CINCINNATI -- “You guys can look a week ahead,” said Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook when the topic of next Tuesday's National League Wild Card Game was raised. “We’ll think about today.”
That mindset has served the Brewers well since Aug. 31, when manager Craig Counsell sensed that it was now or never for his club, telling his starting pitcher that day, Zach Davies, “Hey Zach, we’re going to play this like a playoff game.” The resulting winning spree boosted Milwaukee to where it stood on Tuesday, with the NL Central still mathematically in play, two NL Wild Card berths offering alternative paths to the postseason, six regular-season games to go and absolutely nothing guaranteed yet.
Since the Brewers' current series against the Reds was foremost on his mind, Counsell said he hasn't had any discussions about a potential NL Wild Card Game.
“No, we have not,” Counsell said. “I don’t think it’s time to think about that. I think there’s a lot of work left to do. It’s pretty far from my mind, frankly.”
Counsell added with a smirk, “And it’s not a five-day project to think about it, either. We can figure it out quickly if we have to.”
If the Brewers get there, here are some of the candidates to take the ball first in that must-win game:
1. Jordan Lyles
If the Brewers keep everybody in order, it would be Lyles’ turn on Oct. 1 with an extra day of rest under his belt. Adrian Houser started Tuesday’s series opener in Cincinnati and Lyles was scheduled to start on Wednesday, followed by Chase Anderson on Thursday. The Brewers are in Colorado after that, but they have yet to indicate probable pitchers for any of the three games against the Rockies. If they stay in line, it would be Davies, Brandon Woodruff and Houser, in that order.
Lyles has pitched like a front-line starter since the Brewers acquired him from Pittsburgh on July 29, going 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 10 starts for Milwaukee. The Crew has won nine of the 10 games he’s started. In his only outing against the Nationals this season, Lyles was charged with five runs on seven hits in four innings of a wild game that spanned 14 innings and ended with a 15-14 Brewers win on Aug. 17.
2. Brandon Woodruff
Woodruff was an All-Star before a left oblique injury sidelined him from the final week of July until Sept. 17, when he returned to pitch two hitless innings against the Padres while topping out at 98.9 mph in his first game of any kind since getting hurt. He pitched two more hitless innings on Sunday against the Pirates and touched 98.2 mph. Woodruff isn't stretched out to make a traditional start, but if you expect the Brewers’ starter to pitch deep into the game, you were not watching them in last year’s postseason.
Pitching Woodruff at the front of an NL Wild Card Game would probably require an adjustment this week. He won’t pitch in Cincinnati, Counsell said, though the manager did leave open the possibility of adjusting the Brewers' rotation order in Denver should circumstances allow. Woodruff is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 career innings against Washington.
“We’re doing good,” Counsell said. “There’s normal soreness, so we’ll just proceed. His schedule -- he’s probably one guy we’ll think about as far as what’s going on this week.”
3. The Field
Anderson, a right-hander, would be on his fifth day of rest on Oct. 1. Brent Suter, a left-hander back from Tommy John surgery, has been as effective as any Brewers pitcher in September. Milwaukee got creative with its pitching last year in the postseason, including Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, when left-hander Wade Miley was posted as the starting pitcher in an effort to coax a Los Angeles lineup favorable for right-hander Woodruff, who took over after one batter and pitched into the sixth. It worked in getting Brewer-killer David Freese out of the game after one at-bat -- but the Dodgers won the game. Perhaps Milwaukee will do something creative again, should it find itself in a Wild Card Game.
First things first.
The Brewers still have to punch their postseason ticket.
“It’s all about finding the best way to use your group of guys,” Hook said. “Our group is best used this way. We’re just being efficient, I think, in how we’re using our guys.”