On Sept. 12, 2018 the Milwaukee Brewers found themselves just one game back from the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central standings. The Brewers had opened the month five full games back of the Cubs and Cardinals, but under the incredible power surge at the plate from RF Christian Yelich, the Crew went on to close the door by the end of the season, win the division and make it to Game 7 of the NLCS, just one win from the World Series.
Fast forward to this season, where the Brewers were five full games back in the Wild Card hunt from the Cubs on Sept. 5 and again were needing a power surge. As of Sept. 11, Milwaukee had tied the scuffling Lovable Losers.
If Milwaukee wants to pull off another playoff run, the team will have to do it without Yelich, who went down Sept. 10 with a broken kneecap after fouling a ball off his leg.
The first medical opinion to the injury suggests an 8 to 10 week recovery time — which is still too late even for a World Series pinch hit appearance, meaning any magical moments similar to Kirk Gibson are out of the picture. However, barring a turn of events in a second opinion, Yelich should be able to open the 2020 season without a hitch.
Yelich was in contention for a second MVP award, flirting with a 50 home run season while adding nearly 100 RBIs and over 30 steals and sitting at the top-5 in the league in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs scored. The loss of arguably the best hitter in all of baseball this season is devastating news, especially considering how inconsistent the team has been this year.
On paper, subtracting Yelich shouldn’t cause too much of a slowdown in production. Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas and Travis Shaw are all former all-stars. Keston Hiura has done nothing but hit since making his big league debut in May; Eric Thames has a swing that makes the moon fearful of collecting more craters, Ben Gamel is a solid glove in the field and has been clutch all year off the bench, and Trent Grisham changed his swing in the offseason and has been a spark since getting promoted from Triple-A.
The issue is that Shaw hasn’t hit this season at all, Hiura and Moustakas have been hurt the past few weeks, and the pitching staff has been inconsistent and injured all year.
In 2018, Milwaukee had Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel as lock-down pieces at the back end of the bullpen, with guys like Joakim Soria, Xavier Cedeno, Dan Jennings and hot rookie Corbin Burnes as valuable commodities to pitch in relief. Jhoulys Chacin was an ace all season, and especially down the stretch.
Knebel was lost in spring training this season, and Jeffress fought injury and poor results and the former all-star has since been released. Soria, Cedeno and Jennings are elsewhere this year, and Chacin was cut after a season full of slip ups.
Burnes had a lot of expectations and like many other pitches gained a habit of throwing fastballs middle-middle, which in the big leagues equates to home runs for their opponents.
And yet, the Brewers sit in a position to make the postseason (tied for the final Wild Card spot and four games behind St. Louis).
Baseball is a game in which a hot stretch over the course of a week changes everything in September. A team could win 86 games in the regular season and beat a 100-win team in the playoffs and go on to win the World Series. If the Brewers make the playoffs, lightning in a bottle could hit and everything could fall into place for the first rings in Milwaukee since Hank Aaron and the Braves were in town in the 1950s.
But the stronger likelihood is that without Yelich, this ball club has one less player that scares opponents. And while the Brewers can put up runs, the pitching staff has shown time and time again that they simply don’t have “it” this year.
And that’s the epitome of false hope — tricking yourself into thinking there is actual hope, when there simply isn’t any.
But hey, with a few key signings, maybe 2020 will be better.
— Adam Krebs is a reporter for the Times and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.