With playoff odds sitting around 10 percent and three teams sitting between them and the final playoff spot in the National League, Milwaukee Brewers fans would be forgiven if they were at their wits end with this team. The pitching is a nightly guessing game, the offense is merely middle of the road, and the defense has taken a step backward.
The season is on life support, and outside of another inhuman Christian Yelich tear, it’s difficult to see how the Brewers will muster up enough strength for another torrid September.
But there is a glimmer of light coming at the end of the disappointing tunnel that has been the 2019 season. The schedule gods have given the Brewers a gift. Manna from heaven. Cheese curds from Bernie’s Chalet.
Trailing the second Wild Card-leading Chicago Cubs by four games after Milwaukee’s Tuesday night win, the Brewers host the rival Cubbies for – you guessed it – a four-game series this weekend at Miller Park.
On Aug. 5, I wrote about the Brewers’ remaining August slate and speculated they needed, at bare minimum, a 13-10 record through the Sept. 1 game against the Cubs to maintain in contact with the second Wild Card. Of course, the Brewers did indeed go 13-10. And after splitting a tough two-game series against the Astros, Milwaukee now enters the portion of their schedule where they can do legitimate damage:
4 vs. Chicago Cubs
4 vs. Miami
3 at St. Louis
4 vs. San Diego
3 vs. Pittsburgh
3 at Cincinnati
3 at Colorado
There is an legitimate road map to an 18-6 record to finish the season, if the Brewers sweep the hapless Marlins and Pirates at home, win the series against Chicago, San Diego, Cincinnati and Colorado, and then grab just one game in the road trip to St. Louis. Easier said than done, of course, but 18 wins over the final 24 games would give the Brewers an 89-73 record, which would almost certainly be enough to earn the second Wild Card.
Milwaukee is more likely to split the Chicago series and stumble at least once against Miami/Pittsburgh, which would move them to 87-75 for the year. That puts them right on the edge of the Wild Card. Anything worse, and they probably fall a couple games short of the postseason.
Of the four teams – Chicago, Philadelphia, Arizona and Milwaukee – within four games of the final Wild Card spot, the Brewers have the easiest remaining strength of schedule. The path is there to make some noise, especially as the rag-tag pitching staff continues to coalesce. (The Brewers have the third-best ERA in baseball since Aug. 21 at 2.89.)
But first, it starts with this weekend’s golden opportunity against the Cubs. And it’s not going to be easy. Chicago is trotting out a horde of Brewers killers: Jose Quintana in Game 1 (2.65 ERA in 16 starts against MIL), Cole Hamels in Game 2 (3.27 ERA in 19 starts), Yu Darvish in Game 3 (2.05 ERA in four starts) and Kyle Hendricks in Game 4 (3.08 ERA in 21 starts).
Milwaukee will counter with Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez and Adrian Houser. Neither the names nor the numbers stack up favorably against the Cubs’ crop of arms.
Yet that has always been the case. The Cubs have always been flashier, stacked with high-priced veterans with better back-of-the-baseball-card metrics.
But that did not matter when the Brewers hunted down the Cubs last summer. It did not matter when the Brewers went into Wrigley Field and knocked off Chicago in Game 163 to kick off a run to the NLCS. And it did not matter this past weekend when the Brewers shut out the Cubs in consecutive games to win a crucial series on the road.
This is the most important series of the season for Milwaukee. If the Brewers can manage to find a way to win it, then the next series against Miami becomes the most important. And then the one in St. Louis. And then the one against San Diego. But if the Cubs come into Miller Park and take three of four this weekend, then the Crew is almost certainly dead in the water.
If those stakes aren’t enough to awaken the Brewers, who have been playing .500 ball since the All-Star break, than nothing will. Milwaukee has been kicking the can for weeks; it’s finally time to make that postseason push.
When Brian's not writing about sports, he is probably prattling on about Marquette hoops, digging through statistics, or re-binging his favorite television series. Any conversation that begins with a quote from "The Office" or "West Wing" is a surefire way to grab his attention.