Cy Burnes? Crew on brink of division title

Right-hander logs 9 K's over 7 strong IP as Brewers' magic number falls to 1

September 26th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- burnished his National League Cy Young Award credentials while pitching the Brewers to the cusp of a division crown.

Burnes’ latest masterpiece was a seven-inning, one-run, nine-strikeout performance in Saturday night’s 2-1 win over the Mets at American Family Field. Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor watched a team they still refer to as “we” and “us” lower its magic number to clinch the NL Central all the way to one.

Milwaukee has two avenues to celebrate in front of the home fans in Sunday’s home regular-season finale: A win over the Mets behind Freddy Peralta, or a Cardinals loss to the Cubs.

“As it’s been, it’s there in front of us,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s ours to take.”

A division title seemed inevitable at the start of this final homestand. The Brewers came home 12 games up in the Central with 16 to play. But the Cardinals have not been making it easy, rattling off a winning streak that reached 15 games on Saturday, and includes a four-game sweep of the Brewers.

Yount, clad in a Brewers hoodie because the dress shirt he wore to the ballpark didn’t feel right for a late September game with playoff implications, remains unshaken. Count him among the believers that there is a downside to clinching too early.

“I don’t think this is that big a deal,” Yount said. “I would just as soon see us play really good next week going into the playoffs.”

Milwaukee altered Burnes’ schedule going into this outing with the playoffs in mind, and he delivered a performance worthy of a Game 1 starter: Seven innings, five hits, one run, one walk, nine strikeouts and a victory thanks to Eduardo Escobar driving in both runs with a single in the third inning. It was Burnes’ 14th start with at least nine strikeouts, extending his own franchise record. The Brewers have won each of Burnes’ last 12 starts.

Burnes will have one more regular-season start to complete his case to be the Brewers’ first Cy Young Award winner since Rollie Fingers (1981) and Pete Vuckovich (‘82) won in back-to-back years in the American League. With 165 innings in the books -- meaning Burnes will finish among qualifiers this season after falling one out shy last year -- his ERA is 2.29, second in the Majors to Max Scherzer’s 2.28. Burnes FIP is an absurd 1.56, second only to 1999 Pedro Martinez’s 1.45 in the live ball era, which covers the last 101 years. Burnes’ 35.5 percent strikeout rate leads Major League qualifiers and is eighth-best all-time among qualifiers.

“I say it all the time. With this team, so good with pitchers, you only need two or three runs,” Escobar said. “That’s it, man. Corbin did a great job. I’m so happy. He has an opportunity to finish strong and hopefully he’s going to win the Cy Young, but the most important thing is this win. You know how much we needed this win again today.”

Escobar had five hits in his previous 46 at-bats before his two-out single off Mets starter Rich Hill. Burnes and relievers Brad Boxberger and Josh Hader made it work. Burnes struck out Jonathan Villar and Javier Báez to end consecutive innings in the fourth and fifth to strand a pair of runners both times, but otherwise the righty sailed through his 18th outing this season allowing one or fewer runs.

“Corbin’s having an incredible season. A Cy Young-worthy season, there’s no question about it,” Counsell said. “He’s been amazing all year, but it feels like he’s even picking it up a little bit here as we kind of go down the stretch. It’s what the great ones do, and he’s a great one right now.”

Burnes described himself as “in a good spot.”

Has he allowed himself a look at where he stands in the NL Cy Young Award race?

“It definitely creeps in, just the amount of times that I hear it,” Burnes said. “You guys are pretty keen to hit on that pretty quickly. But that’s all out of your control. The only thing I can do is go out and do my best to throw the baseball the way I can, and the way I want, and give my team the best opportunity to win. At the end of the day, if we come out on top and the numbers at the end of the year look good, it’s up to those people to vote.”

Much more important to Burnes is the Brewers’ place in the standings.

“Obviously, we had a little skid the last two weeks,” he said. “Probably good timing for that to happen to shake us all loose and wake us up a little bit, and get us going. We’re in a good spot. With Freddy on the mound, we’ve got a good chance of finishing this off.”