NLDS Preview: Brewers vs Rockies

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.

MVP Candidates:

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.

Pitching:

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.

Managers:

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.

Season Series:

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.

Zone Predictions:

Zach Heilprin: Brewers in 4
Joe Miller: Brewers in 4
Ebo Thoreson: Brewers in 4
Danny Cunningham: Rockies in 5

Brewers NLDS opponent set

The Milwaukee Brewers had to wait an extra day after clinching the National League Central Division before finding out who the opponent would be in the National League Division Series. The opponent was unveiled very early on Wednesday morning as the Colorado Rockies defeated the Chicago Cubs 2-1 in the NL Wild Card game.

By finishing with a record of 96-67 the Brewers not only claimed the NL Central, but also the best record in the entire National League, earning home field advantage through at least the NLCS.

The Rockies and Cubs played a 13-inning thriller at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night to earn the right to advance to the NLDS to take on the Milwaukee Brewers in a best-of-five series.

Colorado struck first with a run in the top half of the first inning and then was quiet until the very end of the game. Chicago tied the game on a Javy Baez single in the bottom of the seventh inning.

In the top of the 13th the Rockies got three consecutive two-out singles by Trevor Story, Gerardo Parra, and Tony Wolters. Wolters’ single drove in the go-ahead run to give Colorado a 2-1 lead in which they would not relinquish.

Game 1 of the NLDS between the Rockies and Brewers is set for Thursday afternoon at 4:07 p.m. CT at Miller Park. Starting pitchers for the series have not yet been announced.

Brewers playoff game times set, tickets sold out

Milwaukee Brewers fans have caught playoff fever.

The club announced Tuesday that tickets for the National League Divisional Series were sold out.

Fans had a chance to guarantee themselves postseason tickets for all rounds by putting money down on a 2019 ticket plan or starting last Friday they could buy single-game tickets for the NLDS.

Milwaukee is guaranteed two home games, though its opponent is still to be decided. As the top seed in the NL, the Brewers will get the winner of Tuesday night’s Wild Card game between Chicago and Colorado.

MLB announced Tuesday that Game 1 is slated to start at 4:07 p.m. (FS1) on Thursday and Game 2 has a first pitch of 3:15 p.m. (FS1) on Friday. Game 3, on the road, will take place on Sunday.

If you’re planning to attend the games later this week, the Brewers sent out an information sheet for fans. You can find that here.

Brewers celebrate as they claim NL Central with win over Cubs

What once seemed like just a dream is now a reality. The Milwaukee Brewers clinched the National League Central Division with a 3-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The two teams finished the first 162 games of the regular season tied with 95 wins apiece, requiring a 163rd game to serve as the tiebreaker. Due to the Cubs winning 11 of the 19 head-to-head contests during the season they earned the right to host the game.

The Brewers struck first with a run in the third inning on a RBI-single from outfielder Christian Yelich scoring Orlando Arcia from third. Those two went a combined 7-for-8 at the dish on the day as Yelich was 3-4 and Arcia was a season-best 4-4 in the win.

The Cubs then tied the game on an Anthony Rizzo solo home run off of Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin in the fifth inning. That home run was the only damage allowed by Chacin. He pitched 5 2/3 innings allowing just the one run on one hit and two walks while striking out three.

From there the bullpen was mostly good as Xavier Cedeño struggled, but Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader well pitched very well.

Knebel earned the win as he pitched a perfect seventh inning and Hader recorded a two-inning save, allowing only a two-out base hit to Chicago’s Javy Baez in the ninth. He then retired Rizzo on a fly ball to right field and the celebration was on.

The Brewers now advance to the National League Division Series where they will take on the winner of the NL Wild Card Game between the Cubs and the loser of the Game 163 between Colorado and Los Angeles.

The NLDS will begin on Thursday at Miller Park. A start time has not yet been announced.

Brewers, Cubs to play tiebreaker to decide NL Central title

It’ll take one more day to decide the National League Central.

The Milwaukee Brewers saw to that with an 11-0 win over the Detroit Tigers at Miller Park on Sunday. The Crew turned a 4-0 game in the sixth inning into a blowout with a six-run seventh inning. First baseman Jesus Aguilar finished with three RBI, while outfielder Ryan Braun and shortstop Orlando Arcia each drove in two. NL MVP favorite Christian Yelich was 0 for 2, but he walked twice and both of those turned into runs.

