The fans at American Family Field were on pins and needles on Wednesday night as William Contreras stood at the plate in an 0-2 count, representing the tying run in what was the Brewers’ final chance to keep their 2023 season alive.
Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald snapped off a devastating 87-mph sweeper, punctuating the strikeout of Contreras and putting the dagger in the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2023 season. The Diamondbacks went into Milwaukee’s home ballpark and completed the sweep, punching their ticket to a date with the Dodgers in the NLDS.
As the Diamondbacks celebrated their first postseason series victory since 2017 on the diamond at American Family Field, Brewers fans sat in silence, stunned.
After the grind of the 162-game season, 92 of which the Brewers came out on top, there was bubbling hope that this could be the roster to finally make a run in the playoffs. In the end, Milwaukee saw their season end after just two playoff games, and they failed to secure even one postseason win.
Brewers Swept by the Diamondbacks in the NLWCS
While it felt as if this particular Brewers team had a different type of destiny heading into the playoffs, they ultimately suffered the same fate as previous teams.
Wednesday’s loss marked the fourth-straight postseason appearance where the Brewers were eliminated in the first round. They have now gone 1-9 in their last 10 playoff games, scoring a total of just 17 runs in those 10 contests.
Overall, the Brewers did not play sound baseball in their two games against Arizona, really in any facet of the game.
They made mistakes on the base paths, which was surprising to see from one of the better baserunning teams this season. Their top-line starters faltered at inopportune times. Finally, their offense consistently failed to capitalize on crucial scoring opportunities. That is not a recipe for success, especially in the playoffs, and the Diamondbacks capitalized on Milwaukee’s mistakes.
Runs were going to come at a premium in this series, and neither team could afford to squander scoring opportunities. Mistakes were going to be magnified on this stage, and it was the Brewers who made more of them, starting with their performance on the base paths.
Overall, there was an inconsistency with the aggression on the base paths from the Brewers in this series. At times, over-aggression cost them key outs in important situations. In other spots, the inability to advance the baserunner felt significant to the lack of run production.
For a Brewers team that excelled at baserunning this season, it felt as if the uncertainty on the base paths cost the ball club a handful of outs. And in the playoffs, when every out and every baserunner matters more than ever, the mistakes on the base paths were noticeable.
The biggest mistake came from one of baseball’s best baserunners in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game One. Following Christian Yelich’s leadoff walk, William Contreras hit a soft grounder to Evan Longoria, who was unable to make a clean transition and bobbled the baseball, allowing Contreras to reach first safely.
However, Yelich anticipated a throw to first base, thus taking a large turn around second. Longoria recovered his bobble in time to make a throw to Ketel Marte, and they were able to tag Yelich out at second base.
Instead of having runners at first and second with nobody out, the Brewers were left with just a runner on first and one man out. The following two hitters ended up striking out and grounding out, respectively. While it was understandable why Yelich took the turn the way that he did, it was a huge mistake that served as a massively deflating moment for the crowd at American Family Field.
Arguably the most disappointing, and unexpected, development from this Wild Card Series was the poor timely pitching from the Brewers.
Now, it wasn’t all bad. The bullpen was strong outside of two poor innings, and both Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta had moments where they looked solid.
At times in Game One, Burnes was sequencing well and doing a good job of executing his pitches. In Game Two, Peralta looked as if he was on course to turn in the start of his life. He tossed four no-hit innings to start the game, and he produced some quick innings on top of the success on the mound.
However, both pitchers threw mistake pitches at inopportune times, and the Diamondbacks did not miss them.
Burnes needed to bring his best stuff to the mound on Tuesday night, and he didn’t do so. He had run support from the get-go, and he gave it back in a matter of two pitches in the third inning.
Plain and simple, Burnes needed to pitch better than he did on Tuesday. He’s a phenomenal pitcher who has some of the game’s most elite stuff, but his execution fell short of expectations, and the offense could not pick up the slack beyond the second inning.
For Peralta, he threw a great first half of the game until things started to go sideways in the fifth inning. He surrendered his first hit of the ballgame in the form of a solo home run to Alek Thomas in the top half of the fifth, and that would be his only blemish that inning. From there, however, things started to unravel for the Brewers.
After allowing the first three hitters to reach base in the sixth inning, Peralta was pulled after allowing a two-run single to Ketel Marte. From there, Abner Uribe came in to relieve Peralta, but his Achilles heel of missing the strike zone reared its ugly head in this outing.
A walk, a wild pitch, and a couple of hits allowed the Diamondbacks to push their lead to three, and that deficit would inevitably be enough to send the Brewers packing.
For Milwaukee, they allowed the big number too many times in this series. They failed to minimize the damage in certain innings, and it caught up to them in the end.
On the flip side, the ability of Arizona’s pitching staff to minimize big innings was the X-factor in this series. On multiple occasions throughout the series, they were able to get out of high-leverage jams, and it consistently prevented the crowd at American Family Field from taking over the game. It was an impressive feat, especially for a pitching staff with minimal postseason experience.
Wasted Offensive Opportunities
You have to slug to compete in October, and the Brewers simply did not do so. Their counterpart, however, came up with big hits at the right times. They were able to deliver the blow when they needed to, and it was the difference maker in this series.
For a handful of years now, a lackluster offense has been the demise of Milwaukee’s postseason runs, despite elite pitching staffs. The Brewers, yet again, entered the playoffs with one of the more elite starting rotations and bullpens in the National League, and, for another year in a row, the offense did not generate enough run production to build a substantial lead or overcome a deficit.
