MILWAUKEE — Dropping two games to the lowly Detroit Tigers was a frustrating follow-up to one of their most dominating series of the season, but the Milwaukee Brewers return Friday to American Family Field for the final homestand of the season still in control of their postseason destiny.
Milwaukee’s magic number to clinch the NL Central title remains at five games after the back-to-back losses in Detroit, meaning any combination of five Brewers victories or losses by the Cardinals, who have passed the Reds for second place in the division, punches their ticket for a fourth consecutive playoff berth.
It’s an exciting position to be in, especially after the down-to-the-wire scrambles that have become commonplace during the last four Septembers.
“A homestand always gets everybody excited, no matter what,” manager Craig Counsell said. “But the three games against the Cubs, that’s what’s next on our list.”
Those three games likely won’t be the cakewalk some might have expected when the Cubs essentially waved a white flag by trading away stars Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and closer Craig Kimbrel ahead of the trade deadline.
Chicago, still well below .500 and eliminated from playoff contention, has shown signs of life over the past few weeks by winning 10 of 15 games. As the Brewers were reminded during their two-game set against the Tigers, young, hungry players with little to play for tend to look at matchups against contenders as their own personal playoff series.
Players such as third baseman 30-year-old Patrick Wisdom, who just broke Bryant’s record for home runs as a rookie, have been slumping this month but are still trying to play his way into the team’s future plans.
Frank Schwindel, who took over for Rizzo at first base, has become something of a folk hero in Wrigleyville after batting .362/.409/.684 with 12 home runs, 35 RBIs and a 1.093 OPS since he was traded from Oakland at the deadline. He went 4-for-12 with two doubles and a home run during a four-game series against the Brewers in Chicago last month and took a five-game hitting streak into the Cubs’ game against the Phillies on Thursday.
Add in the extra intensity that comes with a heated rivalry and the almost-certain influx of Cubs fans making their presence known, the weekend has all the warning signs of a potential “trap series.”
“The Cubs are playing great baseball and have been playing good since we left Chicago,” said starting right-hander Brandon Woodruff.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier when the Cubs leave town. Milwaukee’s homestand continues Monday when the Brewers open a four-game series against St. Louis, which has won five in a row and seven of its last 10 to pass the Reds and take a 1½-game lead for the second NL wild card spot.
Aside from looking to lock down its own postseason berth, the St. Louis will be dead set on at least delaying Milwaukee’s march to a title. With three more meetings the following week in St. Louis, the Cardinals are holding on to the slim hope of somehow catching fire and catching the Brewers in the divisional standings.
The homestand concludes next weekend with three games against the Mets, who’ve fallen 5½ games back of the NL East-leading Braves and sit four back of St. Louis in the wild card race.
They face the Phillies this weekend, then travel to Boston for a two-game interleague set before visiting Milwaukee. A strong showing over the next few days, combined with the Brewers taking care of business against the Cardinals, could make that series difficult as well.
“It isn’t easy,” Woodruff said. “There’s going to be some tough games and we know that. We’re getting prepared for that so hopefully, we can play some good baseball at home, clinch and get this thing out of the way so we can get focused on the postseason.”
Smashing success: Brewers keep setting franchise records — and they're not done yet
Victories in a season
Record: 96 (2018, 2011)
No team in franchise history has ever won 100 games in a season but the Brewers are on pace to hit that mark this season which would also give the 2021 team the franchise record for best single-season winning percentage, topping the mark of .593 set in 2011.
Road winning percentage
Record: .588 (1982)
Again, this record is almost certain to fall. The Brewers go into their five-game interleague road trip with a .657 road winning percentage in 2021 and would need to go 1-11 in their remaining road contests to finish behind the '82 squad.
Earned Runs Allowed / Earned Run Average
Record: 532/3.36 (1971)
Technically, the 2020 Brewers hold the record for fewest earned runs allowed in a season with 239, but that came during a 60-game season so we're not counting it here. Same with the second-place 1981 team, which held opponents to 428 earned runs in a strike-shortened 109-game season.
The fewest earned runs allowed in a full regular season was 532, set in 1971. Heading into their off-day Monday, the 2021 Brewers were tied with the 1971 team for the best staff ERA in franchise history.
Through 144 games, the Brewers have allowed an average of 3.33 runs per game. If they keep that pace, they'll finish with with 540 but with a couple more performances like this past weekend and the 2021 squad could move into the top spot.
That, in turn, would help the current team's chances of catching the 1971 Brewers record for best full-season ERA.
The Brewers are also in position to break the franchise record for fewest hits allowed in a season (1,259 in 2018) and most strikeouts (1,497 in 2019). Milwaukee's pitchers have allowed 1,017 hits while striking out 1,439 batters so far this season.
Individual pitching records
The Brewers' pitching staff is also on the verge of shattering several individual records this season.
After holding Cleveland scoreless over eight no-hit innings Saturday, Corbin Burnes' ERA dropped to 2.25 for the season, good for second in the National League behind the Dodgers' Max Scherzer and within striking distance of Mike Caldwell's 2.36 ERA in 1978 that stands as the best ever by a Brewers starter.
Brandon Woodruff is also in the mix for both the NL lead and the Brewers' all-time record. He brings a 2.48 ERA into his scheduled start Tuesday at Detroit.