It may say "Claws Up" all over Milwaukee, but the Brewers postseason trip thus far has been a big downer.
Thanks to yet another shutout, the Crew is at death's door, staring at a 2-1 NLDS deficit to the Atlanta Braves and nothing but must-win games from here on out. Worst of all, since the Brewers offense has been so painfully stagnant and inept, with no runs and barely any hitting in bunches, there's been practically nothing for fans to cheer about, resulting in two straight dead-energy games that slowly, quietly and uneventfully crawled to defeat. For a season that provided so much excitement, it would be a shame for it to end on such a limp note.
But ... maybe it won't?
The Brewers may have lost twice in a row, but that doesn't mean you should lose hope quite yet. In fact, there's nine solid reasons why Milwaukee's by no means out of this playoff series and out of the World Series hunt. Let's go!
1. A return to the mean
The Brewers offense was the big question mark throughout this season – a question mark that's turned into a bunch of swear-editing punctuation this postseason. You know all the infamous stats already: only two runs across three games, 19 straight scoreless innings, a goose egg for 16 with runners in scoring position. Sure, a low-scoring pitchers duel of a series was expected – but those are some ugly numbers no matter the case, and my eyes, brain and heart hurt looking at them.
The good news? They're so ugly that, at some point, they have no choice but to change.
Sure, the Brewers offense wasn't great this season, but it wasn't THIS lethally awful – or hasn't been since acquiring Adames in May. And frankly, while the Brewers' swings haven't looked great these past few games, they've still had their opportunities and simply suffered some bad luck in the process– especially late in Game 3 when some solid defensive positioning and unfortunate missed opportunities squandered men on base. (Imagine if Urias had taken second base on that passed ball and then Narvaez hit his double; that could've been a whole run!) They hit balls hard in several key situations on Monday – just right at guys in Braves uniforms.
At some point, the law of averages says that this team has to return to the mean and these scoring opportunities will turn into actual runs scored. Basic science and pattern recognition says that crooked numbers will happen again, and hopefully that starts today – and the Brewers reopen the floodgates just in time.
2. A team of destiny
One of the reasons why the Brewers' problems in the NLDS have been so disheartening is that it just doesn't feel like the team we watched this season, a team that seemed to defy the odds and play like a team of destiny throughout the year.
They endured a COVID outbreak, they got their first no-hitter in more than 30 years, and they endured a wild comeback from their hated recurring nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals. Normally Brewers fans are conditioned to think the team is going to collapse, that things are inevitably going to go wrong. This season, it felt the opposite – when Milwaukee got down, there was a feeling they would find a way to win. And then, miraculously, they often did. (*hits play on a highlight of Daniel Vogelbach's walkoff grand slam for the 478th time*)
Maybe this series will play out the same way, and this seemingly destined journey won't end prematurely.
3. It's not like the Braves have been hitting great, either
The Braves offense owes the Brewers offense a bottle of something nice after these past few games, because the Crew's obnoxiously awful bats have taken the harsh spotlight away from their not-particuarly outstanding swings this series.
Sure, the Brewers have only scored two runs in three games – but the Braves have only scored seven runs in that time, aka an average of barely more than two runs a game. That's a very beatable number if Milwaukee's bats can wake up in time. If the Brewers have only one Rowdy Tellez swing to thank for their offense, the Braves basically just have a pair of Joc Pederson swings to account for their runs in two of the three games – so it's not like Atlanta's been Hotlanta in the batter's box either. It's time for the Brewers to start making them pay for that these next two matchups.
4. Charlie Morton pitching on short rest
The Braves are clearly aiming to end things early his series by starting their ace Charlie Morton on short rest in Game 4 – not an inherently odd choice, since he's their best pitcher. Plus, he has history for postseason short-rest dramatics, throwing four strong innings of desperation relief for the Astros in a victorious Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. But it's a little peculiar considering, strangely enough, Morton's the only pitcher the Brewers have managed to score runs against this series – and they'll have been very familiar with his stuff since their last meeting was just last Friday afternoon. Here's to a rude reintroduction on Tuesday.
5. Away sweet away
The opposing locker room isn't typically one's comfort zone, but that's been exactly the case for the Brewers this season. Milwaukee ended the regular season with the second best road record (50-31) in all of Major League Baseball this year. For some odd reason, the Brewers love that road cooking. Meanwhile, the Braves are far from automatic at home, barely over .500 at home during the regular season at 42-38. So home field is no advantage for this must-win game.
6. History says 2-1 isn't insurmountable
The Brewers may be one loss away from annihilation, but being down two games to one is no death sentence in the playoffs. In fact, four teams have come back from down 2-1 in the divisional round in just the last five years – most recently twice in 2019 (the last "normal" postseason), with the Nationals and the Cardinals both coming back to win their series.
"But Matt," I hear you say to your laptop screen, "all of those comebacks happened with a must-win Game 4 at home. We have to win today in Atlanta." That's true; it's more rare for a team to roar back from 2-1 down starting in enemy territory. But again, it's not like it hasn't been done. In fact, the last time it happened was just 2015 – twice, with the Blue Jays coming back to beat the Rangers and the Royals coming back to beat the Astros, both times requiring a road victory to get the rally started. The latter of those two AL teams would then go on to win the World Series that year, so if the Brewers can survive this ...
7. Lauer power
The Brewers' big three get all of the attention – and deservedly so – but the fourth man in the rotation has been no slouch either. Eric Lauer, once considered the losing side of the Trent Grisham trade with the San Diego Padres, quietly put up his best year in the MLB this season, putting up a 3.19 ERA and holding opposing batters to a mere .215 batting average.
Lauer particularly turned it on late in the season, only giving up four runs total across five starts in September and no more than four hits in a single game. Sure, he stumbled in his final start of the year against the Dodgers, giving up five runs in five innings – but that was the strange part of the season when the Brewers had nothing to play for and Los Angeles did.
Lauer's not the most obvious or inherently confidence-inducing pick to start a must-win game – and the fact that he hasn't piched in over a week either makes you happy he's rested or nervous that he's rusty. But he's proven to be a more than capable arm. And while some might prefer to see our Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes on short rest on the mound, according to him, he's simply not ready to go – and I'd rather a healthy and rested pitcher go than a guy still running on fumes.
In the end, if Lauer does great – as he's done regularly throughout the back end of the season – that leaves him and Brandon Woodruff ready to go for a critical Game 5 on regular rest. It's a good plan, one that might just bring the team back to Milwaukee and back from the dead.
8. Brew City loves its back against the wall
I'm just saying: The last time I was this down on a Milwaukee sports team, it was, oh, maybe a few months ago – and it ended with the Bucks hoisting the city's first championship title in half a century. And a reminder: The Bucks seemed dead not once but twice during their playoff run – at first against the Brooklyn Nets, then again versus the Hawks when Giannis went out. So if anybody should know about resilience and resurrection in the postseason, it should be Brew City sports fans.
9. We have a guy named Rowdy
I'm just saying: I'm pretty sure it's against the rules for a team with a guy named Rowdy to miss the World Series – and if it's not against the MLB's rules, it's definitely against the rules of nature.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.