Except this postseason was different for the Brewers’ offense. The offense did show up – at times. They just consistently failed to string together big hits in order to deliver a devastating blow to Arizona’s pitching staff.
Milwaukee had 30 baserunners in this series, but that traffic only generated five runs through two games. They left a whopping 20 runners on base against the D-backs, including 11 in the first game and nine in game two.
Comparably, the Diamondbacks had 25 total base runners between the two games, and they scored 11 runs as a result of the base traffic.
Milwaukee’s inability to drive the ball and put up the big number in pivotal moments was their downfall. They generated only three extra-base hits in the entire series compared to Arizona’s total of six.
There were opportunities to capitalize, and the Brewers simply could not do so.
A prime example of Milwaukee’s lack of situational hitting came right out of the gate in the bottom of the first inning in game one, when they had rookie Brandon Pfaadt on the ropes from the get-go.
The Brewers’ first three hitters of the game reached base against Pfaadt. After a leadoff walk from Yelich and a single by Contreras, Carlos Santana ripped a single to right field, scoring Yelich to make it a 1-0 ballgame. With runners on first and second and nobody out, this was a golden opportunity to bury a rookie who was making his first career postseason start.
Instead, Milwaukee’s next three hitters went down on strikes, and the inning finished with the Brewers scoring zero runs after the Santana single. That set the tone for how the rest of the series would play out, and it would be the common theme for the Brewers’ offense for the following 17 innings.
The crowd at American Family Field was on the cusp of erupting with each crack of the bat, but the Brewers never delivered a blow that allowed the home-field advantage to take over. It felt as if every time the Diamondbacks were teetering on the brink of collapsing, they would come up with a huge play that would halt every bit of Milwaukee’s momentum.
The Diamondbacks did not look like a young and inexperienced team in this series. They played loose, fun baseball, both on the field and at the plate. They played as if they had nothing to lose, and it allowed them to grab control of both games. Despite going down early in both matchups, Arizona stormed back to grab the lead in each game, and they never looked back.
The Brewers, on the other hand, played as if they had everything to lose. They did not play nearly as free, and they looked tight for most of this series.
Milwaukee didn’t look like the team that won 92 games this season, and they couldn’t afford to make as many mistakes as they did in such a short series. They reverted back to their poor situational hitting from the early goings of 2023, and overall, they did not look like a team that was built to handle the pressure of October baseball.
Looking Ahead For the Brewers
So, where do the Milwaukee Brewers go from here?
Well, to be blunt, they’re entering one of the most franchise-altering offseasons that the ball club has seen in quite some time. Due to this, there is an ominous feeling about what the future might hold for this team, considering the uncertainty both with the management and the talent on the field.
Key front office executive David Stearns is heading home to New York City, as he is now the President of Baseball Operations for his favorite childhood team, the New York Mets.
Not only is the subtraction of Stearns from the front office a significant one, but it’s yet to be seen what degree of brain talent Stearns will be taking with him from Milwaukee to New York. The loss of talented scouts and analysts will also have a substantial impact on this organization next season, and the names that go along with Stearns will be ones to monitor.
Furthermore, after nine seasons of managing in Milwaukee and becoming the winningest manager in Brewers history, Craig Counsell’s contract is set to expire at the end of the month.
Will Counsell join Stearns in New York as the skipper for the Mets? Will he step away from the game to spend more time with his family? There are questions as to who will be the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2024, but at this point in time, it feels as if it won’t be Craig Counsell.
On top of their organizational shuffling, there are star players the Brewers will need to make major decisions about in the near future. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Willy Adames are all set to hit free agency after next season.
Are they going to dismantle the core that has been together for a few seasons? It’s a core that has yielded much regular-season success, but it has failed to perform in the postseason. In turn, will the front office commit to their youth and lean on the exceptional talent in their farm system?
There are many major questions surrounding key areas of this organization, and this is the most uncertainty that this ball club has dealt with heading into an offseason in a while. The future direction of this ball club could hinge on the decisions made this offseason, making the ending to their 2023 campaign that much harder to digest.
It’s hard to believe that a 92-win season for the Milwaukee Brewers feels like a disappointment, especially considering how far this ball club has come over the past decade. And yet, with the way this season ended, a disappointment is exactly how I would describe it.
The Brewers flew past their preseason win projections with flying colors, and they did it with a plethora of rookies in the lineup. They were near the top of the NL Central standings for the entirety of the 2023 season, and since July 14, the Brewers held a division lead for all but four of their games. Still, the way the season ended in the NL Wild Card Series left a great deal to be desired from the fans and players.
Regular season success is all well and good, but at the end of the day, the Brewers should no longer be content with simply making the playoffs. They have consistently built their roster to endure a 162-game season and compete for a playoff spot, but they have failed to improve the roster by the means necessary to compete for a World Championship.
The Brewers have won 86 or more games every season since 2017 (excluding the shortened 2020 season). It’s difficult for a small market team with a highly limited payroll to sustain that much success over a long period of time. But they have an opportunity each and every season to go all in and stop simply improving at the margins, and they have yet to do so during this window of success.
If the Brewers choose to retain their star players for one final season before their contracts expire at the end of 2024, there need to be major changes in how they approach both the regular season and the playoffs. This team has put together competitive seasons for a good portion of a decade, but it’s going to be hard to take this ball club seriously come next October if they don’t take action in an attempt to see better postseason results.