Crew within half-game of Phils for final NL Wild Card spot

Woodruff thrives in 'favorite time of year', sets club record

September 29th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Brandon Woodruff and the Brewers are back to within one good day of postseason position.

Woodruff became the first pitcher in franchise history to log double-digit strikeouts in four consecutive starts when he fanned 10 Cardinals in the Brewers’ 5-1 win on Wednesday night at American Family Field, lifting Milwaukee within a half-game of free-falling Philadelphia in the bid for the National League’s final Wild Card berth. It’s the closest the Brewers have been to the playoff picture since Aug. 13.

That’s thanks in part to the Phillies (83-71), who fell again at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and have lost nine of their past 12 games to help the Brewers (83-72) hang in the race. But remember, the task requires not only catching the Phillies but passing them by, since Philadelphia won four of six head-to-head matchups this season and has the tiebreaker between the teams.

The Brewers have seven games remaining, all at home against the Marlins and D-backs. The Phillies have eight, all on the road at the Cubs, Nationals and Astros.

“This is my favorite time of year,” Woodruff said. “In these moments is when I can focus-in more when I'm trying to make pitches. ... I love pitching in the playoffs, so hopefully we can get to that point, and you never know, we may get to play these guys again.”

He was right about that. If the Padres don’t collapse and the Brewers claim the NL’s final berth, they would go to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in a best-of-three Wild Card Series at Busch Stadium.

"I feel good about it, regardless of who we see,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, whose club clinched the NL Central and the league’s No. 3 seed Tuesday. “Whether it's these guys [the Brewers], Philly or San Diego, we'll put our best offense out there, we'll match up with them and we'll take our shot.”

The Cardinals edged the Brewers in the clubs’ regular-season series, 10-9, so it was fitting that Wednesday’s finale was just as close. Woodruff, coming off three consecutive victories in which he struck out 11 against the Reds, 10 against the Yankees and then 11 against the Reds again, and facing a Cardinals club resting some regulars after clinching the NL Central the night before, had eight strikeouts by the end of the third inning and also had a lead thanks to Hunter Renfroe’s two-out RBI single.

It was 2-0 after six innings when the Brewers’ braintrust opted to lift Woodruff from the game after 98 pitches, five hits, one walk, 10 strikeouts and no runs.

“It’s not even fun to play defense behind him because he strikes out everybody,” shortstop Willy Adames said.

“We know he loves to be in these games, and you’re going to get a bunch of zeros,” manager Craig Counsell said. “You’ve got a good chance to win when he’s on the mound.”

But, Counsell said, “He was done.”

Woodruff’s replacement, Matt Bush, surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced (light-hitting backup catcher Andrew Knizner, who homered in both games of the series) and departed with traffic on the bases for Devin Williams, who was pitching before the eighth inning of a nine-inning game for the first time since April 21, 2021. 

Williams faced the bases loaded and a three-ball count against Juan Yepez when he induced a soft bouncer to Adames, who used his glove to make a high flip to second baseman Kolten Wong, who made an off-balance throw to first to complete a lead-saving, inning-ending double play. It wasn’t pretty, but it was good enough to get the Brewers to the seventh-inning stretch with a lead.

When Williams stranded two more runners in a scoreless top of the eighth, it set the stage for the Brewers to pull away with three runs in a rally punctuated by Victor Caratini’s two-run ground-rule double.

“Devin was awesome tonight,” Counsell said. “We talked a little bit before the game about the urgency of the situation, and frankly, that was not the situation I was envisioning, but he did a heck of a job. That was a really tough spot to come into.”

The Brewers will need more big plays to pass the Phillies for a playoff spot. But they’re closer than they’ve been in weeks.

“It’s huge,” Wong said. “Obviously, we haven’t lost confidence in this clubhouse, and looking at our schedule and their schedule, we knew it was going to come down to the very end. We’ve got two more big series against two young teams that are going to come in ready to battle, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re ready to go.”

Would he like to see his former Cardinals teammates again?

“That would be awesome. A [best of] three-game series with our horse going against theirs? I’d put our horses against anybody’s,” Wong said. “If we can sneak in there, it’d be fun to see how we can do.”