MILWAUKEE -- After completing a sweep of the Rockies in the National League Division Series with a 6-0 win on Sunday at Coors Field, the Brewers took Monday off before resuming workouts in advance of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers. Game 1 is Friday at Miller Park.
It was a chance to rest those hard-worked relievers and also to look back on the first postseason series sweep in franchise history. It put Milwaukee one step away from its first World Series appearance since 1982.
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
"At midseason I said, 'We're a playoff team, we're not a World Series team yet,'" Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Then I told the team in Chicago [after the Brewers clinched the NL Central], 'This is a World Series team.' We've played like it. We've matured as a team. Our additions have helped in that regard. We've got a lot of different ways to beat you, and that's what you have to do as a World Series team."
Here's some of what we learned in the NLDS:
'Out-getting' works in a best-of-five series
The Brewers rolled into the NLDS with 11 pitchers and 14 position players on their roster because the format meant they would not play more than two days in a row. That allowed Counsell to piece together 27 outs (or 30, in the case of Game 1) with starters that included an "opener" -- Brandon Woodruff for three hitless innings in Game 1, followed by Jhoulys Chacin on short rest for five innings in Game 2 and Wade Miley for 4 2/3 innings in Game 3 -- and using Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress in all three games against the Rockies. Theoretically, Milwaukee might have been able to use them in all five games had the series gone that far.
• Brewers ride dominant relief corps to NLCS
It all worked beautifully, with Brewers pitchers setting an NLDS record by allowing only two runs while holding the Rockies scoreless in 27 of the 28 innings in the series.
Now, how will it look in a best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format?
"In a seven-game series, it's a different series," Counsell said. "I'll tell you it's a different series, and we'll have to look at our pitching differently."
• Crew's arms set tone in unconventional roles
That means innings from the "initial out-getters" will be more valuable to ease the strain on the A-list relievers at the back end of the bullpen. On Thursday, Counsell named Giovany Gonzalez to start Game 1 of the NLCS, with Miley tabbed for Game 2 and Chacin getting the call for Game 3.
Corbin Burnes is the X-factor
A year ago, Burnes was named Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a big season at Double-A Biloxi. In July, Milwaukee called the right-hander up to the big leagues to see if he could help cover some innings out of the bullpen. Burnes fired his first Major League pitch to the backstop at Marlins Park.
On Sunday, the 23-year-old was entrusted with protecting a 4-0 lead in the seventh and eighth innings of the clinching game at Coors Field, where four-run leads don't mean the same as they do elsewhere.
He'll be in the starting rotation next season, but right now, Burnes is as much a part of the Brewers' relief puzzle as those other high-leverage arms.
Including two hitless innings of Game 3, Burnes worked four scoreless innings in the NLDS, allowing one hit and no walks while striking out five.
"There's three or four guys that get a majority of the attention, but if you look at the way Corbin Burnes is throwing the ball right now, the way Brandon Woodruff is throwing the ball right now, those guys are as good as anybody in baseball," Ryan Braun said. "Hader's been doing it all year. [Jeffress] has been doing it all year. Corey Knebel was arguably the best reliever in baseball last year. But we're six or seven deep out there. We have so much confidence in all of those guys. It's difficult to explain. It's almost impossible to expect it to continue, but we've seen it time and time again, and they're pitching their best when it matters most."
Erik Kratz is an offensive threat
Former Brewers general manager Doug Melvin used to always say that even the most expertly constructed team needed a surprise contributor or two to really be great. When Milwaukee last made the NLCS, it was Nyjer Morgan. This postseason, it looks like Kratz.
At 38, Kratz made his postseason debut in Game 2 of the NLDS at Miller Park and became the oldest player to start a game in his postseason debut since Milwaukee native Lave Cross for the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics.
"We played together in rookie ball," Kratz joked.
• Kratz shocked he made it to second on line drive
But he wasn't just the answer to a trivia question. Picked up from the Yankees' Triple-A club in late May, Kratz posted a .634 OPS in 219 plate appearances for the Brewers during the regular season but might have been their offensive MVP in the NLDS. (It's an unofficial title, as MLB doesn't select series MVPs until the LCS round.) After collecting five Major League hits in 2015, eight in '16 and two in '17, Kratz tallied five hits in his two games in the NLDS, including a two-run single that loomed large in Game 2 and three more hits, including a double, in Game 3.
Kratz handled Chacin and Miley's starts down the stretch, so he is poised to continue playing a significant role in the NLCS.
It's not just a human-interest story. Kratz is helping lengthen the Brewers' lineup.
• Erik Kratz is this year's David Ross
"It's amazing. … He's going out there giving us huge at-bats, delivering in the clutch," Lorenzo Cain said. "We're definitely going to need our complete lineup, everybody going out there and getting it done."
Kratz, who is on his seventh big league team and 10th organization, is trying to soak it in.
"Nobody knows where their career is headed," he said. "Surreal? Yeah, it's surreal. I know that I'm extremely blessed to be in this moment with these guys. It's not about me. It's about these guys. It's about the opportunity to be here. It's something you can't explain."