'Hitting grand slams is cool': Canha's huge swing rescues Crew

With win over Washington, Milwaukee's magic number to clinch NL Central in single digits

September 17th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers added Carlos Santana and at the Trade Deadline to provide an offensive spark.

Spark? The past two nights, that’s putting it mildly.

Twenty-four hours after Santana hit a tie-breaking home run on a two-homer night, Canha snapped a tie in even grander fashion in the Crew's 9-5 win over the Nationals on Saturday night at American Family Field when he electrified the crowd with a two-out grand slam in the eighth inning, complete with an epic bat flip to match the moment.

“Hitting grand slams is cool,” Canha said.

The context made it cooler. With that, the Brewers' magic number over the Cubs to clinch the National League Central dropped into single digits thanks to a 13th victory in Milwaukee’s past 15 games at home. The Crew also pushed to 20 games over .500 for the first time this season.

  • Games remaining (14): vs. WAS (1), at STL (4), at MIA (3), vs. STL (3), vs. CHC (3)
  • Standings update: The Brewers (84-64) hold a 6 1/2-game lead over the Cubs (78-71) for first place in the NL Central. Milwaukee is the third-best division leader, meaning it would host a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series against the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
  • Magic number: The Brewers' magic number over the Cubs to clinch the NL Central is eight.

Chalk it up as a victory for the Brewers and general manager Matt Arnold’s front office, which hasn’t won every Trade Deadline deal in recent years but certainly has reaped dividends from its July 27 swap with the Pirates for Santana and its July 31 trade with the Mets for Canha. 

Canha has an .878 OPS as a Brewer, and Santana has hit nine home runs to go with elite defense at first base. 

“We added good, solid players to our lineup, and it’s changed our offense. I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We got a great example the last two nights.”

The victory didn’t come easy, even after Milwaukee coaxed 47 pitches from Washington starter Trevor Williams in a three-run first inning, got into the Nats’ bullpen by the third and had a 5-1 lead when Tyrone Taylor led off the fourth with a home run.

Brewers ace Corbin Burnes was sailing at the time, having cleared the first two innings on 11 pitches apiece and allowing only one run on a solo homer through the first five frames. But he lacked the putaway pitch in the sixth, when the Nationals scored three runs on three walks and three singles -- two of the walks and all of the singles coming with two outs. Reliever Elvis Peguero took over for Burnes and stranded the bases loaded to preserve Milwaukee's 5-4 lead.

The Nationals tied the game at 5 in the eighth with another handful of base hits capped by Jake Alu’s bloop to left -- 67.2 mph off the bat.

As a result, Burnes remained winless in a 10th consecutive start, extending the longest drought of his career. 

“We always point to what happened to our guy, but I think [the Nationals] did a really good job against him,” Counsell said. “He got ahead of them, he made some really good pitches, they didn’t bite on them. Give them some credit.”

Burnes’ frustration bubbled over at the end, when he missed just outside with a pair of two-strike pitches to Washington’s Luis García, then didn’t get the call from the third-base umpire when García checked his swing in a full count to earn a bases-loaded walk that made it a one-run game.

“I think a hitter’s going on every check swing,” Burnes joked. “I think if you’re backing up your shoulder and you thought about swinging, that’s a swing.”

Fortunately for Burnes, the Brewers still had some swings left in the eighth. Taylor sparked the rally with a one-out double, rookie Sam Frelick put a ball in play for an infield single and Santana walked to load the bases for Canha, who hit the first go-ahead grand slam for a Brewers hitter in the eighth inning or later since Daniel Vogelbach’s walk-off blast to beat the Cardinals on Sept. 5, 2021. 

Then, like now, the Brewers were within striking distance of winning the NL Central.

“My stuff was coming out pretty good today and [had] a little cut on it, which I should have recognized earlier,” Nationals reliever Kyle Finnegan said. “We thought that my matchup against him was a good splitter down and in. I just didn’t execute it. It hung up, went over the plate.”

Canha punished the mistake.

“I told myself to just let it rip,” Canha said. “Sometimes when you tell yourself you’re going to swing hard, it doesn’t work out. I just connected with that one, and it felt good. You don’t do that very often.”

Does it feel like the division title is within reach?

“You want to see the big picture,” Canha said. “We want to win the World Series, we don’t want to [just] win the division. You have to think about playing good baseball and honing your tools and getting better each day and keep preparing for that moment when it comes -- that moment when you’re in the box in a big spot.”