Brewers clinch playoff spot with Tellez(!) on mound

Milwaukee punches postseason ticket for fifth time in past six years

September 23rd, 2023

MIAMI -- Hopefully, the Brewers saved some runs for October. They’re going to need them.

A team that played to the cusp of its fifth postseason berth in the past six seasons with pitching and defense showed it can also swing the bat as it officially punched its playoff ticket. In the Brewers’ biggest inning since Robin Yount was still wearing the uniform, all nine Milwaukee hitters tallied hits in a 12-run second that paved the way to a 16-1 win over the Marlins at loanDepot park, with  busting loose for two home runs and five RBIs in a triumphant return to the lineup.

  • Games remaining (8): at MIA (2), vs. STL (3), vs. CHC (3)
  • Standings update: The Brewers (88-66) hold an eight-game lead over the Cubs (80-74) for first place in the National League Central. Milwaukee is the third-best division leader in the NL, 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 division title is one.

“There’s no easy wins in this league, and for us to do it five out of the last six years is pretty special,” said Yelich, who’d missed 12 of the team’s past 13 games because of back tightness. “I think we needed to take a moment to appreciate that, how hard that is to do.

“Obviously, the job’s not done. That’s not our end goal. But you have to acknowledge how hard it is to just make the postseason one time. For some guys, it’s their first time, and you never know when it could be your last.”

It was a clincher like no other, with the team in possession of the National League’s best ERA sending a first baseman, Rowdy Tellez, to the mound to record the final three outs in his first pitching appearance since his junior year of high school. (Tellez joked after the game that he was a "Cy Young candidate."

With that, the Brewers guaranteed their place in the postseason.

The celebration on the field and in the clubhouse was muted because there is still work to do. The National League Central isn’t mathematically settled just yet; it will take one more Brewers win or one Cubs loss in either team's remaining eight games to wrap that up.

Counsell led a champagne toast that included players, coaches and front office officials including GM Matt Arnold, who was promoted to the top of Milwaukee’s baseball operations department last October and whose fingerprints were all over Friday’s runaway win. Half of the Brewers’ runs were driven home by players acquired since Arnold took the top spot: William Contreras, the jewel of last winter’s three-team trade with the Braves and A’s, and in-season additions Josh Donaldson, Mark Canha and Carlos Santana.

The toast began with a nod to the five players who have been with Milwaukee for all five of its postseason appearances since 2018: Corbin Burnes, whose five scoreless innings Friday were a footnote on a night owned by the offense, plus fellow pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser, and the team’s quiet leader by example, Yelich.

Perhaps it was poetic that Yelich led the way in a clincher, going 3-for-4 with four runs scored, five RBIs, two homers, a double and a walk in his return to the lineup. It was Yelich’s arrival in a trade with the Marlins in 2018 that began a stretch in which postseason games have become the norm, with last year’s second-half fall the only recent exception.

This year, there was no late-season slide. Since getting swept by the Dodgers in a disappointing series in L.A. in mid-August, the Brewers are 23-9 – the best record in the Majors over that span.

“Since we left L.A., it changed,” Counsell said. "I don’t know how to describe it or how to say it. We had a tough series in L.A., and things have really turned around since.

“The way we’ve played and the confidence these guys have in each other, the connectedness of this team right now -- it’s a playoff team. We deserve to be there the way this team has played the last six weeks.”

Burnes delivered another of his pitching gems, but his most notable accomplishment was staying loose while the Brewers turned a pitcher's park into a hitter's haven. Before Marlins reliever Steven Okert threw the first pitch of the second inning on a Miami bullpen day, Milwaukee’s maximum runs in an inning this season was seven -- a cooked number they’d posted three times in 2023. 

They blew that figure out of the water with their biggest barrage since Yount’s single capped a 13-run inning against the Angels on July 8, 1990. By the time the Brewers sent their 11th batter of the game to the plate, the Marlins were already on their third pitcher.

It wasn’t the biggest inning in the Majors this season, however. That distinction belongs to the Angels, who put up 13 runs on the Rockies in a 25-1 win at Coors Field on June 24. 

“Multiple times I was like, 'I don’t know if I need to go throw baseballs in the [indoor batting cage].' I didn’t know what to do because that was such a long inning,” Burnes said. “Twelve runs -- I didn’t know that was possible. But we did it.” 

Said Counsell: “I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

For the Brewers, it started innocently, with a Willy Adames walk. Then Donaldson cleared the left-field fence with a two-run home run, giving him an eye-popping ratio of 13 home runs to 23 hits in the Majors this season, and it was off to the races.

By the time it was over, the Brewers had sent 15 men to the plate and scored 12 runs on nine hits and three walks. Three of the hits were run-scoring doubles. Two more were home runs -- Donaldson’s third Brewers home run at the start of the rally and Yelich’s first home run of September to finish it off. Yelich added a two-run home run to straightaway center in the sixth for his first multi-homer game since May 13. 

“You never really know how it’s going to go timing-wise when you haven’t seen game action in a few weeks,” Yelich said. “I took a bunch of swings the past few days and was checking the health boxes. Then I went out there and swung at the first pitch of the night, which was pretty stupid. You kind of get that first one out of the way and go from there.” 

Yelich is expected to start again Saturday, when the Brewers hope to make more of a mess of the visitors’ clubhouse. 

“It’s such a grind,” Yelich said of the baseball season. “There’s so many good moments, bad moments, and they all kind of lead to this. The first celebration of, hopefully, many. Hopefully, we keep going.”