Christian Yelich’s numbers have added up to a MVP worthy season.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
ST. LOUIS – When it was all over, there was Christian Yelich, standing on the sideline at Busch Stadium, trying to do a post-game interview but getting drowned out by chants of “MVP! MVP!”
How surreal is that?
“It’s been crazy,” Yelich said later, fully appreciative of the Brewers fans who invaded Cardinals territory in hopes of witnessing something special. “It’s been really crazy the last few weeks, and it’s a lot of fun.”
It didn’t get any less crazy Tuesday night, in terms of the postseason, with the Brewers’ resounding 12-4 rout of St. Louis that put them in absolutely fantastic wild-card position but also in the thick of the hunt in the NL Central. How much more could a team ask for with four games remaining on its schedule?
“The thing I’ll say right now is I feel we’re playing our best baseball,” said rejuvenated Ryan Braun, who hit two home runs to give him three in the first two games of the series. “Over the last few weeks, I feel this is the best we’ve played as a group at any point.
“You want to be peaking as you head into the postseason. Obviously, we have to get there first. The fact we’re playing our best baseball right now is exciting; it’s encouraging.”
A win on Wednesday will clinch the Brewers’ first playoff berth since 2011. But, with Chicago losing for a second consecutive night at home against Pittsburgh – yes, the Pirates can beat other teams than Milwaukee – the NL Central suddenly is up for grabs.
Christian Yelich talks about the Brewers team closing in on a playoff berth and hearing MVP chants in St. Louis.
Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Brewers pulled within a half-game of the Cubs, a gap that will be accounted for Thursday when Chicago faces Pittsburgh ace Trevor Williams on an off day for Milwaukee. That carrot obviously is dangling closer than could be expected but Braun said he thinks the Brewers would have to win all four remaining games to claim the division.
“We have to continue to win,” Braun said. “If we don’t continue to win all of our games, our chances are literally nil. The Pirates are playing them tough. We know how good of a team they are. They played us tough all year. So, the Cubs have their hands full but if we don’t take care of business and basically win every game, we’re not going to be able to win the division. We have to try to win every night.
“It’s a good place to be with one left (to get in the playoffs). Having to win only one game is a place we all hope to be at this point. We’re not taking anything for granted. It’s going to be a tough one to get. They understand what’s on the line tomorrow night so I’m sure it’s going to be a battle.”
No postseason berths were clinched Tuesday but, for all intents and purposes, the NL most valuable player race was settled. Christian Yelich has been pulling away from the pack for some time with a second half for the ages but he put a big exclamation point on his claim to the award with a three-run triple and three-run home run.
“Christian is speeding up. That’s the best way to say it,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s getting better. He’s been remarkable in the second half. Somehow, it feels like he’s getting better and doing more.
“With everything that’s swirling around him and us, it has been special. That’s the best way to describe it. It has been special. You spend a whole career in baseball and you see it once. You’ll be talking about it a long time.”
In what proved to be the height of folly, St. Louis lefty Brett Cecil intentionally walked Lorenzo Cain to put two on with two out in the ninth inning for the left-handed-hitting Yelich. As if it mattered that he’d have to face a lefty. Entering the night, Yelich was batting .323 against southpaws and .321 against right-handers.
To say Yelich’s teammates on the bench were apoplectic was putting it mildly. There were out-loud predictions that Yelich would make the Cardinals pay, and sure enough he blasted the first pitch from Cecil out to center for his three-run homer.
“We were obviously a little surprised by it,” Braun said. “Lo Cain obviously is a tough matchup for anybody as well but as good as Christian is swinging the bat I can’t imagine walking anybody to get to him in any situation.”
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt already had been ejected so perhaps there was chain-of-command confusion in pitching to Yelich. At night’s end, he was batting .321 with 33 home runs, 104 RBI, 110 runs scored, .390 on-base percentage and .583 slugging percentage.
The numbers go on and on but we can stop right there. Forget all the talk about Chicago’s Javy Baez. He is having a great season, no doubt. But nobody in the NL is doing what Yelich is doing these days. Nobody.
“Yeah, I mean I can’t foresee a scenario in which he doesn’t win it,” Braun said. “He’s been so incredible for us in every facet of the game. He’s played his best baseball in the most meaningful moments. Obviously his second half has been incredible.
“It’s so impressive to watch night in and night out. It seems like every time he’s up in a big situation he finds a way to come through for us. He plays good defense, he runs the bases really well. He just continues to get better and better as a baseball player which is a lot of fun to watch, it’s a lot of fun to be a part of and obviously he’s been a huge reason for the success that we’ve had here of late.”
The genuinely modest Yelich has answered so many questions about his exploits from so many inquiring minds, he’s pretty much talked-out at present. He was willing to discuss what is within grasp of his team, however.
“I think guys have accepted the challenge of what’s in front of us,” he said. “We realize that we still have a lot of business to take care of, and we’ve been able to simplify the rest of this season, the individual days, and focus on what you have to do as a team. Just do your job. That’s been working for us.
“We’re just trying to win every day. Control what we can control – and that’s our game every night. If we continue to do that, we should be in a great spot as a team. We put ourselves in a great position, and now we have, what, four games left? Play well the next four games and take it one day at a time.”
For a team that now has won 10 of its last 11 series, it’s a formula that has worked quite nicely.