Entering September, the Brewers appeared in a difficult playoff position. The Milwaukee club held on to the second Wild Card spot with a 76-60 record, trailing division rival St. Louis by a half game. With one month to play, the division seemed an afterthought, as the Brewers trailed Chicago by four games (although the Brewers would have six head-to-head match-ups with that foe). The National League East and West both appeared bunched up as well, with Atlanta and the Diamondbacks both breathing down the Brewers’ neck while leading their respective divisions, and the Dodgers, Rockies, and Phillies all without shouting distance of the Wild Card. In this scenario, one could reasonably expect that given all possible combinations of wins and losses, Milwaukee could basically punt the division, turn their attention to the Cardinals for the Wild Card race, and hope that none of their other Senior Circuit adversaries would get hot enough to seriously challenge the second Wild Card.
On September 1, 2018, then, the Brewers entered play with a chance of beating the Cubs (for the NL Central) in nearly 36 percent of outcomes, and beating St. Louis (for the first Wild Card spot, which means an opportunity to host the one-game playoff) in nearly 47 percent of outcomes.
|August 31 (GS)||vs. Cubs (134)||vs. Cardinals (135)||vs. Atlanta (134)||vs. Dbacks (135)||vs. Dodgers (135)||vs. COL / PHI (134)|
|Brewers Win %||35.5%||46.6%||51.7%||53.6%||57.0%||58.5%|
In this scenario, even beating the other NL East and West teams seemed more probable, but far from certain. Milwaukee would need to hang on, or win, win, win to make any noise.
On August 28, I profiled the National League race, noting the extreme poles that the Brewers represented in terms of their Average Daily Win Total and Average Daily Run Differential (which is the difference between Runs Scored and Runs Allowed). On August 28, the former statistic paced the Brewers for nearly 96 wins, while the latter statistic suggested that the club was a “true” 85 win team. And these statistics truly captured a Brewers club that offered any analyst interpretive ambivalence: this was indeed a team that rattled off an absurd 21-9 record (113 win pace) between April 29 and June 2, only to promptly follow that with an 18-21 stretch (75 win pace) from June 3 through the All Star Break. Even though Milwaukee claimed a .561 winning percentage (90-to-91 win pace) and .556 run differential (426 RS / 377 RA) at the All-Star Break, there was a real sense that the club offered enough data for one to tell any story they liked about the team:
Our beloved Brewers were either a true contender that was simply experiencing a slump into the break (following an extremely long stretch of consecutive games), or they were a pretender that once again would follow franchise lore of peaking early and breaking our hearts late.
Then they surged. After I published that analysis, the Brewers lost a gut-wrenching 9-7 affair in Cincinnati before rattling off an 11-3 stretch. The torrid stretch is every bit as real as it feels, as the bats scored 73 runs (5.2 RS/G) and the arms stabilized to 47 runs allowed (3.4 RA/G), good for an expected run differential record of 111 wins over 162 games. This series of games was emotional, including a seven-run comeback to beat the Reds in a ridiculous slugfest, a busy non-waiver trade deadline, a walk-off win against the Cubs, an action-packed sweep of the Giants, and three close games at Wrigley Field to ignite a late-season NL Central race.
There’s no other way to say it: the Brewers have completely inverted the Wild Card race, while also opening the Central Division Crown to much more uncertainty than existed even two weeks ago. Granted, the Cubs win the Division in approximately 58 percent of scenarios, but that’s down notably from winning approximately 64 percent of scenarios entering September. The Lakeview Nine control their own destiny, but the Brewers have battered that destiny with more question marks.
|September 12 (GS)||Cubs (145)||Cardinals (146)||Atlanta (146)||Dodgers (146)||Arizona (146)||Nationals (146)||Rockies (145)||Phillies (145)|
As for the National League East and West, it’s difficult to keep pace with an 11-3 club in many cases, so the Brewers now appear to have much better footing than their other Senior Circuit rivals. Yet this 14 game surge by the Brewers should give fans pause about celebrating a home Wild Card game just yet: with 15 games to play for Milwaukee, a similar surge by another club, or a turnaround by the Brewers, could add uncertainty to the proceedings. This may not seem like a significant number of games, but it’s a great reminder that a ton can happen in approximately 10 percent of the season: with a true stretch run primed for the NL Central trio, the Division is increasingly up for grabs as is the Wild Card game.
Game on. Sprint. #ThisIsMyCrew #TeamDepth