With one week to go in the regular season, the Milwaukee Brewers are looking to solidify their playoff standing. Brewers beat reporter Tom Haudricourt joins host JR Radcliffe to discuss the team’s surprising decision to skip Chase Anderson in the series, the consistent success of Gio Gonzalez, Lorenzo Cain’s injury scare and a reborn Corey Knebel. Also, it’s going to come down to Javier Baez and Christian Yelich — how much does positional versatility matter to MVP voters?
Then, JR is joined by Brewers minor leaguer Tim Dillard (32:30), whose brilliant social media presence makes him one of the most recognizable figures in the organization, even if he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2012.
And finally, JR chats with Curtis Granderson (49:30), the newly acquired outfielder who has made his presence felt in his lone month with the Brewers. Conversation topics include the stadium that bears his name at UIC and the unusual reason why he decided not to be a Cubs fan growing up.
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Music intro: https://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music. Sound effect: WALLA Ballpark Cheer William Tell Overture Organ by AshFox on freesound.org.
PITTSBURGH – Just minutes after the Milwaukee Brewers drubbed the Pittsburgh Pirates, 13-6, at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon, manager Craig Counsell announced some very big news.
Chase Anderson, scheduled to start the Brewers’ series critical series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Monday night, would be scratched in favor of an all-hands-on-deck, bullpen game.
Anderson will be available to pitch out of the bullpen, with the determination on which reliever will start to be made on the charter flight to St. Louis on Sunday night.
“We feel like every game is something where we try to piece together the best way to get 27 outs,” Counsell said. “And with what we have available tomorrow and where guys are at, we think that probably mixing and matching is the best way.”
THE GAME: 5 Takeaways | Box score
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The Brewers’ bullpen is in good shape entering the final week of the regular season with a mix of former starters like Brandon Woodruff, Junior Guerra and Freddy Peralta available to provide length and late-inning options like Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel relatively well-rested.
Counsell did say that Hader won’t be among those considered to start the game.
Anderson, meanwhile, said he was alerted to the switch “a couple days ago.”
The right-hander is 2-2 with a 3.07 earned run average in 11 career starts against the Cardinals and 1-1 with a 2.67 ERA in six career starts at Busch Stadium, but he’s tied for the National League lead in home runs allowed with 30 this season while also posting a 6.30 ERA in the first inning in his 30 starts.
“Obviously it’s frustrating. I want to pitch every time that my name is called,” Anderson said. “Obviously they think this is the better way to go at this time in the season, and I understand that each game is very meaningful down the stretch with the close race.
“I want to be the guy on the mound regardless of what the situation is, but sometimes you’ve got to swallow your pride and you’ve got to continue to go. When my name’s called to pitch I’ve got to take the ball and go out there and do my thing.”
It’s been a disappointing season overall for Anderson, who signed a two-year, $11.75 million contract with the Brewers last Oct. 26 after a breakout 2017 that saw him go 12-4 with 2.74 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 25 starts (141 1/3 innings).
He’s 9-8 with a 3.93 ERA this year and while he’s remained healthy and pitched in a career-high 158 innings, his role has decreased down the stretch due to his propensity for allowing homers and his early-game struggles.
With a strong and now expanded bullpen, Counsell has kept Anderson on a short leash in the month of September with none of his four starts lasting more than five innings. He also threw no more than 79 pitches in any of those appearances.
Despite the demotion, Anderson pointed to the progress he’s made since coming to the Brewers from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016.
“My goal is to hopefully factor into this team the rest of the way and in the postseason, and make an impact for the better,” he said. “I know what I can do. I know last year wasn’t a fluke for me. I know that was kind of the tip of the iceberg. I know what I can do and I know I can be even better than that. That’s just how my mind set is.
“I think if you take away the home runs this year then my numbers are a lot better. And if you look at some of the peripherals, some of them are better than they actually are. From Day 1 since I got here I know I’ve improved and become a better pitcher.
“The goal is to continue to get better and evolve as a starting pitcher because I know if you’re not changing and making progress, you’re left behind with the way the game is working with the numbers and analytics and that kind of thing.
“So you’ve got to figure out what you do well and just kind of take that in stride.”
Anderson also mentioned the success he had in a similar situation a year ago, when the Brewers also arrived in St Louis seeking to clinch a playoff spot. Starting the first game, he allowed three hits and one run over seven innings in a 5-3 victory.
“It’s going to be huge, and I hope I factor into that for the positive for our team,” Anderson said of the upcoming series. “That’s the goal – I want to pitch for our team and give our team the best chance to win.
“I feel like I’ve always been a guy that’s set my game up for big situations. You look at last year, we were one game away from it, I pitched the first game against the Cardinals and threw pretty well.
“I know what I can do and I know what I’m capable of, so I’ll just continue to progress.”
PITTSBURGH – As the Milwaukee Brewers enter the final week of the regular season pushing to clinch their first playoff spot since 2011, Eric Thames has been relegated to the role of, for all intents and purposes, spectator.
