How Far Will the Playoff-Bound Brewers Go Without Christian Yelich?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2019

Milwaukee Brewers celebrate after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 in a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in St. Louis. The win clinched a postseason spot for the Brewers. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

On Sept. 10, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich went down with a fractured kneecap. It was almost assuredly the end of the 2019 season for the reigning National League MVP and likely spelled doom and gloom for the Brew Crew.

Or not.

Since Yelich landed on the injured list, the Brewers have gone 13-2 and cemented a playoff spot with a 9-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.

"What we just accomplished is really against all odds," outfielder Ryan Braun told reporters.

That isn't hyperbole.

The loss of Yelich, who owned a .329 average and 1.100 OPS prior to his injury, was supposed to be a death knell for Milwaukee. Instead, the Brewers have vaulted themselves into the playoffs. They're a lock to make the postseason as a wild-card entrant and have a chance to win the National League Central, currently trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by one game with three contests left on the calendar.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

Partly, they've benefited from a soft schedule. Since Sept. 9, 14 of their 17 games have been against the Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates and Reds, all sub-.500 squads.

Their pitching staff, meanwhile, has posted a Major League Baseball-leading 2.74 ERA in September compared to a 4.39 overall mark. Gio Gonzalez (1.47 September ERA), Chase Anderson (2.35), Jordan Lyles (2.39) and Zach Davies (2.45) have all thrived, while closer Josh Hader is a bat-missing force to be reckoned with.

The competition has been less than stiff of late for the Brewers' arms. But results are results, and Milwaukee has cause for optimism on the pitching front based on recent returns.

On offense, catcher Yasmani Grandal has hit six home runs and posted a .966 OPS in the calendar month, while Braun has an .895 OPS over the same span.

Rookie Trent Grisham has seen increased action since Yelich's injury. Overall, the 22-year-old has six home runs and six doubles in 47 games with the Brewers and has helped ease the loss of Yelich.

Obviously, Milwaukee misses the reigning Senior Circuit MVP. But as the Brewers charge into October, it's worth asking: How deep can they go without their offensive anchor?

Unless they can surpass the Cardinals, the Brewers will battle the Washington Nationals in the NL Wild Card Game. Entering play Friday, they were one game behind the Nats and would therefore play the do-or-die contest on the road.

Whether the game is in Wisconsin or the nation's capital, they will likely face Nats ace Max Scherzer, who has held current Milwaukee hitters to a .182 career average. Take Yelich—who has gone 10-for-29 against Scherzer—out of the picture, and that number falls to .140.

If they survive that test, they'd play the loaded Los Angeles Dodgers in a tough division-series matchup. Even with Yelich, they'd be underdogs. Without him, their chances are even slimmer.

Then again, they've made a habit of defying the odds. For what it's worth, the Brewers are 3-4 against the Dodgers in 2019 and 4-2 against the Nationals.

"I'm sure a lot of people wrote us off, saying we couldn't do it, for numerous reasons," Yelich told reporters. "But we believe in the talent in this room, the kind of guys we have and the culture we continue to build here. I'm really proud of all these guys."

Aaron Gash/Associated Press

If you're placing bets, put your money on the Nationals beating the Brewers in the Wild Card Game. And if Milwaukee manages to advance to the division series, put dollars on Los Angeles to bounce the Crew posthaste.

But again, who thought Milwaukee would taste the playoffs when Yelich went on the injured list? Sometimes, the implausible becomes reality.

Milwaukee finishes the season with a three-game set against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The division-leading Cardinals, meanwhile, host the Chicago Cubs for a three-game set.

If the Brewers can sneak past the Cardinals, they'd face the Atlanta Braves—against whom they've gone 3-3 this season—in the division series.

"It does us good to take care of today's business at hand, to accomplish the things we need to in our game plan, with rest and with those things, and be good at those things," manager Craig Counsell told reporters. "If you keep doing that every day, it's like stacking good things on top of each other and the end result is hopefully pretty good."

The Brewers have already achieved "pretty good" by guaranteeing they'll advance beyond 162 games. Now, they have a shot at really good. Maybe even at great.

Forget doom and gloom. Milwaukee has a chance to shine on the game's biggest stage, even without its best player.

The Brewers will have to defy the odds to make a deep push. The good news? Defying the odds is this team's specialty. 

        

All statistics current through Thursday's games and courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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