'Zeros for everybody': Yelich eyes clean slate

October 8th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- If happens to glance up at the scoreboard while walking to home plate in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday, he will see zeros across the board. It’s the start of a new season.

“I think it’s zeros for everybody, and you’re just focused on trying to win,” Yelich said. “Nobody cares who does it, how it gets done, as long as we come out on top. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about this team, but also the playoffs -- winning is always first. You just want to be part of that and help contribute in any way you can.”

During the regular season, Yelich batted .248 with a .373 slugging percentage, career lows for a full season by wide margins. He hit nine home runs in 475 plate appearances, or one for every 44.3 at-bats. That includes one homer in Yelich’s final 36 games and 148 plate appearances of the regular season.

Most curiously, Yelich returned to hitting the ball on the ground like he did before coming to the Brewers from the Marlins in a 2018 trade. His 54.4 percent ground-ball rate was ninth highest in MLB among batters with at least 400 plate appearances.

Early on, it was a matter of health. Yelich spent about five weeks on the injured list in April and May with a bad back, but since then, he has been healthy, according to the countless inquires of Brewers manager Craig Counsell and Yelich himself. On Tuesday, the 29-year-old said, “I feel healthy. I’m ready to go.”

“We expect him to be a good player. This is a really good player,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “I expect him to perform, I think he expects to perform, and we're looking forward to seeing how this goes. We'll get into any sort of retrospective analysis after the season, but right now we expect Christian to perform at a level that helps us win games.

“I think he has helped us win games over the course of the season. He set a really high bar for himself in 2018 and 2019. He did not perform up to that bar this regular season, and he'd be the first to admit that, but I certainly believe in the person, I believe in the talent, and I think he's going to help us win games here.”

The Brewers have made the postseason in all four years since Stearns acquired Yelich and fellow outfielder Lorenzo Cain on the same January day, but Yelich has only played in three of them. In 2019, after a second consecutive monster season at the plate, he was sidelined with a fractured right kneecap from a foul ball in mid-September.

So, it came as no surprise that Yelich spoke of enjoying every October opportunity.

“You don’t want to ever take this for granted, because of how hard it is to get to this point,” he said. “Even though we’ve done it four years in a row, you still realize it’s a long year and a lot of stuff has to happen. We had to overcome a lot of things this year as a team -- injuries, COVID, amongst a bunch of other things. The first goal always every season is to make it to the postseason. You’ve got to get in to have a chance to win the whole thing. So the first goal [is] win the division and make it to the postseason, and then the next goal is to win the DS and then you go from there.

“I think we, as a team, expected to be here. That was our goal, that’s what we set out to be. I think if we fell short of that, then it would have 100 percent been a disappointment. But you want to give yourself as a team and an organization as many bites of the apple as you can. You’ve got to get in every year, and then hopefully one of those years -- or multiple years -- you can take it to the finish line.”

Last call

credits good health for the fact that he led the Brewers in games played and at-bats during the regular season and said part of that was better weight training. You may be surprised to hear that it was Josh Hader, of all people, among those who showed Urías the importance of the weight room.

“I came in seeing guys like Josh Hader and Corbin Burnes always in the gym,” Urías said. “Obviously not lifting heavy weights, but always doing something. It was one thing that I learned from those All-Stars that helped me to stay healthy through the season. The main goal is being healthy to be able to help. That was one of my main goals this year.”

• Sometimes, a manager and his coaching staff must agonize over a postseason pitching rotation. But lining up Corbin Burnes for Game 1 of this year’s NLDS and Brandon Woodruff for Game 2, Counsell said, was “easy.” He has not named starting pitchers beyond that point and said, “I think some of the starters will play a factor in the bullpen.”