Sure, he gets the occasional call to pinch-hit. But his time as an even somewhat regular contributor came to an end on Aug. 31 when the team acquired veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson in a trade with the Washington Nationals.
Thames had been pushed to the outfield from what had been his normal spot at first base, which he initially lost to injury when he underwent thumb surgery in late April and later to Jesús Aguilar, who took his opportunity and ran with it.
It’s been a trying month-plus to say the least for the 31-year-old.
“There’s some days where you want to take a bat to the wall or just flip out,” Thames said. “But you have to count your blessings. The team’s winning; we’re not in last place. It’s not like this is a bad clubhouse and guys are grinding. We’re doing really well as a team.
“So you kind of look past yourself and see what’s best for the team. This the best situation for the team, so I’m all for it.”
THE GAME: 5 Takeaways | Box score
MLB: Live scoreboard, box scores, standings, statistics
It appeared as though the Brewers had found their first baseman through at least 2019 when they signed Thames to a three-year, $16 million free-agent deal on Nov. 29, 2016.
Coming off three monster seasons in the KBO League in South Korea after a subpar first go-round in the major leagues with Toronto and Seattle, Thames set baseball on fire in his initial days with Milwaukee in 2017.
He hit a franchise-record 11 home runs, drove in 19 runs and posted a 1.276 OPS in April but came crashing back to earth after that. By the time all was said and done he’d hit .247 with 31 homers and 63 runs batted in – numbers that were strong enough in the final analysis.
He was hitting .250 with seven homers and 13 RBI with a .976 OPS through 22 games (16 starts) this season when he tore a ligament in his left thumb making a play in the field.
He missed 41 games recovering from thumb surgery, and in his absence Aguilar established himself as an all-star at first base. Thames returned and his versatility earned him playing time in the outfield on a platoon basis with Ryan Braun, but his lack of range and experience out there eventually worked against him.
And when his offense began to slip as well, his role began to diminish. Thames hit just .098 with two homers and five RBI in 19 games in August, leading to the acquisition of Granderson.
The second of those homers was a signature moment, however – a walkoff, three-run homer against Colorado’s Wade Davis that beat the Rockies on Aug. 3.
Since Granderson came aboard, Thames has made just two starts and hit .214 with one double and no RBI in 14 at-bats. His role now is usually left-handed power bat off the bench, meaning one at-bat maybe a couple times a series.
For a player like Thames, who is obsessive about his preparation and accomplished some big things previously, trying to remain productive while at the same time fading into the background in the overall picture is challenging to say the least.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s life,” said Thames, who’s hitting .219 with 16 homers and 37 RBI overall. “There’s really no way you can fight it.
“For a while I was trying to do too much, trying to hit a home run every time I went up to the plate. It’s tough. Look at Eric Sogard earlier this year. It’s tough when you don’t play much and you pinch-hit and try to do well but you’re fouling balls off and your timing is always off – no matter how much you hit in the cage, how much you hit off the machine.
“It’s tough. You talk to any major-league player that’s pinch-hit or had that role, and it’s tough to do that. But it is what it is. It’s fun to watch these guys go out there and do what they’re doing right now. I’m excited to see where we end up at the end of the season, and obviously beyond.”
Thames has earned high marks from manager Craig Counsell for his professionalism following his reduction in playing time on a talent-rich team.
“Look, Eric is one of the players who we’ve asked to make a sacrifice with playing time. There’s been other guys like that, too,” he said. “I think you get to this point in the year and everybody wants to be out there.
“We’ve got depth to put a lot of different guys out there. And so Eric’s got a different role right now. It’s a smaller role, but I think we know there’s still big at-bats in that role. You just get a smaller slice.
“You’ve just got to take that as a challenge, that this is my slice, my role, and that’s what I’m going to get. And you also know that things change really fast with an injury or something going on. It’s not easy. It’s different than what we’ve asked him to do largely in the past, and there haven’t been many starts this past month.
“But that’s why I’m glad we have all these guys here – if one thing happens, then things change dramatically.”
While Counsell pointed to the home-run threat Thames presents off the bench, it’s tough to see where he fits on a 25-man roster if and when the Brewers do clinch a playoff spot with Granderson’s postseason experience, defense and left-handed bat all seemingly giving him a leg up.
Then there’s next season and beyond. Thames has a club option for 2020 as well but with Aguilar now the man at first base and various other options in the corner outfield spots, the fit with the Brewers isn’t as apparent.
For his part, Thames said his focus remains on the here and now.
“You start looking at the future, that’s when things start to go bad and eat at you,” said Thames. “Me, I’m just living one day one day at a time and living where my feet are.”
EditorsNote: adds new fourth graf to reflect updated standings
Christian Yelich and Travis Shaw hit towering home runs Sunday as the visiting Milwaukee Brewers clobbered the Pittsburgh Pirates 13-6.
Milwaukee scored four runs on wild pitches, two on bases-loaded walks and one on a bases-loaded hit batsman.
The Brewers won two of three in the weekend series after having trouble with Pittsburgh all year. They finished 7-12 in the season series.
