This year’s Milwaukee Brewers team is treading ground that no group in this franchise has trod before: the NLCS. A win will catapult them into the club’s second appearance in the World Series, where they have a legitimate chance to win it all.
A loss here sends them home to watch the remainder of the postseason on television.
In a way, it is only fitting that the next step in this quest should be fought against longtime division rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The teams have a lot of history together. Parts of this rivalry are old—dating back to the 1982 World Series and earlier—and other parts are fresher. The Brewers and the Cardinals have developed a particularly bitter rivalry over the past several years.
So what do the Brewers have to do to win here and ultimately in the even bigger series that is hopefully yet to come? Here are six keys to the Brewers winning the pennant.
Against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Brewers came out of the gate as strong as anyone could have liked.
Thanks to a combination of good defensive pitching from Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, and excellent at-bats by heavy hitters Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brew Crew jumped out to an early two-game lead in the series.
Then they moved the play to Arizona.
Suddenly, Braun, and to a lesser extent Fielder, couldn’t seem to buy a hit.
The rest of the team followed suit.
Thankfully, the Brewers were able to pull out all of the stops back home at Miller Park, squeezing out a victory in the 10th inning. An argument can be made, however, that they won that game based more on the strength of their pitching and fielding than on the strength of their bats.
If the Brewers want to win the World Series, they must find better consistency in their batting production, whether they are at home or on the road.
It might be Prince Fielder’s last year in Milwaukee—only the offseason will tell.
For now, though, Fielder and Braun are the heart and soul of the Brewers. It is on them to continue the MVP-caliber play that both exhibited this season.
They cannot simply navigate the Brewers through the next two series with pep talks and inspirational words.
No—these two leaders must get out there and lead by example by making things happen both offensively and defensively.
If they do, then the rest of the team will follow their example and elevate their play to a level that could easily bring home the pennant.
Otherwise, fans will get to see a repeat of the blowout performances in Arizona.
In Arizona, mired in a hostile environment, the Brewers could have closed out the series if they had just managed to rein in the Diamondbacks’ explosive offense.
Sure, the Diamondbacks scored a total of five home runs in those games, but four of those came in Game 4 of the series. The Brewers had the chance to close it out in Game 3.
Instead of playing a close game, however, the Brew Crew allowed themselves to get blown out. They were clearly not playing to their full potential, never quite looking like the playoff-caliber team that had taken the field at Miller Park.
Some of the sloppiness was reflected in recorded errors. What wasn’t recorded was the sluggishness most of the team exhibited throughout the game.
The games are only going to get tougher from this point forward. The Brewers have got to get their minds in the game 100 percent of the time, not just when they’re playing at home.
On Tuesday, Shaun Marcum left the mound with seven runs on the board. He had pitched just over four innings, and had accrued an ERA of 13.50.
The next day, Randy Wolf left the game after just three innings with a whopping 21.00 ERA. By the time he was pulled, he had dug his team another seven-run hole.
With pitching performances like that, it’s no wonder that the series came down to a do-or-die Game 5.
Thankfully, Gallardo was able to take the mound again on Friday to breathe some life back into the team with stingy pitching through six innings of play. His relievers were equally dependable—true, Axford nearly blew the save, but at the end of the day he was rescued by Nyjer Morgan’s timely RBI.
The Brewers cannot win the NLCS, let alone the World Series, unless the bullpen is able to figure out what went wrong in Arizona and somehow correct it.
Nyjer Morgan is the type of polarizing player who opponents, fans, and pundits either love or hate.
He has done a lot of good during his time in Milwaukee, helping solidify the batting order and providing a sometimes otherworldly talent in the outfield.
Regardless, he can be a distraction at a time when the team needs all of its collective focus on the prize ahead of them.
He and the St. Louis Cardinals have a particularly bitter history. That feud is entertaining during the regular season, but a resurrection of it in the postseason will not endear Morgan to anyone.
Love him or hate him, Morgan is a key part of the team making this playoff run. The Brewers have accepted him as he is, childish mindset and all, and they have mostly done an admirable job thus far at harnessing his energy in harmless or even positive ways.
That being said, if his conduct on or off the field jeopardizes that, then he needs to be reined in by the management before he can undo all of the good from his final at-bat on Friday.
Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and the rest of the Brew Crew have the chance to beat St. Louis in the postseason.
Nearly 30 years after the franchise's first postseason appearance, this group may be able to finally settle the score for the 1982 World Series loss that the Brewers suffered at the hands of the Cardinals.
This may seem like restating the obvious, but the biggest key to winning the World Series will be taking this series from the hands of Tony LaRussa and his team, preferably in less than seven games.
The Brewers have what it takes to be champions. They have the talent, the heart and the motivation.
Now they just need to add some wins.