The upcoming MLB Playoffs are fascinating to speculate about as the year starts winding down, and the teams possibly securing their postseason berths are beginning to likely fill in their spots in that the postseason is almost an entirely different form of baseball.
The teams that are built for a 162-game season may not necessarily be the best built for the series format or the hottest team heading into October, which leads to magical runs where teams like the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies, who finished third in their division, built up some secret sauce to dethrone other NL powerhouses and make the World Series despite a rough first half. They had the formula that was built for the playoffs.
This season, it’s time for us to stop ignoring the Milwaukee Brewers.
Milwaukee has the makeup of a roster that could pull off that sort of “built for the postseason” equation, yet it feels as if they’ve been the redheaded stepchild of the contending teams in the league because they lack that sort of “sex appeal” of a narrative or big market. In the preseason, it was the rival Cardinals in their division who had the top two NL MVP Award recipients in Goldschmidt and Arenado and were the first-class organization bound to take the Central. Then, when the Cardinals were disastrous from the very beginning, we fell for the darling Pirates, who had a hot May.
Then the Reds called up Elly De La Cruz in June, who electrified the league and got the Reds in first place, only for them to get swept by Milwaukee twice and go 3-10 against the Brewers on the year. Then, the darling Cubs, whom the public has longed for their success again ever since the breaking of the curse in 2016, had a red-hot July and have been teetering between the NL Central lead and a wild card spot since but have since given the lead back to the Brew Crew.
They’re not going to receive the same level of praise as the star-studded Braves, who hit 3 homers a night, or the Dodgers, who have the star power of one of the most upstanding franchises in sports.
They don’t have an MVP big name on the roster, but they’ve quietly assembled a team built to coast through the division and should receive a similar amount of respect.
Aside from a sweep by the Dodgers in LA and a hard-fought series loss in Wrigley, the Brewers have had an electric stretch where they’re getting healthy and hot at the right time. They swept the Rangers, Twins, and Padres and just won a weekend series against the Phillies to pad their division lead over the Cubs and plant their flag as the third-best team in the National League, going on a 7-3 stretch.
It’s not sexy baseball at all. Yes, Christian Yelich is a former NL MVP, but his injuries took him out of the general public eye for a while until he’s now recently got his hitting streak back this year by pivoting to an approach that relies less on power, leading the team in hits, RBI, and OBP. They get production out of random rookies that can just be plugged in, like Joey Wiemer, Brice Turang, or Sal Frelick, and acquire low-stakes deadline acquisitions like Mark Canha and Carlos Santana. Willy Adames and William Contreras can pimp some home runs, but aside from those two, they don’t have a lineup that you see on a marquee television screen at a sports bar consisting of a Matt Olson and Ronald Acuna or Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman- they draw the third-most walks and have a murderer’s row of players that don’t have glaring weaknesses. It’s fundamentals baseball, baby!
What truly separates them as a team that could be built for October and what gives them the capability of not needing a fiery offensive production is that they have a pitching formula that is built for the playoffs. In October, it’s about having a stable of workhorses and a bullpen that you can give it to in a high-stakes series, and that’s exactly the Brewers’ secret sauce. Their pitching staff allows the fewest hits and the best average allowed in baseball through their rotation of Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser, and now getting Brandon Woodruff healthy back for playoff baseball. Burnes was a preseason Cy Young favorite who had a slow start, but the depth in Peralta, who is 4-0 in his last 5 starts and broke the team record with 69 strikeouts over a 7-game stretch, has given them unbelievable depth in their starting rotation. On top of that, their bullpen has allowed the fewest hits in the majors and has a top-5 WHIP rate at 1.24, held down by Devin Williams and his Airbender pitch.
It’s not headline-grabbing baseball at all. If it was a hockey team, it’s like the Seattle Kraken having a team full of excellent second-line starters. They win with the best defense, solid and consistent pitching that’s good enough to make up for average offensive production, and a smart manager in Craig Counsell who knows how to win and strategize clutch situations with a roster that has been consistently in flux for the past several years.
However, the beauty of baseball is being able to win in such a variety of ways; don’t be surprised if one of the hottest-hitting teams runs into the brick wall of the Brewers pitching staff of Burnes, Peralta, Woodruff, and the bullpen, gets frustrated, and doesn’t know how to play the guitar left-handed for a series.
It’s unsexy baseball, and that’s exactly what the Brew Crew wants as long as they’re winning and floating underneath your radar.