The hitting struggles that hampered the Milwaukee Brewers throughout the pandemic-shortened regular season proved fatal in the playoffs.
With a roster decimated by injuries, the Brewers totaled two runs while getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-3 NL wild card series. They got eliminated while striking out 13 times and mustering just four hits in a 3-0 loss on Thursday night.
The Brewers ranked 26th among the 30 teams in batting average(.223) and 27th in runs per game(4.1). Milwaukee batters struck out 582 times for MLB’s second-highest total.
”It didn’t go the way most of us wanted offensively,” outfielder Christian Yelich said. ”But we never quit. We kept battling to the end. It definitely wasn’t pretty and it didn’t go to plan. Obviously, we need to improve in that department next year. I think we will.”
Milwaukee (29-31) never was above .500 but capitalized on the expanded 16-team playoff format to land a third straight postseason berth, the first time in franchise history that’s happened.
Injuries to starting pitchers Corbin Burnes and Brett Anderson, reliever Devin Williams and outfielder Ryan Braun left them with little chance of upsetting the Dodgers (43-17).
”That’s part of baseball,” Yelich said. ”Injuries are going to occur. Unfortunately, ours had some bad timing.”
The Brewers faced plenty of other obstacles this season.
Milwaukee lost one of its key players when center fielderLorenzo Cain opted out after playing just five games. General manager David Stearns acknowledged Sunday that ”a lot of the moves I made last offseason didn’t pan out the way I thought they were going to pan out.”
Those moves included sending outfielder Trent Grisham and pitcher Zach Davies to San Diego for infielder Luis Urias and pitcher Eric Lauer.Grisham posted an .808 OPS and Davies went 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA. Urias had a .602 OPS while Lauer was 0-2 with a 13.09 ERA.
Catcher Omar Narvaez hit 22 homers and posted an .813 OPS at Seattle last year, but he batted just .176 with a .562 OPS for Milwaukee. Justin Smoak and Brock Holt were released after slow starts.
Yet the Brewers still reached the postseason, albeit with a losing record.
”What I just told the guys is I have so much respect and admiration for what they did this year,” manager Craig Counsell said. ”This team never had an extended period of time when it felt like things just went right. It felt like there were always hurdles being thrown up in front of us, and we still got to this point.”
This may have been Braun’s final season with the Brewers.
The 2011 NL MVP, who turns 37 on Nov. 17, has discussed the possibility of retiring. His contract includes a $15 mutual option for 2021 with a $4 million buyout.
”Who knows if this was the last one?” Yelich said. ”He hasn’t officially said he’s done, and that’s for him and his family to decide. And if he is done, he can hang his hat on having a great career. As a kid, you dream of playing in the big leagues and having the kind of career that he had.”
YELICH SEEKS REBOUND
Milwaukee’s hopes for boosting its offense next year start with a bounce-back season for Yelich.
The 2018 NL MVP won the league’s batting title in 2018 and 2019 but hit just .205 this year and struck out on 30.8% of his plate appearances,
His OPS was .786, down from 1.100 last year.
BOOST FROM BULLPEN
The Brewers’ greatest strength was the back end of their bullpen with Williams and Hader.
Williams (4-1, 0.33 ERA) struck out 53 batters and allowed just eight hits in just 27 innings. Hader (1-2, 3.79) earned 13 saves and recorded 31 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Hader had a $4.1 million salary this year after losing his arbitration case and earned $1,518,519 prorated. The Brewers must decide whether to keep Hader or trade him before his salary rises.
ROTATION SOLID AT TOP
Burnes (4-1, 2.11) and Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05) gave the Brewers a quality 1-2 punch, but the rest of the rotation needs improvement. Brett Anderson (4-4, 4.21) was on a $5 million, one-year contract and earned $1,851,852 prorated. Adrian Houser (1-6, 5.30) and Josh Lindblom (2-4, 5.16) struggled.
SETTING A STANDARD
By making the playoffs for a third straight year, the Brewers believe they’ve established a benchmark for what’s expected. The next step is to make these playoff trips last a bit longer as this franchise seeks its first World Series title.
”We’re not satisfied just getting to the playoffs,” Counsell said. ”We expect to play on and that’s going to be a standard I think we’ve helped establish.”
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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