Thanks to Brandon Woodruff, it’s this simple for the Brewers -- win, and they’re in.
If they were unable to top the Cardinals on Saturday, the Brewers were going to need help from other teams just to stay alive in the race to the postseason. But Woodruff made sure the only final score that mattered was the game he started, and starred in. He was nearly unhittable, and the Brewers prevailed, 3-0, at Busch Stadium, to move into the No. 8 seed in the National League.
That means Sunday’s game in St. Louis matters to Milwaukee -- a lot. If the Brewers (29-30) lose, they need both the Phillies (28-31) and Giants (29-30) to lose, or their season would be over. The Brewers hold the tiebreaker over the Giants, but if the three teams finished tied at 29-31, the Phillies would be the No. 8 seed.
For his part, Woodruff aptly pushed his team into the delightful chaos that awaits them on Sunday.
“The story of the game was Woody,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It was as good a start that we’ve seen since the [CC] Sabathia start at the end of ’08, in a big game, a regular-season game. To deliver right there and not only deliver, but to help us tomorrow, it can't be understated what he did.”
Woodruff, whose ERA in September dropped to 2.25 across five starts, simply carved up the Cardinals’ lineup. He yielded a leadoff hit to Kolten Wong in the first inning and an infield hit to Yadier Molina in the second, and that was the last time a Cardinals hitter reached base until Matt Carpenter drew a four-pitch walk in the eighth.
That walk ended a streak of 19 in a row retired by Woodruff. Only five balls traveled past the infield during his outing.
Was this his best outing of the year, given what was riding on it?
“Yep, I think so,” Woodruff said. “I can’t describe it. I love throwing in these types of games. It’s just what I like doing. I just feel like I can slow the game down.”
Woodruff has been steady most of the year, but what made this outing special was his ability to avoid running into one rough inning that might threaten to unravel the overall effort. There were no such hiccups this time against the Cardinals.
“Guy threw his ‘A’ game at us tonight,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “He’s got good stuff. You don’t like to, but you tip your hat. He did a heck of a job.”
Woodruff said he didn’t make any sweeping mechanical adjustments, nor did he want to alter his routine while preparing for the start. But he also was keenly aware of what was at stake, and he made an extra effort to stay focused and not mentally venture from his comfort zone.
“It’s not just a regular-season game -- we had to win,” he said. “In the back of everybody’s mind, we knew that.
“I tried not to look at it as a big game, but obviously we knew we have to win these last two games. I just went out and tried to go pitch to pitch.”
Whatever he did worked, and the Brewers now find themselves in familiar territory -- providing great drama heading into the final game of the regular season.
Outfielder Ryan Braun, who hit one of two Crew solo homers off Adam Wainwright in the fourth inning, reflected back on the past several years, noting that not since 2017, when the Brewers were eliminated from the postseason after game 161, have they not had something on the line on the last day.
“Just with the way this year has gone knowing it was a very condensed schedule, there are a lot of teams that were kind of bunched up -- it just felt like, inevitably, it would come down to the last day of the season,” he said. “And I think we're all excited about the opportunity.”
It will be partly up to Sunday’s starter, Brett Anderson, to elevate Milwaukee to the .500 mark, which will lock up a spot as a postseason participant. A loss won’t necessarily mean doomsday, but it will muddy up the picture quite a bit.
“Certainly, we’re watching what everybody is doing, but if we didn’t win today, it wouldn’t matter,” Braun said. “Obviously, the goal is to take care of what we can control tomorrow, which is trying to win ourselves, and then see what happens with everyone else.”