Christian Yelich has been the centerpiece of the Brewers’ offense since they acquired him in a trade from the Marlins before the 2018 season. Yelich was the National League MVP in his first season in Milwaukee, and he was making a case to win back-to-back MVPs through much of 2019. But a season-ending injury in September hurt his chance of repeating as MVP, as well as making it tougher for the Brewers to claim one of the NL’s Wild Card playoff spots. Teammate Ryan Braun paid tribute to Yelich in the wake of his injury. (All records, stats, and standings mentioned in this blog are through September 14).
Christian Yelich’s season-ending knee injury
Yelich fouled a ball off his right knee in the first inning of the Brewers’ game against the Marlins on September 10, and the impact fractured his kneecap. While Yelich won’t need surgery, the recovery time is expected to be eight to 10 weeks. Since that time frame stretches into November, if not December, the team has obviously shut Yelich down for the season. He wouldn’t even be ready to return to action in the playoffs if the Brewers make it there.
Yelich’s season ends having played in 130 games, with career-highs in batting average (.329) and home runs (44). He also tallied 97 RBIs. His OBP (.429), slugging (.671), and OPS (1.100) were also outpacing his MVP season from last year. He also put up a 7.1 WAR this season, just .5 lower than 2018. In a tweet a couple of days after suffering the injury, Yelich called it a “frustrating way for a season to end.”
Ryan Braun’s tribute to Yelich
In addition to being the heart of the Brewers’ offense, Yelich has become a popular player in the team’s locker room. So his teammates were justifiably disappointed that Yelich’s season ending prematurely. So fellow outfielder Ryan Braun decided to do something to pay tribute to his injured teammate. The day after the injury, Braun wore Yelich’s jersey under his own. He told reporters that he decided to wear it “just for good luck” and because he was “trying to bring good vibes.”
The good and bad of Braun’s tribute
Braun’s tribute resulted in some good and some bad.
On the positive side, the Brewers beat the Marlins — Yelich’s former team — 7-5 at a time when every game is critical for the Brewers as they look to stay in the playoff chase.
The negative of Braun wearing the reigning MVP’s jersey is that he did not have a Yelich-esque night. Braun was 0-for-4 in the game with three strikeouts, so Yelich’s performance of the last two seasons didn’t rub off on Braun through his clothing.
The National League playoff race
As we head into the final two weeks of the regular season, the Brewers are on the outside looking in as far as a playoff spot goes. They are 79-69, putting them in third place in the NL Central, four games back of the first-place Cardinals. That is not an insurmountable deficit, but it’s a lot of ground to make up in a short amount of time.
The more realistic possibility for the Brewers at this point is the Wild Card. They are in third place, and most importantly just one game behind the Cubs for the NL’s second Wild Card. What hurts the Brewers’ chances is that they don’t have any more games left this season against the Cardinals or Cubs. That means even when the Brewers win a game, they may not make up any ground on those teams if they also win on those days. Given that, the Brewers are going to need help from other teams if they want to be able to make up enough ground to make the playoffs for the second straight season.