Brewers are eager to make their latest postseason berth last longer than the others
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Brewers are getting accustomed to celebrating at the end of the regular season.
They’re hoping this is the year they continue the party throughout October.
Milwaukee clinched its third NL Central title in six years on Tuesday night by virtue of the Chicago Cubs losing 7-6 to the Atlanta Braves. The Brewers have reached the playoffs five of the last six years, the exception coming last season.
“We’ve been so many times,” said pitcher Brandon Woodruff, one of five players who have been part of all five of the recent playoff teams. “I feel like it’s our time to get over the hump.”
The Brewers never have won a World Series title and made their lone appearance in the Fall Classic way back in 1982, when they captured the AL pennant before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. There’s a sense of urgency associated with this playoff berth because of the long-term uncertainty surrounding some key figures.
Woodruff and 2021 Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes lead one of baseball’s strongest rotations, but both could become free agents after the 2024 season if they don’t sign extensions or get traded beforehand. Craig Counsell, the NL’s longest-tenured manager, has a contract that expires after this season and hasn’t indicated whether he plans to return.
Counsell never let questions about his future distract the Brewers from their mission. They have owned sole possession of the NL Central lead since Aug. 3. They’re 23-12 over their last 35 games.
“The game’s so hard and it humbles you so much, we’re taught and kind of trained to keep your eye on what’s in the present,” Counsell said.
Counsell has been Milwaukee’s manager for eight full seasons — he took over after Ron Roenicke was fired in May 2015 — and the Brewers have reached the playoffs in five of them. They made the postseason just four times from 1970-2015.
While the Brewers (88-69) have won at least 86 games each of the last six full seasons — they went 29-31 but earned the NL’s last playoff spot in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign — postseason success has eluded them.
The Brewers were one win away from the World Series in 2018 when they lost a Game 7 at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they haven’t won a postseason series since.
“The postseason does not go by script,” Counsell said. “Crazy things are going to happen, and we’re going to have to adjust. We’re going to have adversity. We’re going to be down, and we’re going to have to change directions a little bit. But I think we have the personnel to do something special, and that makes it really exciting going into it.”
The Brewers showed their adaptability in getting to this point.
They got major contributions from rookies Brice Turang, Andruw Monasterio and Sal Frelick but also added veterans Carlos Santana and Mark Canha at the trade deadline and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson from the waiver wire over the last two months. The offseason acquisition of William Contreras brought them one of the game’s best young catchers.
Woodruff says the team chemistry of this group reminds him of that 2018 squad.
Although Milwaukee owns a combined 2-10 record against the Atlanta Braves and Dodgers — the NL’s top two playoff seeds — the Brewers’ pitching gives them reason for optimism.
Milwaukee’s 3.75 ERA ranks second in the majors, behind only the Toronto Blue Jays. And while the Braves and Dodgers are dealing with injuries to their pitching staffs, the Brewers have a healthy potential playoff rotation of Burnes (10-8, 3.46 ERA), Woodruff (5-1, 2.28), Freddy Peralta (12-10, 3.86) and Wade Miley (9-4, 3.20).
The Brewers also have one of the game’s top closers in two-time All-Star Devin Williams, though how they’d set him up could be a concern because Joel Payamps has struggled over the last few weeks and Elvis Peguero is dealing with an elbow issue.
“I’ll put my pitching staff up against anybody in the league,” shortstop Willy Adames said.
Before the Brewers can worry about facing the Dodgers or Braves, they must survive a best-of-three first-round home series against a yet-to-be-determined opponent beginning Tuesday. The Brewers have lost seven of their last eight postseason games, a stretch that started with that Game 7 defeat in 2018.
“We got in. We’ve got a chance,” left fielder Christian Yelich said. “We’ll see what happens. I think we could definitely be a dangerous team. Whether we’re the favorites or not, it doesn’t really matter at this point. We just want to try and play as well as we can when these short series start.”
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