Brewers edge Cubs to win NL Central
The Milwaukee Brewers were crowned National League (NL) Central champions after a 3-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Monday.
The Cubs host the losers of the Colorado Rockies-Los Angeles Dodgers tiebreaker game in the NL wildcard game.
The Brewers, meanwhile, are off until Thursday, when they will host the winner of that wildcard game in the opener of the NL Division Series.
Milwaukee's first divisional title since 2011 seemed totally improbable when the season began, and did not seem any more likely two weeks ago, until the team got red hot down the stretch to chase down the Cubs.
The Brewers defied the odds to win the NL Central
The Brewers came into the season with moderate expectations, with many observers figuring they would win 85-90 games and finish second or third in the NL Central behind the Cubs and possibly the St Louis Cardinals.
Instead, the Brewers hung around the top of the division all season. Still, they trailed the first-placed Cubs by five games on September 2, and had to win eight games in a row, including the tiebreaker, to clinch the title.
Christian Yelich is having a magical season, but Brewers have many weapons
Yelich had three hits and drove in the first run in the tiebreaker game, a microcosm of his monster season. The outfielder fell just short in his bid to become the first NL Triple Crown winner since 1937, but his presence has in some ways overshadowed a deep lineup that is loaded with weapons. First baseman Jesus Aguilar (35 home runs), third baseman Travis Shaw (32 homers) and infielder Mike Moustakas (28 homers) bring lots of pop. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain stole 30 bases and is a tough out (.813 OPS). Ryan Braun is not the MVP-calibre player he was in the Brewers' last NL Central title season in 2011, but the veteran hit 20 home runs.
The Brewers bullpen will be tough to beat
If the Brewers can keep a game close, they rarely give anything away in the late innings. Josh Hader is as scary as any reliever in the game as he showed once again Monday, when he pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three. Hader's stats are almost video-game crazy (2.43 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 143 strikeouts in 81.1 innings). Jeremy Jeffress (15 saves, 1.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP), has not given up an earned run in his last 11 appearances dating to August 29. Corey Knebel had 16 saves, a 3.58 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. This is not a team you want to enter the late innings trailing, as the Cubs showed on Monday.