For just the fifth time in franchise history the Milwaukee Brewers are participants in the playoffs.
Milwaukee finished the first 162 games of the regular season tied with the Chicago Cubs for first place in the National League Central Division before defeating the Cubs 3-1 in a tie-breaking Game 163 at Wrigley Field. The victory earned the Brewers home field advantage through the National League playoffs and a trip to the NLDS.
In the best-of-five NLDS the Brewers will be taking on the Colorado Rockies. The series follows a 2-2-1 format, with the beginning at Miller Park.
How they got here:
The Rockies, like the Brewers, finished in a tie for the lead in their division. That meant they played in a tie-breaking Game 163 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unlike the Brewers, the Rockies lost their Game 163 meaning they were off to Chicago for the NL Wild Card Game.
Colorado then knocked off the Cubs 2-1 in a 13-inning thriller of a NL Wild Card Game on Monday night in Chicago. The Rockies were able to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning before the Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. The teams traded scoreless innings until the top of the 13th when Colorado’s Tony Wolters drove in the go-ahead run on a two-out RBI single.
As for the Brewers, their Game 163 win over the Cubs meant they automatically advanced here instead of having to play in the single-elimination NL Wild Card Game.
By now, it would be a shock to most, if not all, if Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich didn’t win the 2018 NL MVP Award. He’s more than earned that honor with a scorching second half following his first career All-Star appearance. The outfielder has been everything the Brewers could have asked for and more when they acquired him from the Miami Marlins for a package of prospects this past winter.
Yelich has been Milwaukee’s best player without question, but he’s had plenty of help from fellow outfielder Lorenzo Cain as well as infielders Travis Shaw and Jesús Aguilar.
For Colorado, there hasn’t been one player stand above the rest the way Yelich has in Milwaukee, but the Rockies have gotten near MVP-level contributions from both third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story.
Arenado is a borderline top 10 position player in baseball and Story followed up an outstanding rookie campaign that was cut short due to injury with an even better sophomore season. Both players finished the regular season in the top 10 in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) with marks of 5.7 and 5.0, respectively. To compare, Yelich led the NL with a 7.6 fWAR and Cain was at 5.7 as the top two Brewers.
The Brewers have relied on their bullpen for much of the season, and with good reason. According to FanGraphs the Brewers had the second-best bullpen in the NL with a combined fWAR of 7.1. Josh Hader is widely regarded as the best reliever in the league following his breakout campaign and may even garner some Cy Young votes, Corey Knebel has been lights out since his short stint in AAA, and Jeremy Jeffress has been one of the more underrated relievers in all of baseball.
Milwaukee has tried to re-write the way that pitchers are used as opposed to traditional ways. In their season-defining series against the St. Louis Cardinals the Brewers opened up the first game with lefty reliever Dan Jennings on the mound. Jennings recorded the first out of the game before being pulled in favor of traditional starter Freddy Peralta.
The starting pitching staff for the Brewers has certainly been underrated nationally, but it was a middle-of-the-pack group in the NL. Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley were both good for the Brewers, when available in Miley’s case, but the rotation lacks a traditional go-to ace. There isn’t anyone in Milwaukee’s rotation strikes fear into opposing hitters.
The Rockies on the other hand do not have as strong of a bullpen as the Brewers, but few do. Colorado’s relievers were still one of the better groups in the NL for much of the season, and they had an extremely strong month of September, too.
The starting pitching for the Rockies is where the advantage in this series may lie. Kyle Freeland has been Cy Young quality in the second half of the season and German Marquez had a terrific season for Colorado as well. Freeland just pitched on Monday in the NL Wild Card Game on short rest throwing 6 2/3 innings of scores baseball while allowing only four hits and striking out six. He kept the Cubs off balance all night. The best part about that for the Brewers is that he won’t be starting Game 1 of the NLDS. That honor will go to Antonio Senzatela. Senzatela was 4-5 this season in just 13 starts with an ERA of 3.95 in 73 innings.
Craig Counsell should win National League Manager of the Year for his efforts in guiding Milwaukee to the best record in the league. He’s a very deserving candidate without question. This is also the first playoff series that he’s ever managed.
Colorado’s Bud Black has been around for quite some time, although this is his first postseason series as well. He managed the San Diego Padres from 2007 until 2015, never qualifying for the playoffs. Black’s Padres did lose a Game 163 in 2007 to the Rockies for the NL Wild Card.
Truthfully, Counsell is probably the better manager of the two, especially with neither having any postseason experience.
The Brewers claimed the season series over the Rockies in 2018 by winning five of the seven games played between the two teams. Milwaukee took three-of-four from Colorado at Coors field in mid-May and then two-of-three at Miller Park during the first week of August.
Schedule and Probables:
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 4, 4:07 p.m. CT at Miller Park
Brandon Woodruff (MIL, 3-0, 3.61 ERA) vs Antonio Senzatela (COL, 6-6, 4.38 ERA)
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 5, 3:15 p.m. CT at Miller Park
Jhoulys Chacin (MIL, 15-8, 3.50 ERA) vs TBD
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 7, 3:37 p.m. CT at Coors Field
TBD vs TBD
Game 4*: Monday, Oct. 8, TBD at Coors Field
TBD vs TBD
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 10, TBD at Miller Park
TBD vs TBD
*Games 4 and 5 are if necessary.
Zach Heilprin: Brewers in 4
Joe Miller: Brewers in 4
Ebo Thoreson: Brewers in 4
Danny Cunningham: Rockies in 5