Milwaukee used three different pitchers on the day, with Gio Gonzalez getting the win by pitching five scoreless innings. Junior Guerra and Jordan Lyles took care of the final four innings as the Brewers finished off the sweep of the Tigers.

Meanwhile, down in Chicago, the Cubs were in the process of beating St. Louis 10-5. The two results left Milwaukee and Chicago tied at 95-67, meaning the teams will meet on Monday for what amounts to an NL Central championship game. Due to the Cubs winning the season series 11-8, the game will be played in Chicago.

The winner takes the division and will be the top seed on the NL side of the playoffs. The loser will turnaround and host the wild card game on Tuesday against the loser of the other tiebreaker game between Los Angeles and Colorado.

First pitch at Wrigley Field is set for 12:05 p.m.

Brewers pull into a tie atop the NL Central with one game left

The National League Central will come down to the final day of the regular season.

The Milwaukee Brewers saw to that with a 6-5 win over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night at Miller Park. That, combined with a loss by Chicago earlier in the day, left the Crew and the Cubs tied at 94-67 with just one game left for both teams.

Milwaukee’s win came as Christian Yelich continued to make an overwhelming argument as the NL’s Most Valuable Player. The outfielder hit two more home runs, including what proved to be the game-winner in the seventh inning to break a 5-5 tie. It left him in striking distance of the NL Triple Crown, as he leads the league in batting average (.324), is tied for the lead in home runs (35) and is just two RBI behind Chicago’s Javy Baez (111). The last Triple Crown winner in the NL was Joe Medwick in 1937.

Manager Craig Counsell’s club will go to bed in first place for the first time since July 13. The Cubs have held the lead since and were up six games on Milwaukee on Aug. 28. But the Brewers have closed strong, winning six straight games and 12 of their last 13 series. It’s all set up Sunday’s dramatics. Milwaukee will host Detroit with first pitch coming at 2:10 p.m., while the Cubs are taking on the Cardinals in Chicago starting at 2:20 p.m.

If the two teams are still tied after Sunday’s action, there will be a one-game tiebreaker on Monday to decide the division. Because the Cubs won the season series, the game would be played at Wrigley Field. The winner would be the division champ and the top seed in the NL playoffs. The loser would host the NL Wild Card game on Tuesday.

Brewers 6, Tigers 5: What we saw

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers hit three home runs Friday night in a 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Miller Park. The win allowed them to stay within one game of the Chicago Cubs in the race for the NL Central with just two games to play.

Here’s what we saw:

“MVP, MVP”

Even when you’re expecting Christian Yelich to be great, he still exceeds expectations. The Brewers outfielder, coming off a road trip that included a six RBI game and an outing in which he was walked five times, stepped to the plate in the first inning to chants of “M-V-P” and his team already trailing by three. All the 26-year-old did was take the first pitch he saw over fence in right center, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy, including his brother, Cameron, a Marine who was at an MLB game for the first time in two years.

“The heart’s pumping a little bit that first at-bat with how loud the stadium was, and then obviously everybody you have in attendance, everybody watching, and you’re just trying to catch your breath,” Yelich told reporters afterwards. “For that to happen on the first pitch was pretty cool. It’s really hard to describe. It was an awesome moment.”

Yelich would walk twice to stretch his streak of reaching base to nine straight plate appearances dating back to the game Tuesday in St. Louis before striking out in the seventh inning. His night left him within striking distance of the Triple Crown. He’s leads the NL in batting average at .322, his 34 home runs are two less than leader Matt Carpenter and his 106 RBI are five back of leader Javier Baez. Is it unlikely he gets it? Sure. But it’s more evidence of the kind of season he’s having, one that should land him the NL MVP award.

Getting hot

Ryan Braun is getting hot at the exact right time and he’s not surprised. The Brewers veteran slugger hit two more home runs on Friday night, his fourth and fifth in the last four games.

That included an improbable eighth-inning shot that landed in the glove of Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos just as he ran into the right field wall. The ball popped loose, rolled along the top of the wall and finally fell out for a homer.

