Stretch run: Schedule should benefit Brewers
That bodes particularly well for the Brewers, who have built their 86-62 record and 62-game cushion in the National League Central in large part by thumping the worst teams in the league.
The Brewers do not have a winning record against any team currently above .500. They are 23-32 against winning teams, including a 1-5 mark in their last two series against St. Louis and 1-3 in their just-concluded home series against Philadelphia.
On the flip side, the Brewers are 63-30 against teams with losing records, including a 31-9 mark against the three bottom teams in their division, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Houston. While in theory it’s tougher to rise to the top of a six-team division, the Brewers have benefited from playing more series against the Cubs, Houston and Pittsburgh.
In that context, should it have been surprising when the Brewers stumbled against the Cardinals and Phillies, stalling their push toward their first NL Central title?
“Lately, that may be the case,” manager Ron Roenicke said of his club’s stumbles against good clubs. “But we played Philly well in their ballpark early in the season; beat them two out of three (in April).
“We played really well against St. Louis early in the season. I think it’s just this little stretch we’re going through. Unfortunately, we’ve got great teams that we’re playing.”
During the 27-5 surge from July 26 through Aug. 28 that pushed the Brewers to a 10½-game lead in the division, they benefited greatly from a soft schedule. The only winning team they played during that stretch was St. Louis, against which they went 4-2 over two series.
The rest of that blitz was built on 6-0 records against the Cubs and Astros, a 5-2 mark against Pittsburgh, 3-0 against the New York Mets and 3-1 against the Los Angles Dodgers.
At one time, the Brewers had a commanding lead over the Cardinals in their season series, but by dropping five of the last six games, the result was a 9-9 split. The Brewers have not won a series from a winning team since they took two of three from St. Louis at Busch Stadium from Aug. 9-11.
With the toughest interleague schedule of any club in their division, the Brewers didn’t fare well, going 0-3 against the New York Yankees and 1-2 against Boston and Tampa Bay, the top teams in the powerful AL East. The only American League club against which the Brewers had success was Minnesota (4-2 in home-and-home series), which is having an uncharacteristically awful year tied to an avalanche of injuries.
All of which begs the questions: Should the Brewers finish this thing off and win the division, do they stand any chance of succeeding in the postseason against the best teams in the league? Or are they merely strong enough to knock off weaklings?
“You can’t predict what will happen when you get to the playoffs,” said Roenicke. “That’s why you’ve just got to get there. Figure out a way to get there.”
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin noted there are many caveats to the presumption that his club can only beat bad teams. First of all, there are only six winning records among the 16 NL clubs, meaning you’re likely to be playing a losing team much of the time.
“So, there’s only five other teams because we’re one of them,” said Melvin. “The other (first-place) teams are doing the same thing. We’ve won the games you have to win.”
Melvin also pointed out that some teams the Brewers beat earlier in the season had winning records at the time. Florida was 31-23 when the Brewers showed up in Miami in early June and swept a four-game series, starting a Marlins collapse.
Pittsburgh also played well throughout the first half, leading to a surprising first-place standing in the middle of the season. The
Pirates fell apart soon afterward.
It also should be noted that St. Louis had the same opportunity to beat up on weaker teams and was unable to match the Brewers’ success. The Cardinals have fared better than the Brewers against opponents with current winning records, going 24-25, but are only 55-42 against losing teams.
The Brewers have gone 10-2 against the Pirates, with one series remaining, compared with the Cardinals’ 7-6 record. The Brewers are 12-3 against the Astros, compared with 8-4 by St. Louis with one series remaining.
Roenicke said he is not surprised that St. Louis has been able to make a late run, both at the division lead and the wild-card advantage held by Atlanta, which was swept by the Cardinals over the weekend.
“I thought all along this was going to be a tough division,” he said. “If we start playing well again, then it’s not going to be down to the last couple of days (to claim the title). I think we will play well.”
One particular losing record against a winning team could come back to haunt the Brewers. They went 3-4 against Arizona, including one of their few losing series at home (1-2 in early July).
Should the Brewers and Diamondbacks finish with the same record—and it is neck-and-neck at present—Arizona would get home-field advantage in the best-of-five division series and would host the Braves, should they hang on to the wild card.
That scenario would send the Brewers to Philadelphia for the first round, which most folks would consider a playoff death sentence.