Congratulations to the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2018 NL Central champions.
It’s a nice honor, sure. But the Brewers’ 3-1 victory over the Cubs in Monday’s first tiebreaker game spares them Chicago’s fate. The Cubs host the loser of the Rockies-Dodgers tiebreaker game in the NL wild-card game Tuesday.
The Brewers, meanwhile, are off until Thursday, when they will host the winner of that wild-card game in the opener of the NL Division Series.
Milwaukee’s first divisional title since 2011 seemed totally improbable when the season began, and didn’t seem any more likely two weeks ago, until the team got red hot down the stretch to chase down the Cubs.
Here’s a look at the Brewers’ victory in the tiebreaker, along with some observations from what is already one of the greatest seasons in the team’s 50-year history.
The Brewers defied the odds to win the NL Central
The Brewers came into the season with moderate expectations, with many observers figuring they would win 85-90 games and finish second or third in the NL Central behind the Cubs and possibly the Cardinals. In fact, by one measure they had about a 5 percent chance of winning the division.
The Brewers had less than a 5 percent chance of winning the division to begin the year
Defy the odds #OurCrewOurOctober pic.twitter.com/qf3WyLBCsB
— IKE Brewers (@IKE_Brewers) October 1, 2018
Instead, the Brewers hung around the top of the division all season. Still, they trailed the first-place Cubs by five games on Sept. 2, and had to win eight games in a row, including the tiebreaker, to clinch the title.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: Don’t underestimate the Brewers. Even after Monday’s win, they’re being overlooked in some quarters. FiveThirtyEight.com puts their odds of winning the World Series at 8 percent, behind, in order, the Astros, Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Athletics and Indians. They’re only slightly ahead of the Cubs and Rockies (5 percent chance) and Braves (4 percent).
Christian Yelich is having a magical season, but Brewers have many weapons
Yelich had three hits and drove in the first run in the tiebreaker game, a microcosm of his monster season. The outfielder fell just short in his bid to become the first NL Triple Crown winner since 1937, but his presence has in some ways overshadowed a deep lineup that is loaded with weapons. First baseman Jesús Aguilar (35 home runs), third baseman Travis Shaw (32 homers) and infielder Mike Moustakas (28 homers) bring lots of pop. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain stole 30 bases and is a tough out (.813 OPS). Ryan Braun isn’t the MVP-caliber player he was in the Brewers’ last NL Central title season in 2011, but the veteran hit 20 home runs. The bottom line: Even if the Brewers’ LDS opponent finds a way to slow Yelich, other members of the Crew can step forward.
The Brewers bullpen will be tough to beat
If the Brewers can keep a game close, they rarely give anything away in the late innings. Josh Hader is as scary as any reliever in the game today as he showed once again Monday, when he pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three. Hader’s stats are almost video-game crazy (2.43 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 143 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings. Jeremy Jeffress (15 saves, 1.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP), hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 11 appearances dating to Aug. 29. Corey Knebel had 16 saves, a 3.58 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. This is not a team you want to enter the late innings trailing, as the Cubs showed Monday.