Brewers sizzle down stretch, but injuries could hamper deep run in postseason

The Brewers won a playoff spot without the injured Christian Yelich, a 44-home run guy that was a candidate to repeat as the National League MVP.

Now, they'll come to D.C. on Tuesday night to take on the Nationals in the wild card game with a former NL MVP, left fielder Ryan Braun, battling a strained left calf.

It could be that the Brewers will be without center fielder Lorenzo Cain, slowed by a sprained left ankle. Cain hit .306 in September.

The Brewers could go from a power-hitting team to one that has to manufacture runs to beat Nationals starter Max Scherzer.

Braun, the NL MVP in 2011, injured his calf Friday night in Colorado and didn't play in either of the Brewers' final two games at Colorado.

"I'm very optimistic that whatever games we play beyond Sunday, I'll be prepared for,'' Braun told reporters.

Yelich had his season end Sept. 10 with a broken kneecap.

Braun was productive in Yelich's absence, hitting four home runs with a .325 average and a .400 on-base percentage from Sept. 10 on.

With Yelich out, the Brewers went on a run, winning 18 of 20 games in one stretch, including series wins against division rivals Chicago at home and the Cardinals in St. Louis.

They trailed St. Louis by 7 1/2 games in the NL Central on Sept. 6 and went into Sunday's finale with a chance to tie the Cardinals and force a winner-take-all Game 163 on Monday.

Yelich's replacement in right field is Trent Grisham, a 22-year-old prospect that was named the Brewers' minor league Player of the Year. He wasn't expected to be in the majors this quickly, but the Yelich injury changed all of that.

Grisham is a left-handed batter with power and speed. He hit .300 with 26 home runs combined at Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A San Antonio.

He played 34 games for the Brewers' farm team in San Antonio where, he hit .381 with a .471 on-base percentage, 13 home runs and six stolen bases.

In his final game before his promotion, he went 5-for-5, hitting for the cycle with two home runs.

The Brewers used an outfield of Cory Spangenberg, Grisham and Ben Gamel on Sunday in Colorado.

Grisham, 22, has been part of the reason the Brewers were productive in the September. The Brewers ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored (132 going into Sunday) during September. And their 3.09 ERA during the final month was the lowest in the NL.

They pitched well in September with Jordan Lyles, acquired in a July trade from the Pirates, leading the way and the likely starter against the Nationals.

The rest of the rotation includes Chase Anderson (2.35 ERA in September), Zach Davies (2.31) and former National Gio Gonzalez (1.47).

Lyles made 11 appearances for the Brewers in 2018 and they declined his option for 2019. He signed with the Pirates, who traded him to the Brewers in July. The Brewers are 10-1 in his starts since.

As the July 31 trade deadline approached, the Brewers were in talks to get Giants starter Madison Bumgarner or their stud closer, Will Smith.

Instead, they got Drew Pomeranz, who went from starter to reliever as a Giant and has been rock-solid in the Milwaukee bullpen that has flame-throwing Josh Hader as the closer.

The Brewers had a 20-win surge in September that put them in the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-1982.

If this season's finish sounds familiar, it should. Last season, the Brewers finished 20-7 and won the NL Central with a 2-0 win against the Cubs in Game No. 163.

The Brewers swept Colorado in the NL Division Series and lost the NL Championship Series in seven games to the Dodgers.

They are a confident bunch, but making it back to the NLCS isn't going to be easy if their outfield is minus three starters.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez knows about the injuries, but he's not assuming Cain and Braun will be out.

"I'll believe it when I see it,'' Martinez said after his team beat Cleveland on Sunday to finish the regular season at home.

Even if Cain and Braun are only pinch-hitters, the Brewers are climbing uphill to repeat their magic of last season.

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