'We’re built to go all the way': Crew set for Wild Card Series with D-backs

October 3rd, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- The regular season is a wrap. Bring on the D-backs.

The Brewers had just wrapped their 4-0 win over the Cubs in Sunday’s regular-season finale when they learned that Arizona will be the opponent for a best-of-three National League Wild Card Series that begins Tuesday at American Family Field. First pitch for all three games is scheduled for 6:08 p.m. CT.

It’s a rematch of a memorable 2011 NL Division Series that went all the way to the 10th inning of a decisive Game 5 before Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan’s single sent Carlos Gómez sprinting home for Milwaukee’s first postseason series win in 29 years.

Now, the teams will meet in October once again.

“I think they’re a pretty good team -- they’re similar to us in a lot of ways,” said Christian Yelich, the only position player who has been part of all five of Milwaukee’s postseason qualifiers in the past six years. “Anything can happen in a three-game series like that, so you have to come out and play well and see what happens.”

Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell hasn’t announced his starters beyond Corbin Burnes in Game 1. Freddy Peralta will likely follow him in Game 2, but Brandon Woodruff will miss the NL Wild Card Series with a right shoulder injury. Counsell said Woodruff's availability for potential future series is "up in the air."

The D-backs didn’t punch their postseason ticket until Saturday, so they won’t have their top two starters, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, available until Game 2 and (if necessary) Game 3. Brandon Pfaadt, a 24-year-old right-hander with a 5.72 ERA in 96 regular-season innings, will start Game 1.

The Brewers lost each of their two series against the D-backs this year and saw firsthand why Gallen and Kelly make Arizona a tricky opponent in a three-game series. Each made a pair of starts against Milwaukee and combined to go 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA, holding the Brewers to 10 hits with 29 strikeouts in 27 innings.

Only Burnes faced the D-backs this season, and it was a tale of two starts. He scattered three hits and didn’t walk a batter while striking out eight in eight scoreless innings on April 11 in Phoenix, then surrendered seven earned runs on eight hits over five innings in Milwaukee on June 19.

“Personally, I think we’re going to be good no matter who we play,” said Tyrone Taylor, who homered Sunday in a game the Brewers led from the first inning onward.

Said right-hander Adrian Houser: “I think we’re built to go all the way.”

The Brewers are built around pitching and defense, and they hit enough over the final weeks of the regular season to pull away from the rest of the National League Central for a 92-70 record -- nine games better than second-place Chicago. That’s the biggest cushion for any of the six division winners in Milwaukee’s franchise history.

It was a sprint to the finish. The Brewers got swept at Dodger Stadium from Aug. 15-17, then went 27-13 the rest of the way, edging the 27-14 Orioles for the best record in baseball from Aug. 18 onward. For the Brewers, that included navigating a stretch of 17 consecutive game days from Sept. 8-24 in which the team went 11-6.

The Brewers clinched a postseason berth with eight games to go and clinched the division with five games to go, allowing Counsell, pitching coach Chris Hook and bullpen coach Jim Henderson to set up the pitching just so, with a series of call-ups in recent days helping to cover innings. On Sunday, Houser pitched the first five innings of a five-hit shutout, with Brewers relievers Andrew Chafin and Janson Junk covering the rest.

Milwaukee finished the regular season with the best ERA in baseball at 3.71.

“It went really to the script,” Counsell said. “We were able to put our starters in a good spot, put our bullpen guys in a good spot with rest. The [pitchers] that filled in around that did a wonderful job to allow that. It couldn’t have gone any better from that perspective.”

But while the pitchers got their rest, the Brewers’ hitters played it out “to stay competitive until the end," Yelich said.

This is a different team and a different season, but the Brewers are aiming to avoid a repeat of 2021, when they coasted to a division title and were shut down by the Braves in the NLDS.

“You try to accomplish something every day to put yourself in the best position to win tomorrow,” Counsell said. “But once Tuesday starts, it’s a baseball game against another good team and it’s a battle. That’s how it works now. Nobody is going to care about rest when we get to Tuesday and Wednesday.”