Assessing the Brewers’ Playoff Chances

The recently completed Chicago Cubs series at Miller Park was disappointing on a number of levels.  First, it’s of course awful to lose a series to a division opponent, and the Brewers managed to win just a single game of the four-game series, three of which went into extra innings.  And of course the Cubs aren’t just any division opponent; they’re the Hated, Evil, Despised Cubs, the ones whose fans regularly turn Miller Park into little more than their own pigpen.  And of course, this wasn’t just any series.  Entering play the Brewers were 3.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central standings; a sweep would have placed them atop the division.

It’s not as if the Brewers had great odds of winning the division before the Cubs came to town. Down their ace pitcher Jimmy Nelson, Fangraphs gave them just a 2.9% chance of securing a division title even before the Cubs series.  That’s still better than where they currently sit, 5.5 games back with a 0% division probability.  And there’s definitely some skepticism about the Brewers baked into those prognostications, as the Cardinals (currently 6 games behind the Cubs, .5 games behind the Brewers) still have the slightest (i.e., .1%) hope of a division crown.

What the Brewers really damaged with their failure to emerge victorious was their ability to win a wild card berth.  On September 20, Fangraphs pegged the Brewers at an 18.7% chance to win a wild card; that’s down to about 13% now.  And the Brewers are lucky it isn’t less than that; the Colorado Rockies utterly failed to put away a terrible San Diego Padres team in their 4-game series, salvaging a split on the final day of the set.  Fangraphs likes the Rockies to win the second wild card at a 77% probability, which is understandable with a 1.5-game lead over the Brewers and a 2.5-game lead over the Cards with just a handful of games left to play.

Due to lineup variances and pitching changes that might happen with a playoff berth on the line, it isn’t immensely useful to predict how individual games might come out at the end of the year.  But let’s take a stab at it anyway, just for fun.  Hopefully we’ll come away with some perspective on what the Brewers need to accomplish over the final six games.

Let’s take the Cardinals out of the equation for a moment and focus on the Brewers’ and Rockies’ remaining schedules.  There are a couple reasons for doing that with just two series remaining:  (1) the Cardinals currently face an ultra-difficult opponent in the Cubs, who have already locked down game 1; and (2) the Cardinals’ other remaining opponent is the Brewers.  That’s a series the Brewers are probably going to have to win if they want to keep their playoff hopes afloat.

The Brewers kick off a three-game series tonight at Miller Park against the Reds:

Deck McGuire vs. Zach Davies

Deck makes his first major league start.  That should be a win, but we all know how the Brewers tend to struggle with new pitchers.  Half the Reds’ lineup has homered off Davies, and there are some very notable players he has trouble putting away (looking at you, Joey Votto).  Doesn’t look like a great start to the series.  Projection: (L).

Homer Bailey vs. Brandon Woodruff

Woodruff has really struggled of late, but he’s a better pitcher than his 6+ ERA over the last 3 starts would suggest.  He’ll probably get dinged around a bit, but lordy, the Brewers certainly tee off against Homer Bailey.  This one has slugfest written all over it, and I think the Brewers can win that high-scoring battle.  Projection: (W).

Sal Romano vs. Brent Suter

As a team, the Reds are slashing just .244/.318/.418 against lefties, plus Suter pitching actually removes a very potent bat in Scooter Gennett from the lineup (his troubles against lefties continue this year, hitting just .242/.286/.414).  Romano, meanwhile, has made two starts against the Brewers already this season, allowing a total of 8 earned runs over 8 innings.  I’m looking forward to this one.  Projection: (W).

Next, a three-game series in St. Louis to end the season:

Chase Anderson vs. John Gant

Projecting this far out gets us into TBD territory as far as the pitchers go.  We know Chase will start for the Brewers, but if the Cardinals’ backs are really against the wall, they could go with Luke Weaver on short rest.  Weaver would be the much tougher matchup, but I’d not bet against Chase Anderson.  St. Louis regulars Yadier Molina, Dexter Fowler, Steven Piscotty, and Matt Carpenter have all failed to do much against him in the past.  Projection: (W).

Zach Davies vs. Luke Weaver

If Weaver doesn’t start Game 1, he’ll certainly be in for Game 2.  The 24-year-old has been a phenom in 12 appearances this year (9 starts), with a 132 ERA+ and a 2.86 FIP.  No Brewer except Ryan Braun has more than a handful of at-bats against Weaver, but Eric Thames has really teed off against the young righty, amassing two home runs and a walk in six plate appearances.  Meanwhile, Jedd Gyorko, Piscotty, and Carpenter have all smacked around Davies pretty good (assuming he gets this start and not the final game, which would make this a bullpen/Woodruff start).  I don’t think the Brewers keep up in this one.  Projection: (L).

??? vs. Carlos Martinez

What the Brewers plan to do with this start is anyone’s guess.  The rotation is in shambles, they’re down to just two starters they broke spring training with, and I presume they don’t want to put too much stress on Suter by starting him on REALLY short rest.  But let’s assume this is an “all hands on deck game” and the bullpen comes through.  Carlos Martinez has shown over the last few starts that he’s mortal, and he gets another tough challenge tonight in the Cubs.  The Brewers have handled him well enough, especially Braun, Hernan Perez, Domingo Santana, and Jonathan Villar.  What the heck, it’s a win to end the season.

Even if the Brewers finish 4-2, they’re going to have to pray the Rockies drop all but a game in their final five games to win the wild card outright.  The Rockies get Miami for a two-game set, followed by three against the Dodgers, all at home.  If the Rockies go 2-3, the Brewers and Rockies tie with a regular season win total of 86-76.  In that case, the Rockies and Brewers play a one-game series to determine who wins a wild card berth.  That would be hosted by the Rockies by virtue of their having a better record in head-to-head matchups (4-3).


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