Milwaukee (89-67) remains 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs (91-64) in the National League Central and two games in front of the St. Louis Cardinals (87-69) in the race for the first NL wild card.
Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer hit two-run doubles and Adam Frazier homered for Pittsburgh (78-76).
Milwaukee starter Wade Miley pitched four-plus innings, giving up four runs (three earned) and four hits. Corey Knebel (3-3) finished the fifth with three strikeouts.
Pirates right-hander Nick Kingham (5-7), making a spot start after Joe Musgrove got shut down because of an abdominal issue, lasted 1 1/3 innings, giving up six runs (five earned) and seven hits.
In the first, Milwaukee loaded the bases on three singles and took a 1-0 lead when Kingham hit Mike Moustakas.
The Brewers added five in the second. Orlando Arcia doubled and Miley walked. An out later, Yelich cracked a 439-foot homer to right-center for a 4-0 lead.
Lorenzo Cain reached on an error before Shaw let loose with a 425-foot homer that reached the Allegheny River on a bounce and roll, making it 6-0.
In the third with runners at the corners, reliever Tanner Anderson’s wild pitch upped Milwaukee’s lead to 7-0.
Through four innings, Miley gave up one hit, a single to Elias Diaz. In the fifth, Daiz led off with a walk. Jordan Luplow singled and Jose Osuna reached on an error to load the bases. Harrison and Mercer followed with successive two-run doubles to close it to 7-4.
Pittsburgh reliever Steven Brault left with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth. Michael Feliz walked in two runs, then dished up a rare bases-clearing wild pitch for a 12-4 Milwaukee lead.
Moustakas’ leadoff homer to right made it 13-4 in the eighth, and Frazier hit a two-run homer in the ninth for the final score.
—Field Level Media
Last week, we analyzed who the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics will start in the American League Wild Card Game. Let’s shift our focus to the National League side of things.
With a week to go in the regular season, the Milwaukee Brewers are sitting pretty. The Brewers are up two games on the St. Louis Cardinals and 3 ½ over the Colorado Rockies. (Milwaukee is still alive in the NL Central race too, entering Sunday 2 ½ games behind the Chicago Cubs.) The Brewers do have three games left with the Cardinals, and that could shake up seeding. But it looks like they’ll find their way to the postseason in some capacity or another.
Presuming the Brewers will be able to set up their rotation as they’d like heading into the postseason. Who will they decide to start in the NL Wild Card Game? Let’s examine the options.
We’re lumping these two together for a few reasons. Foremost, both are veteran southpaws who have impressive earned run averages (Gonzalez’s is 1.65 in September; MIley’s is 1.69). The arguments against them are similar as well, beginning with the fact that the Cardinals and Rockies have each performed better on the season versus lefties than righties. Would that be enough to push the Brewers to a right-hander?
In Miley’s case, it’s worth highlighting his shaky peripherals, too. Even in September, he’s struck out just eight batters in 16 innings. That’s not a formula that tends to work — nor one that teams like to entrust with their postseason fates.
Chacin has been the sturdiest part of Milwaukee’s rotation this season, tallying 33 starts and 182 innings. Should the Brewers weigh recent performance more than overall output, then Chacin could find himself down the pecking order. He’s allowed 21 baserunners in 18 innings and has posted a 4.34 ERA in four September starts, the worst of Milwaukee’s starters.
Contrariwise, Anderson can’t quite match up with Chacin’s full-season numbers. He has, however, pitched better recently based on his shiny 3.06 ERA. Beware, though, because he’s permitted 24 baserunners in 17 ⅔ innings — that’s a worse rate than Chacin despite the ERA.
Davies has held opponents to a .250/.288/.338 slash line and has a 3.32 ERA in four starts since returning from a lengthy stay on the disabled list. Perhaps the biggest argument against Davies is that he’s posted the worst swinging strike among Brewers starters in September.
Without a standout in the group, perhaps the Brewers would turn to …
The opener/bullpen game
The Brewers have the sixth-best bullpen ERA in the majors, and a one-game playoff would allow them to leverage their depth in a significant way.
Craig Counsell, for his part, has spent September conditioning his starters to face a lineup twice — maybe twice and some change — suggesting that might be the plan for the postseason, too:
24 (mostly with Nationals)
The Brewers could use Josh Hader for two innings while asking Corey Knebel, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes to pitch an inning-plus. That covers six-plus innings right there — and that’s without working Joakim Soria, Jeremy Jeffress, Xavier Cedeno, and whomever else into the equation. Remember, they can load their roster with relievers if they so desire. The Brewers, theoretically, could go coast-to-coast without calling upon a starter.
Granted, it is a risky strategy — especially in an elimination game. The Brewers, then, may keep things a touch more conventional and go with a standard starter. It’s not like they’re picking between bad choices, anyway, they just don’t have someone who stands out above the rest.
If we had to guess, Counsell will end up rolling with Gonzalez, Chacin, or Davies. That’s simply a guess, however, and the Brewers have other, perhaps more compelling options to consider over the coming week.