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Milwaukee Brewers Still Fighting for Wild Card Spot

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MILWAUKEE — In baseball, being too good can sometimes be a curse.

Take the 2021 Milwaukee Brewers. They were in first place within the National League Central for a lot of the regular season. Behind a dominant pitching staff, the Brewers built such a big lead in a weaker division — 14 games by mid-September — that once they struggled within the closing weeks, they still backed into the division title with 95 wins. The games down the stretch didn’t have the identical importance and, despite their best efforts, the Brewers limped into the playoffs, where they were quickly bounced by the eventual champion Atlanta Braves.

“We played marvelously until the ultimate two weeks of the yr,” Brewers shortstop Willy Adames said in Spanish over the weekend. “Then we went within the fallacious direction and we couldn’t get out of there, and that was the explanation we didn’t advance past the primary round.”

This yr, the small-market Brewers don’t have a cushion. They need every win and as much time as possible to make sure their streak of 4 straight postseason appearances isn’t snapped.

Despite a 2022 season defined by injuries and inconsistency, the Brewers (78-68 through Sunday) are still inside striking distance of the third N.L. wild card. After taking two of three games from the Yankees over the weekend, they were two games behind the Philadelphia Phillies (80-66). And maybe, Adames said, playing games within the closing weeks that matter more may have a positive effect on the Brewers this time around.

“That’s the energy the fellows have, they usually know we’d like to win and we now have to do whatever possible to enter the postseason,” he said. “If we reach the playoffs that way, it’s higher.”

As many past Octobers have shown, the team with the very best regular-season record doesn’t all the time win the World Series. A protracted summer of success can end abruptly in a three-game series. And sometimes the team playing the very best going into the playoffs is essentially the most dangerous. So regardless that the Brewers were a greater team last yr, they hope that they’ll find enough consistency to nab a playoff spot and ride that deep into October.

“It’s just fun this time of yr,” Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff said over the weekend. “I really like playoff baseball, and hopefully we will keep stringing together some wins and get in, and also you never know what’s going to occur.”

The Brewers weren’t expected to be on this position. Due to a returning solid of characters — led by a rotation headlined by the 2021 Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Woodruff — they were expected to contend again for a division title.

The Brewers were leading the Central as recently as Aug. 3, however the St. Louis Cardinals caught them from behind and built what was an eight-game lead through Sunday, due to a 37-17 record for the reason that All-Star break in July. The Brewers went 28-25 in the identical span — adequate to remain in wild-card contention but not nearly enough to maintain pace with St. Louis.

“The Cardinals are an unbelievable team,” said Woodruff. He added, about his own team: “You may have loads of the identical guys within the room, but you’ve other people here, too. Every yr is just different. It’s been slightly bit more of a grind, but we get to this time of the yr and we’re still right there.”

Amongst the most important culprits for the Brewers’ struggles, Woodruff said, have been the health and consistency of the rotation. 4 key starters have missed time with injuries. Woodruff has a 2.55 earned run average since his return from the injured list in late June, but ankle and finger ailments cost him a month. Aaron Ashby and Peralta are each on their second I.L. stints of the season for arm injuries. Adrian Houser missed 44 games this summer with an elbow injury. And Eric Lauer is working his way back from an elbow injury. (Burnes has been typically excellent, with a 2.97 E.R.A. over 179 innings through Sunday.)

The result: A rotation considered the second Most worthy in M.L.B. in 2021, in line with Fangraphs, was ranked 14th through Sunday.

(There have also been a complete host of other players who’ve missed time corresponding to Adames, who was on the I.L. for 3 weeks early within the season with an ankle sprain, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who had two I.L. stints for leg ailments.)

On the Aug. 2 trade deadline, the Brewers front office traded away closer Josh Hader, a three-time N.L. reliever of the yr — a move that bothered some within the clubhouse. The reasoning was easy: The Brewers had an in-house alternative (the All-Star Devin Williams, who has a 1.76 E.R.A.), and Hader, who’s eligible without spending a dime agency this off-season, had been struggling. He has pitched worse in San Diego (13 runs in 13 appearances) and lost the closer’s job. The Brewers’ bullpen reinforcements brought in via trade have either been so-so (Taylor Rogers) or gotten injured (Trevor Rosenthal and Matt Bush).

“We just haven’t been in a position to mix all parts of our play, like hitting with pitching,” Adames said. “But previously two weeks, I feel we’ve played higher baseball and we’re moving in a greater direction.”

Thankfully for the Brewers, Adames has helped regular the team’s offense. They were scoring at roughly the identical clip as last season (4.5 runs per game through Sunday), but the most important change has been of their power.

The Brewers ranked twenty third in slugging percentage last season but had jumped to eighth place ahead of their three-game series against the Mets that was set to start on Monday. The Brewers’ 202 home runs trailed only the Yankees (231) and Braves (220).

First baseman Rowdy Tellez had 31 home runs through Sunday, Renfroe had 25, and Adames broke the Hall of Famer Robin Yount’s single-season franchise record for home runs by a shortstop on Saturday together with his thirtieth. The one other shortstop in M.L.B. with 30 home runs or more this season is Corey Seager of the Texas Rangers.

“It’s special to me and it means the world to me to be right next to a legend like Robin Yount,” Adames said, adding later, “I’m attempting to do essentially the most to assist the team win games. We’d like it now essentially the most.”

Adames said he was grateful that the postseason format had expanded this yr to 12 teams from 10 since it gives the Brewers a probability. And while most players insist they don’t check the scoreboards to see how opponents are doing, Woodruff admitted he did at night after the Brewers’ games were over. Time is running out to catch the Phillies or Padres.

“Obviously we’re not blind to what’s happening,” Woodruff said, “but we attempt to give attention to one another and attempting to win a baseball game every day.”

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