Brewers 'sneak in' playoffs as NL's 8th seed
Crew travels to LA to face Dodgers in Wild Card Series
The Brewers never had a lead in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, finished the regular season two games under .500 -- and celebrated a third straight trip to the postseason.
And, no, they weren’t apologizing.
“There’s no reason to apologize for getting in the playoffs,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We beat the other teams, we got the eighth spot, and so we’re in. And we’ve got a chance. You’ve got to get in. We have a chance to win the World Series still.”
The 29-31 Brewers are the National League’s No. 8 seed and will face the mighty Dodgers in a best-of-three Wild Card Series beginning Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. How did the Brewers become the first team in Major League history to make the playoffs on the strength of a losing record? Because the two other teams in the running going into the final day -- the Phillies and Giants -- lost, too.
The Phillies owned the tiebreaker over the Brewers and only needed to match Milwaukee to get in, but they finished a game back at 28-32. The Giants matched the Brewers at 29-31, but lost the tiebreaker because they were 18-22 against the NL West. The Brewers were 19-21 against the NL Central.
In other words, the Brewers are in the playoffs because their losing record against divisional opponents was one-game better than the Giants’ losing record against divisional opponents.
In 2020, that was good enough to celebrate.
“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything that we went through,” said Christian Yelich, who was among a veritable All-Star team of Major League superstars who saw his production plummet in empty stadiums. “But it felt just as good as last year’s. There were so many challenges that we had to deal with on a daily basis, behind the scenes things that you don’t deal with in a normal year. It wasn’t pretty. We took a beating sometimes. We had our ups and downs, but we were able to find a way to sneak in.”
Before the Brewers and then the Astros snuck in at 29-31 this year, the “worst” team to make MLB’s postseason was the 2005 Padres at 82-80. They got swept in the first round by the Cardinals. But the next worst were the 1973 Mets, who went 82-79 in the regular season but upset the Reds in the NL Championship Series, and the 83-79 Cardinals in 2006, who actually went all the way to win the World Series.
There was also the 1981 Royals, who won just 50 of the 103 games they played. But that season was split into two by a midseason strike, and for purposes of posterity, Kansas City won the second-half title in the American League West with a winning record at 30-23.
“Internally we know if we can just click at the right time, maybe we click this series and never look back,” said Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers’ clear No. 1 starter with Corbin Burnes out for the first round and probably the second round of the playoffs with a left oblique strain. “You never know. That’s the crazy part about the playoffs. You saw it last year with Washington, when they beat us [with a late comeback in the NL Wild Card Game] and ended up winning the World Series.
“So, we’re looking to be that team this year, going in and trying to play some good baseball. We’ve kind of been counted out this whole time. Now that we’re in, we kind of control this destiny here and we’ll try to win some games and get to the World Series. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
There were a slew of scenarios in play for the Brewers at the start of the day, the simplest of which was “win.” A victory over the Cardinals behind Brett Anderson would have clinched at least the No. 8 seed, with a chance for Milwaukee to move up to No. 7.
But Anderson went out with a blister on the index of his pitching hand with runners at the corners and nobody out in the third inning, which turned into a disaster for the Brewers. Freddy Peralta took over in emergency relief and couldn’t come up with Kolten Wong’s comebacker off his glove, an RBI infield single that turned into two runs when Peralta threw wildly to first base. It was 4-0 by the time the inning was over, and 5-1 an inning later when Harrison Bader, whose leadoff triple in the third had put Anderson in trouble, homered off Peralta.
For a Brewers team that has struggled to score all season, four runs represented a serious deficit. They had not scored that many runs in any of the first seven games of this eight-game, regular-season-ending road trip, and even though the Brewers shined on defense by turning a triple play on a Yadier Molina ground ball in the eighth inning, then scored in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate, they were held at bay by St. Louis, which punched its own postseason ticket with the win.
“We’re going to have to score more,” Counsell said. “We can win a game without scoring and getting good pitching, but like I’ve said often, we’re asking our pitching to be perfect.”
The big scoreboard at Busch Stadium faces the visitors’ dugout, so the alternate path to the postseason was right there in front of the Brewers. To get in despite a loss to the Cards, the Brewers needed losses by both the Phillies at the Rays, and the Giants at home against the Padres. And that’s just what the Brewers got, with the Rays cruising into their own postseason series with a shutout win over the Phillies, and the Padres’ reserves holding off a late charge by the Giants.
When Padres reliever Trevor Rosenthal got a generous called strike three to end San Francisco’s season, the Brewers spilled back onto the same field where the Cardinals had just celebrated. In a gesture of sportsmanship, the Cardinals splashed “CLINCHED” across the scoreboard with a Brewers logo and the tagline “MKE HISTORY” so players and coaches could take a team photo.
With that, the Brewers were in the postseason for the seventh time in franchise history, and for a third straight season for the first time. This is the first time that the Brewers clinched a postseason berth on the same day they lost a game.
“Look, a lot didn't go right for us this year,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “A lot of the moves I made last offseason didn't pan out the way I thought they were going to pan out. But our team really hung together, overcame that, and now we get to play in our third postseason in a row on a national stage. And that's something to be really proud of."