At this point in 2018, the Milwaukee Brewers were headed for a September surge that would help them overtake the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals atop the National League Central standings.
One year later, as we prepare to flip our calendars to September again, there's a much different outlook in Milwaukee. And because of that, there’s a much different outlook in the NL playoff picture.
Injuries have overtaken a Brewers roster that had undeniably disappointed between March and August, but was still considered dangerous enough to finish strong again in September and perhaps push for another division title or wild card berth.
With that looking less likely, the question now becomes: Will another team emerge to create chaos, or will the National League playoff picture actually be void of any real drama down the stretch?
‘We’re bit by the injury bug’
Those were the words of Brewers manager Craig Counsell before Saturday’s game against the Chicago Cubs.
The Brewers took the field with four key members of their lineup missing due to injury, and it's possible at least two of them won't see the field again in 2019.
So, current health state of #Brewers: Hiura out for few weeks with Grade 2 hamstring strain; Moustakas unable to grip bat because of hand injury; Cain (knee) and Braun (back) unavailable today and possibly multiple days.— Tom (@Haudricourt) August 31, 2019
The injury to Keston Hiura is particularly troubling because his season is in real jeopardy.
The rookie second baseman has been Milwaukee’s most consistent hitter when active, producing a .301/.369/.571 battling line with 16 homers and 43 RBIs in 70 games. Without him, the Brewers’ season may have fallen apart much sooner.
The Brewers entered the weekend four games back in the wild card race. That’s the same deficit they overcame in the division race last season. In other words, they were well within striking distance. But a loss on Friday, coupled with the news that Hiura, Mike Moustakas. Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun could miss extended time, has Milwaukee’s arrow pointing straight down.
The NL field looks solid
Entering play on Aug. 31, the National League’s playoff field looks rock solid.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are once again running away with the NL West. They have 88 wins and an 18-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks, which strongly positions them to be the No. 1 seed.
In the NL East, the 82-win Atlanta Braves hold a 5 1/2-game lead over the Washington Nationals. The Nationals, meanwhile, hold the top wild card spot by 2 1/2 games over the Cubs and a have a six-game cushion over the Philadelphia Phillies, who are the next closest wild card contender.
The NL Central is the best chance for drama. The St. Louis Cardinals have a one-game lead over the Chicago Cubs with seven games remaining between those rivals. The Cubs hold the second wild card spot by 3 1/2 games over Philadelphia.
Aside from the Cardinals and Cubs battling for position, it’s tough to envision any notable movement in or around that group.
Which teams could make a run?
The Philadelphia Phillies are in the best position in the standings. However, Friday’s 11-5 loss to the New York Mets highlighted many of the team’s flaws. Particularly in the bullpen, which allowed 10 runs over the final three innings. The Phillies aren’t out of it, but it doesn’t feel like they’re really in it, either.
Prior to last weekend, the Mets actually looked like a team that could cause chaos They were just 1 1/2 back in the wild card, but were then swept, at home, by the Braves and Cubs in back-to-back series.
That leaves just one other team that has a fighting chance.
Keep an eye on Arizona.— Matt Ehalt (@MattEhalt) August 31, 2019
Only 9 games left against teams above .500 (2 LAD, 4 at NYM, 3 STL) and 18 against sub. 500.
They get Padres six times last nine games, and 17/27 home.
Their ending schedule is similar to one that allowed Mets to be in this race.
They're 4.5 back.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have won five straight, which includes back-to-back thrilling wins against the Dodgers.
They aren’t the most talented team in the picture, especially after trading Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros. For now, though, they are the hottest team. Sometimes that’s what matters most. And they have a schedule that could allow them to make things interesting.
Unfortunately, it’s more likely that fans rooting for chaos in the standings will be left disappointed this September. Sure, there’s still hope in the AL wild card race, but that might require a Boston Red Sox rally to be truly interesting.
If September does sputter, here’s hoping October more than makes up for it.
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