Red-hot Brewers' rebuild complete at rapid pace
Milwaukee enters NLCS playing its best baseball, having won 11 straight games
DENVER -- This is the kind of team that wins the World Series. Isn't that the bottom line on these Brewers, as they advance to the National League Championship Series?
Let's check off some boxes: Their pitching staff is on a historic roll, their defense nearly perfect. Offensively, Milwaukee has stars in the middle of the lineup, but it is also getting contributions from every corner of their clubhouse.
Oh, and there's this: The Brewers are playing their best when the stage is its largest and the lights are brightest. Milwaukee won its 11th straight game on Sunday afternoon when it eliminated the Rockies 6-0 in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Coors Field.
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When they host Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday at Miller Park, it will be nearly three full weeks since the Brewers' last loss. And it seems like many months ago that Milwaukee was six games out of first place in the National League Central, which it would eventually win in a 163rd-game tiebreaker with the Cubs.
That was Aug. 28 when they were six games out, and if you had the Brewers in your NLCS poll, you were on a small bandwagon. They're 26-7 since then. Their bullpen has a dazzling 2.16 ERA, the best in baseball. They're scoring runs, too, in bunches, at 5.4 per game.
And in this stretch, outfielder Christian Yelich has probably nailed down the NL Most Valuable Player Award with 12 home runs, seven doubles and a .386 batting average.
If you drew up a prototype of a championship team, this might be it.
"We've matured a lot as a team in the last couple months," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "And the sacrifices that a lot of guys have made have really helped us mature as a team.
"We've played so well, and in a lot of ways, it's kind of spoiled us a little bit. Like I said, 11 in a row at this time of year means a lot of things are going right."
Milwaukee swept the Rockies with the best pitching in NLDS history: a 0.90 ERA. The Brewers' initial out-getter -- some call him the starting pitcher -- set a tone, and then their bullpen finished it off.
With a bullpen that includes three relievers with closer-like stuff -- Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress -- and one of the organization's best young arms, Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee put the pressure on the opposition to score early or not score at all.
"You've really got to tip your cap to those arms in the bullpen," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "A couple of guys came out of nowhere, right? That kid Burnes had a nice run for him in these games. It's a good team. They got themselves in a pretty good position."
This is the next step in a process that started in 2015, when Brewers owner Mark Attanasio watched his team collapse in the final six weeks of the season, losing 24 of their final 39. They lost 94 games in all that year and finished 32 games out of first place. When it mercifully ended, Attanasio wanted a new direction.
His search took him to David Stearns, a bright young assistant general manager of the Astros who had also worked for the Indians and at Major League Baseball.
No executive has done his job better since the hiring of Stearns, and in the last 12 months, Stearns finished the roster construction with the acquisitions of outfielders Yelich and Lorenzo Cain on the same January day, along with late-season additions in third baseman Mike Moustakas, outfielders Curtis Granderson, pitcher Giovany Gonzalez and veteran reliever Joakim Soria.
In his first job interview, Stearns assured Attanasio that the Brewers were closer to winning than a lot of people thought and that no teardown was needed. But to go from 94 losses in 2015 to 96 wins three years later was beyond anything Attanasio -- or pretty much anyone else -- expected.
"No way we could have thought it was going to be this fast," Attanasio said. "However, David Stearns never put a timetable on it. David was always, 'We're going to have a process. We're going to have a methodology and then good things will happen.'"
Now the Brewers are off to the next round, and they are four victories from bringing the World Series back to Milwaukee for the first time in 34 years.
"We believe in each other, and we really are playing our best baseball when it matters most," outfielder Ryan Braun said.