It proved to be the game-winner and it came 10 years to the day that Braun hit a similar go-ahead home run in the eighth inning to beat the Chicago Cubs, helping the Brewers to their first playoff berth in 26 years.

“You always want to play your best when it matters most,” Braun said. “I think, in my history, I’ve always played my best when it does matter most. I woke up on Monday and told everybody, ‘I got you. As long as I stay healthy, I’m going to dominate the rest of the way.’ So far, so good.”

Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell took it easy on Braun for much of the season, hoping he’d be the Braun of old when it got to September and playoff time. That’s proven to be the case, especially over the last week. Five of his last six hits have left the ballpark. The Brewers have a healthy Braun and that’s a dangerous thing for opposing teams.

What’s going on?

Josh Hader has been dominant for much of the year, but could there be a concern or two after his second rough outing in his last three appearances?

In St. Louis on Tuesday night, he gave up a pair of home runs but Milwaukee was able to overcome them in a 6-4 win. On Friday night, Hader served up a two-run homer that tied the game in the eighth inning. He’s now given up four home runs in the month of September, just one fewer than he had given up in the first five months of the season.

“He just didn’t have it tonight,” Counsell said of Hader. “Josh has certainly bailed us out a bunch of nights. Sometimes we have to do it for him.”

It’s only two bad outings in a season full of dominating ones. In the five outings prior to Tuesday night, Hader had thrown 7 1/3 innings and struck out 20 of the 22 batters he faced. He’ll be fine, but the two hiccups are something to note.

Last strikes: Brewers 2, Cardinals 1

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Twenty-two last strikes for Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich following the Milwaukee Brewers’ postseason-clinching 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

1. It was a bit cooler on Wednesday night than it was for the first two games of the series between the Brewers and Cardinals in St. Louis.

2. Well, that may have just been the champagne on ice.

3. When the clubhouse doors burst open around 9:35 p.m. on Wednesday night the champagne was no longer on ice, it was spraying through the air.

4. The Milwaukee Brewers are going to the postseason for the fifth time in franchise history and the first time since 2011. They’ve clinched a wild card spot at the very least and the National League Central Division crown is still up for grabs.

5. Even though everything isn’t quite yet decided, the Brewers deserved this party. This is what players dream of during the offseason.

6. “We’re fortunate we have an off day tomorrow,” Mike Moustakas said. “We’re going to go enjoy this one with the boys, have fun in here, and then come back to work the next day and be ready to go.

7. “We all know what’s at hand, we all know what’s at stake. We’re all focused, ready to go get it, but right now we’re going to enjoy this.”

8. Make no mistake, the Brewers aren’t relaxing. They have their eyes on more than just playing for a chance to go to the NLDS.

9. It wasn’t easy to get done for the Brewers. The game was almost blown in the eighth inning when Moustakas made a throwing error that almost led to St. Louis’ Adolis García scoring on the play. Hernán Pérez backed up the overthrow at first base and fired the ball to catcher Erik Kratz for the play at the plate.

10. Kratz blindly swiped a tag as soon as he received the ball, but he got nothing but air. García was 15 feet away still after he slipped and fell. Kratz was able to compose himself after completing a full-360-degree spin and tag out García. Crisis averted.

11. The ninth inning was much smoother for Jeffress and the Crew. St. Louis went down 1-2-3 without much of a fight at all.

12. “The play [in the eighth] ended up being a little crazy,” manager Craig Counsell said after the game. “You need some breaks. If you’re going to win the World Series, you’re going to catch a break, I’m telling you.”

13. There are two words that Counsell uttered that haven’t been tossed around much with this team: World Series.

14. Milwaukee may not be anyone’s favorite to win it all in October, but crazier things certainly have happened. Just getting into the playoffs is an accomplishment, without question. So few teams make the postseason that it’s worth celebrating the way the Brewers did on Wednesday night.

15. The pure jubilation inside the visitor’s clubhouse on Wednesday was something that had been building for 159 games.

16. “It’s what we dream of man,” Jeffress said. “What every single person here is playing for and what we’re fighting for until the end. To get it like this, man, it’s great. It’s wonderful.”

17. At 9:28 p.m. when Jeffress was standing on the mound facing Tyler O’Neil with a 2-2 count, it was almost time to celebrate.

