MVP front-runner Christian Yelich continues to push Brewers forward
ST. LOUIS — His clothes drenched in champagne, David Stearns stood off to the side of the visitors’ clubhouse at Busch Stadium and smiled as Milwaukee Brewers’ players celebrated.
It was kind of the scene the Brewers’ general manager had in mind back in January when he shipped four prospects to Miami for outfielder Christian Yelich —and just moments after consummating that deal, reached agreement with free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain on a five-year, $80 million contract.
Those two, Stearns theorized, would get the Brewers over the one-game hump that left them out of the playoffs a year ago. On Wednesday, exactly eight months and one day, the moves paid off as Milwaukee clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2011.
Cain proved to be just the kind of veteran presence Milwaukee needed at the top of its lineup while Yelich has all but eliminated any debate over his status as the National League’s MVP with a monster series over the Cardinals.
Yelich went 4-for-10 with six walks, eight RBIs and a home run in a sweep of the Cardinals that locked up the fifth postseason berth in franchise history and the first of Yelich’s brief, but impressive, MLB career.
“He does something every night that’s different,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He got a treatment — I’ve used Barry Bonds in the last couple of days with some other writers, and his second half, that’s what it’s looked like to me. It’s been that impressive, where guys in the clubhouse are marveling at it.
The Cardinals gave Yelich the “Barry Bonds treatment” Wednesday night, walking him five times in five plate appearances. Yelich made them pay, scoring the Brewers’ only two runs on a pair of RBI singles by Travis Shaw.
“He’s just been so consistent, so solid for us all year,” Cain said. “He’s definitely our MVP. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to win it.”
It’s hard to argue with Yelich’s resume. He returned to Milwaukee on Wednesday night leading the league with a .321 average, .583 slugging percentage and .973 OPS. He’s second in runs scored (110), and total bases (328) and ranks among the top 10 in seven other major offensive categories.
Yelich has been red-hot since making his first All-Star appearance in July and has played some of his best baseball over the past month. He’s batting .346 with six doubles, two triples, six home runs, 28 RBIs and has a 1.209 OPS since the start of September.
Not coincidentally, the Brewers have played some of their best baseball during that stretch. They went 13-13 in August but are 16-6 since with victories in seven of their past eight series, including two against the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs.
“He’s been remarkable in the second half,” Counsell said. “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.”
The Brewers’ 2-1 victory on Wednesday ensured they’ll finish with no worse than the NL’s top wild card and a home game Tuesday night at Miller Park.
Milwaukee is one game back of the Cubs, who beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 on Thursday night. The Brewers wrap up the regular season with three games at Miller Park against the Detroit Tigers. Chicago is hosting the Cardinals — still fighting for their playoff lives — this weekend at Wrigley Field.
Yelich made sure his teammates knew what was at stake as they came off the field Wednesday, telling them ‘we’re not done yet’ in between all the hugs and handshakes.
“We’ve got an awesome opportunity ahead of us,” Yelich said. “Hopefully, this is the first of many celebrations.”