MILWAUKEE (AP) — Perhaps the most surprising element of the Milwaukee Brewers’ run to the NL Central title is they won it without a typical season from Christian Yelich.
The 2018 NL MVP missed much of the first half with a lower back strain and didn’t hit for much power upon his return. He’ll get a chance to make up for it as the Brewers seek their first World Series title, although he’s not so worried about his own personal fresh start.
“I think it’s zeroes for everybody and you’re just focused on trying to win,” Yelich said Tuesday. “Nobody cares who does it, how it gets done, as long as we come out on top.
“I think that’s the beautiful thing about this team, but also the playoffs, is winning is always first. You just want to be part of that and help contribute in any way you can.”
Milwaukee opens its franchise-record fourth straight playoff appearance Friday when it hosts the NL East champion Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of an NL Division Series. Ace Corbin Burnes (11-5, 2.43 ERA) will pitch the opener against Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34), with Brandon Woodruff (9-10, 2.56) to face Max Fried (14-7, 3.04) in Game 2.
The Brewers have made the playoffs every year since acquiring Yelich from the Miami Marlins prior to the start of 2018. Milwaukee had only four postseason appearances total over nearly a half-century prior to his arrival.
“You don’t want to ever take this for granted because of how hard it is to get to this point,” Yelich said. “Even though we’ve done it four years in a row, you still realize it’s a long year and a lot of stuff has to happen. We had to overcome a lot of things this year as a team — injuries, COVID, amongst a bunch of other things.”
But Yelich hasn’t been quite the same player the last couple of years as he was his first two seasons in Milwaukee.
After posting the NL’s best batting average and slugging percentage in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019, Yelich hit just .205 with 12 homers and 22 RBIs in 58 games last year as one of many star players to struggle in the pandemic-shortened season.
Yelich batted .248 this season with nine homers and 51 RBIs in 117 games, though 70 walks brought his on-base percentage to .362. He batted .221 with one homer after the start of September.
The Brewers still believe Yelich can produce. He will face the Braves for the first time this season, as he was recovering from his back injury when they met in May and was dealing with COVID-19 when the Brewers went to Atlanta in late July.
“This is a really good player,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “I expect him to perform, I think he expects to perform, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this goes. We’ll get into any sort of retrospective analysis after the season, but right now we expect Christian to perform at a level that helps us win games.”
Yelich is proud the Brewers have made regular playoff appearances since his arrival. He wants to help make this postseason run last a little longer than the others.
“I think we, as a team, expected to be here,” Yelich said. “That was our goal, that’s what we set out to be. I think if we fell short of that, then it would have 100% been a disappointment. But you want to give yourself as a team and an organization as many bites of the apple as you can. So you’ve got to get in every year and then hopefully one of those years, or multiple years, you can take it to the finish line.”
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