With Yeli on mend, Crew closes in on postseason spot

Milwaukee reduces NL Central title magic number to 2 following series win over St. Louis

September 22nd, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Before he rode the bench for the 12th time in the past 13 games, before the Brewers beat the Cardinals for the third straight day, 6-0, on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium, expressed hope that he’ll play this weekend in Miami.

Yelich’s back tightness has lingered longer than expected, the way back tightness sometimes does, but he insists he feels better by the day while adding more and more activity.

  • Games remaining (9): at MIA (3), vs. STL (3), vs. CHC (3)
  • Standings update: The Brewers (87-66) hold an eight-game lead over the Cubs (79-74) 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 two.

Had the Brewers known the problem would persist this long, would they have placed Yelich on the injured list from the start? Probably. Truth is, it hasn’t much mattered.

In the past two weeks, starting with the weekend set at Yankee Stadium when Yelich’s back acted up, Milwaukee has turned a 1 1/2-game lead over the Cubs with 23 to play into an eight-game lead with nine to play in the regular season.

The Brewers would clinch a postseason berth with a win over the Marlins on Friday night, and the division is next. Yelich has the luxury of time to get fully healthy.

“Just make sure it’s good good,” Yelich said.

Asked whether the Brewers’ lead in the standings might push Yelich’s return to the final homestand, manager Craig Counsell said, “When he’s ready to play, he’s going to play. I think we’ve exercised caution already, so when he’s ready to play, he’s in there.”

Counsell’s club has played well in recent weeks whether Yelich has been in there or not. With 22 victories in the past 31 games, the Brewers have the best record in baseball since getting swept at Dodger Stadium Aug. 15-17.

It’s a matter of all phases of the team clicking at once. Milwaukee has surged because of pitching performances like the one Wade Miley delivered on Thursday, when he worked six scoreless innings on three hits, two walks and seven strikeouts, one shy of his season high.

Recent callups JB Bukauskas and Julio Teheran completed the shutout to lower the Brewers’ bullpen ERA to 0.96 over the past 13 games in which a reliever has pitched.

Overall, Milwaukee leads the NL with a 3.74 ERA, and the pitching staff hasn’t surrendered double-digit hits in any of their past 26 games, the longest streak in MLB since the Nationals’ 26-game run in 2018. No team has gone 27 games without allowing more than nine hits since the 1968 Orioles, whose streak ended at 30.

And in Yelich’s absence, the Brewers’ offense has found other spark plugs.

Rookie Sal Frelick extended his on-base streak to 17 games with a couple of hits and an RBI on Thursday. Tyrone Taylor, whose playing time has spiked with Yelich sidelined, has four home runs and a .965 OPS in September.

Mark Canha has more RBIs as a Brewer (30) in 43 games than he had in 89 games with the Mets this season (29). Willy Adames already has more extra-base hits in the first three weeks of September (12) as he did in the six weeks from the All-Star break through the end of August (10). And William Contreras has reached safely in 29 of his past 30 games despite carrying the heaviest workload as a catcher of his young career.

It adds up to a much more potent offense, which salted away the finale win over St. Louis with a four-run sixth inning punctuated by Victor Caratini’s three-run home run off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.

“Everybody is excited, we have the playoffs so close,” Caratini said. “Everybody wants to be there, so I think everybody is doing the extra little push to make it. We’re going in the right direction.”

If it seems like the Brewers are putting together more big innings lately, it’s because they have. After scoring four or more runs in an inning 25 times in their first 125 games, they have done so 16 times in the past 33 games, including 11 times in September and in each of the last three games in the set against St. Louis.

“I don’t know if you can map that out, but obviously the three-run homers are game-changers, and we’ve gotten that hit more often,” Counsell said. “It’s more to me a function of, up and down the lineup, no gaps. That’s what I feel like we’re strong at right now.”

Said Miley: “Ever since the [Aug. 1 Trade Deadline], the at-bats have been unbelievable. Bringing over Mark and Carlos [Santana], their at-bats have been feeding into other people. We’re playing a fun brand of baseball right now. We can feel like we’re close to getting where we want to be, so some intensity has picked up.”

Close, but “we’re not there yet,” Counsell noted.

“Right now, it’s ‘finish the job,’” he said. “That’s what we’re thinking about.”