For The Milwaukee Brewers, The Playoffs Have Already Started

There is still more than a week before Major League Baseball’s postseason officially begins with a new, best-of-three Wild Card round but for the Milwaukee Brewers, the playoffs have already arrived.

When they take the field Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brewers will sit 1 1/2 games out of playoff position with only nine games remaining to close the gap between them and either the San Diego Padres or Philadelphia Phillies.

“It’s huge,” infielder Keston Hiura said after Milwaukee took three of four from the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend. “Having these nine games at home, that’s obviously going to be an advantage. All these games right here are playoff games, regardless of who you’re playing. We’re definitely in a must-win situation. We need to go out there (and) give it all we’ve got.

“This is playoff baseball right here.”

Milwaukee began the season hoping to bounce back from a maddening NL Division Series loss to the Braves last season for a franchise-record fifth consecutive postseason appearance and the team’s first World Series since 1982.

Early on, it looked entirely plausible. The Brewers went 32-18 to open the season, the best mark through 50 games in franchise history, and though they fell into a bit of a lull heading into the All-Star break, regained control of the division by winning seven of eight coming out of the break to turn a half-game lead into a four-game advantage at the end of July.

Everything changed two days later when All-Star closer Josh Hader was dealt to the Padres ahead of the deadline. The Brewers dropped six of their next seven, allowing the Cardinals to surge past them into first place and Milwaukee has been playing catch-up ever since.

As far as the NL Central is concerned, all the Brewers can do is try to delay the Cardinals’ celebration, which requires just one more victory, and focus on trying to catch either San Diego or Philadelphia down the stretch and get in via the Wild Card for the third time in four seasons.

On paper, the schedule plays out in the Brewers’ favor. After the Cardinals leave town Wednesday, Milwaukee closes out the regular season with four games against the 63-90 Marlins and three against the 71-83 Diamondbacks who are both fourth in their respective divisions.

The Padres have the toughest road with three against their the Dodgers, who own baseball’s best record and despite having little to play for, would love to thwart their rivals’ postseason hopes, followed by three in Chicago against a White Sox team desperate to stave off elimination before closing out with three at home against the disappointing but still daunting Giants.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, closes out its season on the road starting with three against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, then three in Washington against the lowly Nationals before finishing with three against the AL-leading Astros in Houston.

Still, just catching one of those teams won’t be enough. Unlike 2018, when the Brewers surged to catch the Cubs on the final day of the season, there are no more Game 163 tiebreakers.

Ties will now be settled on paper, starting with head-to-head results and the Brewers dropped their season series to both the Padres and Phillies.

“We’re going to have to win a lot of games, there’s no question about it,” Counsell said “We’re going to have to be really good on this homestand but we’re capable of it and the fat that (the games) are at home is a good thing.”

NL Wild Card Contenders’ Schedule

Brewers: vs. Cardinals; vs. Marlins; vs. Diamondbacks

Padres: at Dodgers; at White Sox; vs. Giants

Phillies: at Cubs; at Nationals; at Astros

NOTE: Padres and Phillies hold tiebreaker over Milwaukee by virtue of winning the season series.