Burnes provides hope for disappointed Crew

October 6th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- This wasn’t the ending the Brewers envisioned when they gathered in Phoenix in the second week of March. Instead of prepping for the postseason, they packed up lockers at American Family Field on Wednesday and suffered one last blown save in a 4-2 loss to the D-backs in the season finale.

Instead of Devin Williams, it was Trevor Gott pitching the ninth inning and absorbing Milwaukee's 16th blown save since the Trade Deadline. No team in baseball had more late-inning stumbles over the past two months, but the Brewers -- eliminated from postseason contention on Monday night and playing the first inconsequential games in this ballpark in six years -- opted not to risk an injury to their closer after Williams set career highs for appearances (65) and innings (60 2/3).

The Crew finished 86-76.

“If we come back in next year with the same team,” right-hander Corbin Burnes said at the end of a bittersweet day, “I think we have a better result.”

Burnes would have rather been resting up for a postseason start, but he settled for becoming the first Brewers pitcher in a decade to top 200 innings, as he finished a fabulous follow-up to his National League Cy Young Award-winning season a year ago. He had a 2.94 ERA in 202 innings while becoming the first player in Milwaukee’s Major League history to lead his league in strikeouts. Burnes fanned 243, including five D-backs in three perfect innings on Wednesday.

Most important to him, Burnes made every start. He was one of only four pitchers in MLB to start 33 games this season. He was one of eight pitchers in MLB to top 200 innings, and the first Brewers hurler to do so since Yovani Gallardo in 2012.

“I think every starting pitcher, that’s a standard that they really want to try to achieve,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I think it represents a lot of things. It represents consistency. It represents availability. The term ‘workhorse,’ I don’t know exactly what that means, but it means you were available. If you’ve thrown 200 innings, you’ve done a lot to help other people on your team. You also have to pitch really well to get to that number.”

Burnes led the Brewers in innings, strikeouts and fWAR (4.6), putting him in a tie with shortstop Willy Adames for the highest value on the team. Williams finished the year with the best ERA among the team’s regulars at 1.93. Brad Boxberger led the way with 70 appearances out of the bullpen. Christian Yelich led the team with 154 hits, Hunter Renfroe had the highest OPS among the team’s qualifiers at .807 and Rowdy Tellez had 35 home runs, including a solo shot in the eighth inning on Wednesday that briefly gave Milwaukee a 2-1 lead.

“This is a tough year with us not making the playoffs, especially after doing it four years in a row, so a lot of people are disappointed with how we played,” Tellez said. “But personally, for me, a huge focus was just staying healthy and being available to play every single day. I always said if I got an opportunity, I think I would be able to do kind of what I did.”

As a team, the Brewers had higher expectations this year, which was natural as they brought back last year’s 95-win team largely intact, coming off a fourth consecutive postseason appearance. That streak began in 2018, when they got to Game 7 of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers. They are 1-6 in postseason games since then.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Tellez said. “We're a team that came through this with a bullseye on our back. We let ourselves down, but we'll be back next year. There's always the year after, and I think in the long run, we're going to have a really good team.”

Counsell told players that they had a good team this year. This marked the 15th time since the franchise’s founding in 1969 that the team won at least 86 games, including in each of the past five full MLB seasons.

“That number of wins has probably won the World Series,” Counsell said – and he was right, though it hasn’t happened since the 83-win Cardinals in 2006. “Monday was a disappointing day, because it told us that we were not going to achieve the goal that we set out for ourselves. But 86 wins is a good baseball team. That means good things moving forward, is what I’d tell you.”

It just wasn’t the ending they envisioned.

“The last day of the year is never a good one, unless you’re lifting up the trophy at the World Series,” Burnes said.