MILWAUKEE -- Secure a spot in the postseason? Check.
Win the National League Central? Check.
Now, manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers have earned an opportunity to catch their collective breath and get things lined up for the National League Division Series. Standing near home plate Sunday while confetti was still falling from the sky at American Family Field, however, Counsell wasn’t quite ready to look ahead.
“Give me a day, all right?” he said as players celebrated around him.
Counsell will have more than a day. The Brewers hit the road for three games in St. Louis from Tuesday through Thursday, followed by three in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Then they'll get a chance to return home for several days of workouts in the run-up to the NL Division Series. Game 1 is at American Family Field on Friday, Oct. 8.
Here are five things still in play during the final week of the regular season:
1. Line up the pitching
On paper, the Brewers look like a team that will go as far in the postseason as their pitching takes them. They are well-stocked in that area, and the final week of games -- and a subsequent week of workouts -- offers an opportunity to line things up and give players some rest.
The Brewers already made one minor alteration to Corbin Burnes’ schedule, flipping him with Eric Lauer during their last turn through the rotation. Right now, the “big three” are lined up as Burnes, then Freddy Peralta, then Brandon Woodruff, with Adrian Houser next followed by Brett Anderson and/or Lauer. They will only need four starters in the best-of-five NLDS.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “I think Craig and the staff have done a tremendous job of managing workload all year. It’s been a lot of fun. Our pitchers have done a good job of communicating with us, letting us know how they feel. We’ve got a week now to reset, regroup, and then we’ll be ready to go.”
2. Get guys healthy
Sunday brought a significant development when setup man Devin Williams came on to pitch the eighth inning. It marked his first outing since Sept. 18, the night the Brewers clinched a postseason berth. Several days later, Williams tweaked his left leg while running in the outfield, complaining of pain behind his right knee at the top of his calf. The Brewers took a cautious approach for several days before he pitched a scoreless inning against the Mets.
“He’s good,” Counsell said. “We gave him some time, we were conservative with it, he was ready to go [Sunday] and all signs are good moving forward.”
Fellow reliever Jake Cousins landed on the IL in the Brewers’ waning days at home with a right biceps strain, but that injury was considered very minor, and the IL assignment was made out of caution in order to ensure Cousins would be available in the postseason. In terms of the Brewers’ offensive unit, first baseman Rowdy Tellez is on the 10-day IL with a right knee injury, but he was taking ground balls and running the bases as he neared a return.
“Everything is going in the right direction,” Counsell said going into the weekend. “We’re hopeful on the road trip that you’ll see him.”
3. Wake up the bats
The Mets helped out in Sunday’s home finale with a pair of costly errors in a game-breaking sixth inning that led to a pair of unearned runs as the Brewers matched their high for runs scored -- eight -- on the 10-game final homestand. After a terrific August and a solid start to September, including a three-game sweep of the Indians in Cleveland in which the Brewers scored 34 runs, the bats have been quieter of late. The final week offers an opportunity to build some better momentum.
Over their last 12 games, starting with a pair of losses at Detroit, the Brewers are tied with the D-backs for 23rd of 30 Major League teams at 3.67 runs per game and 24th with a .294 on-base percentage. Willy Adames was 3-for-18 on the homestand before scoring three times and driving in three runs in the finale. Eduardo Escobar was 7-for-37 on the homestand, though he hit a big two-run single on Sunday and accounted for two more runs later in the game by hitting a ground ball that induced an error. Catcher Omar Narváez was 3-for-32. Christian Yelich was 7-for-33.
The good news for the Brewers? It doesn’t take but a clutch hit or two to win with their pitching.
“I say it all the time,” Escobar said. “With this team, so good with pitchers, you only need two or three runs. That’s it, man.”
4. Best record ever
The Brewers are 94-62 with six games to play, already the fifth-most victories in a franchise history that dates back to 1969. The 2011 Brewers and ’18 Brewers share the record with 96-win seasons, though the ’18 club had an extra game to do it in the NL Central tiebreaker at Wrigley Field.
This Brewers team needs only to split its remaining games to set a new mark and stake its claim as the best in franchise history.
5. Keep the competitive edge
Hall of Famer Robin Yount talked about this on Saturday night, arguing that it wasn’t the worst thing that the Cardinals’ winning spree pushed the Brewers’ division clinch much later than expected. Better to play meaningful games as long as possible in the runup to October, Yount argued.
The Brewers will spend the final week balancing rest with a desire to keep winning, especially in a rematch with a Cardinals club that just swept them in a four-game series in Milwaukee last week.
“I think the edge is already there,” Kolten Wong said. “We know we just got spanked by the Cardinals. But now it’s about getting everybody healthy, getting everybody right and making sure that when we get into the playoffs everyone’s ready to go.”
“It will be a combination of giving guys a blow but also making sure that they’re ready to go for the playoffs,” Stearns said. “Look, we understand we’re going to be playing two really good teams over the next week. That’s good for us. That will keep us on our toes. It will also allow us to make sure we have players in the right spot when we get to the playoffs.”