in the NL West, winning the top seed heading into the postseason may not be the best idea.
As odd as it may sound, the Milwaukee Brewers should not want the best record in the NL and top playoff seed.
By looking at the playoff bracket, the National League is pretty well set. There are three great teams in the NL West; the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres. One will win the division and the two others are extremely likely to win the two Wild Card spots. The Reds are the next closest team and they’re four games back.
In all likelihood, the Wild Card winner will be from the NL West. Both the Dodgers and Padres have similar records to the Brewers and have very strong teams. The top seeded team in the NL will face that Wild Card winner in the NLDS. That will be a tough matchup.
Meanwhile, the 2nd seed will host the 3rd seed, which will most likely be the winner of the NL East. The Mets currently lead the East with a 55-51 record, just four games over .500 and with 10 less wins than the Brewers. The East has been a weak division all season and each “contender” from that division; the Mets, Phillies, and Braves, are very flawed teams.
A best-of-5 series against the NL East champion will be a much easier matchup for the Brewers than a best-of-5 against the Giants, Dodgers, or Padres.
Should two NL West teams make the Wild Card and the remaining good NL West team wins the top seed, then that means the Brewers will only have to face one team from the West to earn a trip to the World Series. That’s much easier than winning two.
What’s an easier path to the World Series? Facing two of Los Angeles/San Francisco/San Diego in a row, or facing the Mets or Phillies and then whoever remains of LA, San Fran, and San Diego? Obviously facing the Mets or Phillies first would be the easier path. Minimizing the risk that Milwaukee would face the Dodgers, who have eliminated the Crew two of the last three postseasons sounds like a smart idea.
What about guaranteed home field advantage through the playoffs? Shouldn’t the Brewers want that?
Home field advantage is nice to have, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. The Brewers had home field advantage over the Dodgers in 2018 and the Dodgers still moved on. Plus, Milwaukee could still end up with home field advantage anyways.
If the Brewers get the #2 seed, they’ll have home field advantage in the NLDS. When it comes to the NLCS, the Brewers could still get home field advantage if the Wild Card winner also wins their series in the NLDS. The top seed, especially against one of those NL West teams, is not a guarantee to move on.
Take the path of least resistance. Fans want the Brewers to make the World Series. The path that gives them the highest chance of reaching the Fall Classic involves getting the #2 seed and beating up on whoever wins the NL East and then taking on whoever is left from the NL West in the top seed/wild card matchup.
That remaining NL West team will be so spent both emotionally and physically from taking down their division rivals in the postseason that they could run out of gas in the NLCS against hopefully the Brewers.
Obviously, it’s still early August and the Brewers haven’t even clinched their division yet, although they have a 93.8% chance to win the division as of this article’s publication per Fangraphs. The Brewers can’t completely coast the rest of the way, but if they coasted to a #2 seed in the postseason, that would be the ideal scenario.
The Brewers may be a dangerous team in October with a strong rotation, but they shouldn’t take unnecessary risks that may come with the top seed in the NL.