What an incredible finish by an incredible team. I said the Brewers would need to finish 14-12 to qualify for a wild card spot at the end of August. They killed it and went 20-7, put up a +69 run differential, and forced a game 163 against the Chicago Cubs for the division after starting the month 5.5 games behind them. The Brewers managed to come all the way back and swipe the division out of the Cubs’ grasp. How did the Brewers go from such a pedestrian month of August to a scorching hot month of September? Let’s break it down.
Waiver Deadline Acquisitions
Cheap, low risk deals really proved to be worth it with the three players the Brewers brought in during late August.
Gio Gonzalez was great for the Brewers in his five starts with the team, posting a 2.66 ERA in 20 innings. Xavier Cedeno was a great left handed weapon out of the bullpen to give Dan Jennings a bit of a breather as he passed his career high in innings pitched this season. Lastly, Curtis Granderson was better than I could have asked for in his few starts and as a weapon off the bench. His plate discipline is something to behold as he posted an OBP of .396 in 53 plate appearances.
Bullpen Returned To Form
After a month in which the bullpen looked like it had either been figured out by other teams or seemed tired, the Milwaukee bullpen returned to being one of the best in baseball.
After what seemed to be a lost season. Corey Knebel has returned to his dominant self (NL reliever of the month). In 15.1 innings Knebel has struck out 32 batters, opponents are hitting .102 off him, and he has not allowed a run during September. Josh Hader has had two bad outings in a row, but prior to those, he looked electric once again (27 K’s in 12.1 innings). Jeremy Jeffress went 7 for 7 in save opportunities and has continued to be one of the most consistent arms out of the Brewers bullpen (I’d argue the most unsung hero of the season). Brandon Woodruff has been lights out since his callup and is making his case for the postseason roster. Corbin Burnes has continued to be great out of the pen as a rookie as well.
I would argue that this was the most essential part of the Brewers torrent month of September. Starting pitching didn’t eat up too many innings while the bullpen did. They did so more than efficiently. As a whole, Brewers pitching allowed only 77 runs in the month of September.
This is an obvious one. I don’t even feel like what Yelich has done needs an explanation. Yelich was the best baseball player in Major League Baseball following the All-Star break (to already add on his all-star worthy first half). He blasted 25 homers, drove in 66 guys and hit a cool .361 in 252 at bats. He finished his 2018 campaign with a bWAR of 7.4 which was .4 better than the second best player in terms of WAR, Lorenzo Cain. Two cycles, a run at the triple crown, and he finished his season with his OPS near 1.000. Every day you thought to yourself: “How can this guy get any better?” and he found a way each and every day as the season went on. What Yelich has done for the Brewers over the course of the 2018 season is more impressive than the CC Sabathia run in 2008, and that is saying a lot.
The Chart above (per Fangraphs) displays Yelich’s swing percentage by plate career plate appearances on the first pitch. This was a huge factor in Yelich’s rise this year. Yelich has had great plate discipline throughtout his career, but he became much more aggressive this year and it paid off. He put 73 balls into play on the first pitch he saw this year as compared to the 47 with the Marlins last year. He rose his launch angle on the first pitch from 4 degrees to 11 degrees, hit 12 first pitch homeruns, and hit .521 with an OPS of 1.711 on his batted balls in play on the first pitch. To put those numbers into context, last season with Miami Yelich hit .426 on batted balls on the first pitch and only hit 1 homerun.
Also, what a guy this dude is right? If you haven’t read his Players Tribune article, you really should. I am so excited to have this guy on the Brewers for years to come.
The Rest Of The Offense Is Pretty Good Too…
Ryan Braun turned back the clock to 2011 as he had two crucial two homerun games against the Cardinals to boost us to a critical sweep over them. Braun had a .991 OPS in September. Lorenzo Cain has continued to be Mr. Consistency as he batted .310 in September and scored 18 runs while being the best defensive CF in the National League. Orlando Arcia found his stroke again, hitting .288 in September after what seemed to be a lost season for him. Arcia also was huge in game 163 where he went 4 for 4. Domingo Santana hit .381 in mainly a pinch hit role, but he came up with some huge hits for the club after what was probably a very disappointing season for him.
I had no idea this team was capable of winning the division with how good the Cubs are. I figured this team could win 88-90 games and clinch a wild card spot. What’s most impressive about the season to me, is that they finished 96-67 without their ace, Jimmy Nelson, throwing a single pitch this season. I thought the rotation was going to be a weak point this season, and I was very wrong, Jhoulys Chacin was better than I could have imagined as well as Wade Miley, who I didn’t think would even last on the team all season. Who could’ve seen Jesus Aguilar having the season he did? Or Jeremy Jeffress? Even Christian Yelich?
What Milwaukee proved this year was that 2017 was not just a “flash in the pan”, but that they are a real contender. They came out and made a statement with the Yelich and Cain acquisitions and it sure paid off. This team is young, under control, and can only get better from here. What a season of Milwaukee Brewers baseball, bring on the postseason!