18. “Heart’s pumping a little bit because it’s two strikes,” Lorenzo Cain said. “It just shows that it never gets old. Still get nervous, still get goosebumps, I’m just happy to share this feeling with my teammates.”

19. It’s a feeling that the Brewers are hoping to be able to replicate a few more times. They can conquer it once more in the regular season if they can find a way to win the division. If not they’ll settle for popping champagne should they win the NL Wild Card Game.

20. This team has lofty goals, just as any team that reaches the postseason should. Once the playoffs are reached anything is possible.

21. After all, Counsell did utter those magic words after the game, albeit in a nonchalant way.

22. World Series.

Last strikes: Brewers 12, Cardinals 4

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Twenty last strikes from Milwaukee’s 12-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

1. Tuesday night at approximately 10:50 p.m. CT the doors to the visitor’s clubhouse opened up to the media showing a team that was on the verge of clinching a postseason berth for the first time since 2011.

2. By the looks of it, you never would have known the amount of pressure that has been on the Brewers each time they’ve stepped on the field over the course of the last month.

3. Orlando Arica, Jesús Aguilar, and Eric Thames were all planted on the couch with their eyes glued to the television as it was tuned into MLB Network.

4. At the same time, Tuesday’s starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez was meeting with the media a few feet away, but he could barely be heard. The soft-spoken left-hander was being shouted over by the guys on the couch, mainly Arcia and Aguilar, as they exclaimed in excitement as the highlights rolled.

5. What game were they watching?

6. The victory they completed less than a half-hour prior.

7. When the television showed Aguilar’s home run in the bottom of the first inning there were screams and laughs. When Ryan Braun stepped up as the next batter and followed suit, the same thing happened. It happened again on Braun’s second home run and Arcia’s flashy bare-handed play up the middle.

8. Then, when MLB Network showed Lorenzo Cain being intentionally walked in the ninth inning to bring Christian Yelich to the plate the yelling changed to a more subdued, scared, “oh, oh, oh no!” as the camera showed Yelich striding to the plate with two on and two outs in the ninth.

9. The next pitch was sent over the fence by Yelich and the celebration by that group continued.

10. “We all, I think, had the same thoughts as you guys,” said Braun of the Cardinals’ decision to walk Cain. “We were obviously a little surprised by it.”

11. When the Brewers take the field at 6:10 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis they’ll be playing for more than just a September victory.

12. The Brewers will be playing for the opportunity to go to the postseason for just the fifth time in franchise history. The magic number for them to punch their ticket into October is now just one. A victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday night will do it.

13. This is what Milwaukee had in mind when they acquired Yelich and Cain in the offseason. The reason they traded for Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Joakim Soria, Xavier Cedeño and Gonzalez during July and August was to try and get to the postseason.

14. They’re on the door step and about to ring the door bell, and Wednesday night they can open up the door to the playoffs.

15. Furthermore, the Brewers are alive and well in the race for the crown in the division, too. Milwaukee trails the Chicago Cubs by just a half-game entering play on Wednesday. Those dreams are alive, too.

16. Tuesday night may have been the night that could potentially solidify Yelich as the 2018 National League MVP. He finished with a career-high six runs batted in as he hit a three-run triple and a three-run home run to provide half of Milwaukee’s 12 runs on the night.

17. “Yeah, I mean I can’t foresee a scenario in which he doesn’t win it,” Braun said after the game of Yelich and the MVP award. “He’s been so incredible for us in every facet of the game. He’s played his best baseball in the most meaningful moments. Obviously his second half has been incredible. It’s so impressive to watch night in and night out. It seems like every time he’s up in a big situation he finds a way to come through for us.”

18. Yelich is a big reason as to why the Brewers are in the position that they’re in, but as a team Milwaukee is playing its best baseball of the season.

19. And Wednesday night in St. Louis just might be a time to celebrate how good this team has been.

20. “Absolutely. If it happens, the time comes, you should celebrate,” Gonzalez said. “Some of these guys have never experienced that kind of excitement and I don’t see nothing wrong with it. These guys deserve it. These guys have been busting their tail all year. Why not? They deserve every bit of it. Hopefully we do it sooner than later, it’s one of those things that once these guys have it, it’s going to be a nice sigh of relief.”