Yelich is done for the season. Now what?

Brewers have decisions to make to fill MVP's spot in order, outfield

September 12th, 2019

MIAMI -- How does one replace the reigning National League MVP Award winner? That's unfortunately something the Brewers will have to figure out in the midst of a postseason chase.

was ruled out for the season after sustaining a broken right kneecap on Tuesday. Milwaukee went 66-61 with its star slugger in the lineup -- and 10-7 in his absence -- entering Wednesday's 7-5 win over the Marlins at Marlins Park.

"It's tough. Anytime any member of your team gets hurt, especially an injury that puts him out for the rest of the season, it's devastating," said , who homered twice in his return to the lineup Wednesday. "For it to happen to Yeli -- obviously, our best player and one of the best players in baseball -- it's devastating, man. There are no other words to describe it. We obviously wish nothing but the best for him.

"We want him to have a speedy recovery, but on the other side of things, we've got to figure out ways to make up for his production, and that's an incredible task for how great of a player he is. We're going to go out there and do everything we can. He told us, 'Just go out there, keep playing hard and let's try and do something incredible, make a run at the postseason and see what happens.'"

The Brewers entered Wednesday one game behind the Cubs for the second NL Wild Card spot with 18 games remaining. Here are some questions the ballclub will need to answer in order to fulfill Yelich's wish.

1) How will the lineup shake up?
Expect it to be fluid, particularly with many moving parts either returning from injury or playing through them.

Yelich spent the season's first 25 games in the two-hole before Brewers manager Craig Counsell turned to Eric Thames as the second batter on April 24 in a matchup against the Cardinals. Yelich moved back into the No. 2 spot soon after, and he held steady there until Aug. 13, when Counsell bumped the NL MVP Award contender to the third spot in the order.

In their first game without Yelich, the Brewers slotted the veteran Moustakas ahead of cleanup hitter .

"The lineup is going to change. I don't have to write the same lineup every day," Counsell said. "I think [Moustakas] getting back in there and when Keston [Hiura] gets back in there, those guys are obviously going to hit in the middle of the lineup. But nothing is set. We're going to move that around as always."

2) What will the outfield rotation look like?
The Brewers have used nine players in the outfield this season: Yelich, Braun, , , Trent Grisham, Tyrone Taylor, Thames, Hernan Perez and .

Following Tuesday's news, Counsell noted that Grisham and Gamel -- both left-handed bats -- would play prominent roles moving forward. Grisham got things off to a promising start, leading off Wednesday's game with a homer. His bat has started to heat up after going 1-for-7 over the weekend against the Cubs. Grisham matched a club rookie mark with five hits on Monday and added a double in the decisive ninth inning on Tuesday.

Prior to Yelich's injury, Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager David Stearns told, "Trent's had a breakout season. He had a great year in the Minor Leagues, pushed his way through Double-A and Triple-A, forced his way up here. He's really done nothing but contribute since he's been up here, and obviously had the game of the night [Monday]."

In his first season with Milwaukee (fourth overall), Gamel entered Wednesday with a .255/.338/.387 slash line, 15 doubles, seven homers and a .724 OPS. He has a career 96 OPS+.

Yelich had started 25 straight games in right field. The last time he sat out -- because of back issues -- Grisham filled in from Aug. 9-11. Gamel (nine), Thames (six), Braun (two) and Perez (two) have also received starts in right this season.

"I'm available to play all three, so wherever they need me, I'm willing to do anything to help this team win," Gamel said of his defensive versatility.

3) How do Braun's and Cain's health affect the outfield, if at all?
This should be something to monitor over the season's final weeks. Braun (back) and Cain (bruised left knee) both started Tuesday's game in left and center field, respectively. Counsell took Braun out early for a defensive replacement, but he was back in Wednesday's starting lineup.

Cain recorded two four-star catches on Monday and nearly robbed a homer on Tuesday. Though he called battling through the knee pain a grind, he acknowledged he feels better than he has in nearly a week. Grisham started in center field for Cain on Wednesday, but the rookie has also seen time in left to give Braun a breather.

"We said we'd have to give Lorenzo some days [off], and with a left-hander tomorrow, we thought it was good to give him today off," Counsell said Wednesday. "It's those four guys. Those are the four guys you're going to see out there. There's nothing assigned, [but] those are the four guys you're going to see."

4) What does this mean for bench depth?
This is a two-fold issue that is affected by more than just Yelich's injury.

The infield lacked numbers earlier in the series, but Moustakas (bone bruise in left hand) and Hiura are back. (birth of twins) will be with the club for Thursday's series finale. continues to work through concussion protocol.

Thanks to September callups, there are 16 position players available on the roster for Counsell to use as he sees fit.

Taylor, who recently made his Major League debut and has an offseason job at FedEx waiting for him, will step into the fifth outfielder role. With Gamel and Grisham rotating in the outfield in Yelich's stead, expect some of the additional infielders to record pinch-hit at-bats.