WASHINGTON -- The Brewers’ answer to Mad Max in Tuesday's National League Wild Card Game at Nationals Park is All-Star right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who will be the first of many Milwaukee pitchers to get the ball in the win-or-go-home affair.
Woodruff will work opposite Nationals ace Max Scherzer in a matchup of clubs that will bring contrasting styles to this must-win game. Scherzer will be backed by fellow starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but he has the potential to pitch deep into the game. Woodruff won’t; not because he is not talented, but because he is not stretched out. This will be his third start after missing two months with a left oblique injury, and his first two outings -- both scoreless -- after reurning from the injured list ended after two innings.
When he is on the mound, however, Woodruff is tough. He was 11-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 22 regular-season starts with 143 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings, and the Brewers were 18-4 in the games he pitched.
“Look, it’s the playoffs, so I have no problem pushing him, I’ll tell you that,” manager Craig Counsell said. “How many pitches he’s going to throw, I don’t know, but I have no problem pushing him.”
For the Brewers, that level of flexibility is nothing new. It is how they pitched their way to the best September ERA -- 3.01 -- in baseball.
“This is the game we have been playing. It doesn’t change,” Counsell said of his thinking going into a winner-take-all game. “In fact it’s a little bit easier because you don’t have to plan anything for tomorrow. There is no tomorrow; that’s how you treat this game. I don’t think, in talking to our coaches, that it’s any different than how we’ve treated every day since Aug. 30.
“There are very few times we’ve made a decision like, ‘Let’s worry about tomorrow.’ Maybe when the score would get pretty big on either side. So I haven’t talked to any other guys but I’ve watched these [Wild Card] games every year and I’ve been talking to our staff. We’re pretty comfortable with how we see it.”
It was fairly clear that Woodruff was in line for this when the Brewers held him out of Sunday’s regular-season finale, which Milwaukee entered one game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.
“It’s that time of year where you just get out there and get after it,” Woodruff said. “It’s going to be a team effort. Obviously, I probably won’t be able to go six, seven innings, but I’ll be ready to go as long as I can until they take me out.”
He’s been in this position before. In 2018, Woodruff bounced between the rotation and the bullpen for the Brewers, but he pitched well enough down the stretch that he was tabbed to start Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Rockies. Woodruff pitched three scoreless innings to put the Brewers on the path to a three-game sweep, and he then worked three times in relief against the Dodgers during the NL Championship Series, including a Game 1 appearance that saw him homer off Clayton Kershaw. He also threw 5 1/3 innings in Game 5, when Woodruff replaced Wade Miley after one batter.
Woodruff even has experience in a must-win game. He pitched two scoreless innings in the Brewers’ Game 7 loss to Yasmani Grandal and the Dodgers.
“In the playoffs, it’s a whole different animal,” Grandal said. “If Woody is the guy that’s going to be starting that game, hopefully he sets us up to win a game. We’ve got Woody, we’ve got Jordan [Lyles]. We’ve got a lot of guys we can bring out to finish that game if need be.”
It will feel a little bit like Game 7 on Tuesday. Win or go home.
“You see what we did in September just to get to this point,” Woodruff said. “When we lost Christian [Yelich to a season-ending knee injury], everybody realized we really need to step it up. We rattled off 18-2 in 20 games. … We’re playing good baseball. I know [the Rockies] series didn’t go how we wanted to. But overall, this month, we’ve done what we needed to do to get where we’re at.”