When National League MVP candidate Christian Yelich slumped in the batter's box clutching his kneecap, the obituary for the Milwaukee Brewers' championship run seemed to write itself.
Yelich's value to the Brewers cannot be understated. The centerpiece of Milwaukee's batting lineup, Yelich leads the majors in slugging percentage at .671, and Win Probability Added at 7.1. This means that if he were removed from the lineup for the season, the Brewers would have 7.1 wins fewer. And now? The Brewers, one game back of the second Wild Card spot when the injury occurred, are devoid of his services for the remainder of the season. Better luck next year.
Or so everyone thought. As the Marlins, Cardinals, and Padres have learned this week, the Milwaukee Brewers are much more than Christian Yelich. In fact, the Brewers are 7-2 since Yelich went down.
In Yelich's place, others have stepped up. Center fielder Lonrenzo Cain has led the charge. Coming into the week, he'd only hit eight home runs all season. In this week's series against the Padres, he hit two in three games. And just as Yelich left the field due to his injury, another young Brewer is returning from his. Rookie second baseman Keston Hiura, a .300 hitter so far this season and was July's NL Rookie of the Month.
Even with Yelich gone, the Brewers still have a veteran leader in the clubhouse. Ryan Braun proved on Sunday he hasn't lost any of his "clutch genes" when he hit a go-ahead grand slam in a critical division matchup against the Cardinals.
But much of Milwaukee's late-season success is down to manager Craig Counsell's bullpen, a stacked collection of mid-season pickups who have helped to improve the Brewers' pitching ranking from 18th at the start of the month to second so far in September. There is no ace in the Brewers' deck, but each role-player has performed when he has needed to. That includes closer Josh Hader, who has set a Brewers team record for saves by a left handed pitcher this season, and Brent Suter, who has pitched five consecutive scoreless appearances of relief coming off Tommy John surgery.
Put all that together and you have not just one of the hottest teams in baseball, but one of the scariest. Remember, this team made a similar run last September and made it within one game of the World Series.
Losing Christian Yelich may hurt this team down the road, but with the depth of talent the Brewers have, the Cubs slumping and the Cardinals on cruise control, there's every reason to believe that this team can not only make the playoffs, but win the division outright.