Brewers Have “The Look”

Stop me when this sounds familiar.

Christian Yelich collected three hits with an RBI, stole a base and scored a run, and the Milwaukee bullpen logged 3.1 frames of scoreless baseball.

It’s been a formula that has worked for the Brewers all season long: Well enough for the Crew to boast the National League’s best record at the All-Star break, rattle off eight consecutive wins starting September 23 to wipe out a 2.5 game deficit, and walk into the lion’s den that is Wrigley Field and claim the Central division crown from a team that is “not” their rival, the Cubs.

Regarding the supposed non-rivalry, Cubs fans can say whatever they like. Cole Hamels can talk about how many Chicago fans attend games at Miller Park. But after 20 match-ups to this point in 2018, the Brewers have won nine, including the one that mattered most (so far).

Rivalries go deeper than just wins and losses, it’s about proximity. Chicago’s a rival with St. Louis even though  historically the Cardinals are contenders and win championships, while the Cubs didn’t win anything between 1908 and 2016, save for a handful of games in a handful of playoff appearances.

It’s also worth remembering that the most talented team doesn’t always win the World Series, or even a pennant. I’m from Minnesota, so I understand that concept very well. The title teams of 1987 and ’91 were not overwhelmingly gifted, and certainly not superior on paper to the Cardinals and Braves squads they bested in seven games.

This Brewers team reminds me of those championship clubs from Minnesota. While they aren’t comprised of superstars up and down the line-up, they have bats that can inflict damage from top to bottom, led by Yelich, who narrowly missed the Triple Crown and is almost certain to win the NL MVP award.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that the smooth-swinging outfielder is the only hitter opponents should be wary of. While Jesus Aguilar has slowed in the second half, he’s still demonstrated power to all fields and can go yard at any time. Ryan Braun is not the player he was in 2011, but he managed 20 home runs this season, and has hit .321 (9-for-28) with five homers and 10 RBI since September 24, including a run-scoring single that provided Milwaukee with a huge insurance run on Monday. You can also add Travis Shaw’s 32 big flies, center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s .395 on-base percentage and the ample postseason experience and calming influence that he brings.

Quite often, folks point to the Brewers’ rotation as their impending downfall. While it’s true that none of the arms at Craig Counsell’s disposal can rival those in Chicago or Los Angeles, it’s worth pointing out that Milwaukee had the fourth-best team ERA in the National League, and that among playoff teams, only the Dodgers finished with more strikeouts, and only the Cubs posted more shutouts.

It has become clear that while they are underwhelming so far as stuff, the Crew’s starters do well enough to set up the best bullpen in the league.

And let’s be honest about this, October has become a bullpen game, and the Brewers tower above all other NL teams in that department. Counsell can call on four closers for an inning or two at any time. Joakim Soria isn’t the All-Star he had been in Kansas City but hasn’t surrendered a run in his last eight appearances. Corey Knebel registered 33 punch outs and lowered his ERA from 4.95 to 3.58 over 16.1 innings since September 2. Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress were not only All-Stars, but combined for a 1.88 ERA with 27 saves and 13.2 strike outs per nine.

Translation: if Milwaukee has the lead heading into the sixth, it very well may be game over.

The Brewers have a deep line-up, which may or may not have Shaw or Mike Moustakas or Domingo Santana (who blasted 30 homers a year ago) coming off the bench to bat in a key spot. They boast of the league’s best hitter who’s playing out of his mind, a former MVP who is heating up at the right time, and Cain, who just makes things happen when they matter most. And oh-by-the way, Orlando Arcia may be a defensive shortstop who was was batting just .197 when he was demoted in June, but he finished at .236 by season’s end, including a four-hit performance in Game 163 – a confidence builder that could carry throughout the postseason.

And then there’s that bullpen.

Milwaukee is not the most talented team in the National League, not by a wide margin, but they are a whole stronger than the sum of their parts and have four things going for them as they await their opponent for Game 1 of the Division Series on Thursday: they’re hot, supremely confident, that pen, and Christian Yelich.

Simply stated, the Crew have “the look.”

You know what else sounds familiar – Yelich, Yount.

The Brewers have not been to the World Series since their shortstop won the MVP in 1982, but they have an outfielder who’s about change that.

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