Whether it was a clean win, an ugly win, a blowout or a squeaker, the Brewers didn’t care. They just needed a win on Wednesday to propel themselves into a huge homestand that could determine whether they play into October.
Right-hander Corbin Burnes not only delivered, he flirted with perfection while continuing his ascent into the National League Cy Young Award debate.
And in a rarity for 2020, the Brewers’ offense provided a record-setting avalanche of support.
Burnes struck out 11 while retiring 21 of the 22 hitters he faced, and the Brewers set a franchise record with 13 extra-base hits in a 19-0 blowout against the Tigers at Comerica Park. It was an opportunity to exhale ahead of Thursday’s off-day, which will be followed by an 11-game homestand that starts with eight games in six days against the two teams -- Cubs and Cardinals -- that Milwaukee is chasing in the NL Central.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Ryan Braun of an offensive attack that featured five home runs, including his own, in Major League Baseball’s most lopsided shutout since Braun and the Brewers sunk the Pirates in 2010 by a 20-0 score.
“On one hand,” Braun added, “it’s nice that there is an off-day tomorrow so everyone can feel good about themselves for a few days. At the same time, you would like for there to be a game, because this is one of the first days all season where we really swung the bats well.”
Coming off three consecutive losses and in danger of falling five games under .500 for the first time, the Brewers came out swinging behind Burnes. They tallied four doubles in a three-run second inning -- matching their season high for doubles in a 2020 game in just that inning -- and went on to hit eight doubles and five home runs. The club record-tying 12th extra-base hit was Jedd Gyorko's second home run of the game, a solo shot in the ninth off a Tigers position player, Travis Demeritte. The record-setter was Tyrone Taylor's two-run shot later in the inning, Taylor’s first career homer, capping his 4-for-5 day.
Burnes took the support -- 19 runs on the 28th anniversary of Robin Yount’s 3,000th hit, and 21 hits on Roberto Clemente Day to match those Hall of Famers’ uniform numbers -- and ran with it, retiring the first 13 Tigers batters before getting too much of the plate with a fifth-inning sinker to Willi Castro. It was one of two mistakes cited by Burnes on a 90-pitch, seven-inning afternoon, and Castro capitalized with a 421-foot triple that would have been a home run in all 29 other ballparks, according to Statcast.
For as much as Brewers manager Craig Counsell welcomed the runs, it was Burnes’ continued ascent that was at the front of his mind after the game. With no earned runs over his last 19 innings, Burnes has lowered his ERA to 1.99 for the season. He has 64 strikeouts and a .145 opponents’ average in 45 1/3 innings in 2020.
And, as of Wednesday, Burnes has enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, meaning he will start showing up on leaderboards alongside other NL Cy Young Award contenders like Yu Darvish and Jacob deGrom. At the moment, those are the only two NL pitchers with a higher fWAR.
“We had a huge offensive day, so it made the game a lot of fun,” Counsell said, “but that kind of pitching performance, you’ve got to start with that.”
Burnes, in turn, credited the bats, saying, “I think our hitters are starting to get a little better look up there. Even some of the outs are loud outs; they’re finding the barrel. We’ll get the off-day to get some rest, knowing the stretch coming up is going to be a tough one.”
Here’s what that stretch looks like: The Brewers have Opening Day starter Brandon Woodruff on the mound for Friday’s series opener against the Cubs, followed by Brett Anderson and Adrian Houser. Burnes, now riding a streak of three straight starts without allowing an earned run, will be back on the mound again Monday, when the Brewers begin a five-game, three-day series against the Cardinals bookended by doubleheaders. After that, it’s three more games at Miller Park against the Royals to close the 2020 slate at their home park.
All told, 13 of the Brewers’ remaining 19 games are against the Cubs and Cards.
Yes, there is urgency in the clubhouse.
“It's not something really spoken of. I think we all know we have 20 games left, or whatever it is,” Woodruff said Wednesday morning as the Brewers embarked upon the final third of their 60-game slate. “I mean, we've been faced with this the last two or three years, so it is kind of familiar territory, but under different circumstances. We know we need to start playing better and start winning games and doing that here pretty soon.
“So there's definitely a sense of urgency, I feel like.”
If that was the case, it was certainly reflected on Wednesday afternoon.
"We’ve got to do impressive things,” Counsell said. “We’ve got to play well. We’ve got 13 of 19 games against teams ahead of us. We know we’ve got to win games. No other way to say it. We don’t have to be perfect, but it’s going to take a good effort."