Three losses added up to a huge win for the Milwaukee Brewers, who backed their way into a first-round playoff series against the Dodgers with assists from the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays.
Milwaukee closed the regular season Sunday with a 5-2 loss to St. Louis. The Brewers (29-31) finished fourth in the National League Central. They did not spend one day of the 60-game season over .500.
But with four teams vying for the final two NL playoff spots Sunday, the Brewers secured a trip to Los Angeles for a best-of-three series beginning Wednesday because San Francisco lost to the Padres 5-4 and Philadelphia lost to the Rays 5-0.
The Giants (29-31) and Phillies (28-32) would have claimed playoff spots with victories. Milwaukee and San Francisco have identical records, but the Brewers had the tiebreaker edge with their record against division opponents (19-21) better than the Giants’ (18-22).
Milwaukee’s game ended in time for the players to watch Padres closer Trevor Rosenthal strike out the side — including Joey Bart on a 99-mph fastball and Austin Slater on a 100-mph fastball — to close out the win in San Francisco.
The Brewers, who turned the ninth triple play in franchise history Sunday, and Houston Astros (29-30) are the first teams to make the playoffs with losing records.
“There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “We got in by watching TV … but we still celebrated. The record is irrelevant. We’re in [the playoffs] three years in a row. You can slice it any way you want, but that’s special.”
The Brewers won 14 fewer games and scored 102 fewer runs than the Dodgers, and they will try to pull off a first-round upset with one important right arm tied behind their backs.
Corbin Burnes, the converted reliever who went 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings, suffered a left-oblique strain Thursday and will not pitch in the first round. Left-hander Brett Anderson (4-3, 4.00 ERA) is also questionable after leaving Sunday’s game in the third inning because of a blister.
Swingman Brent Suter (2-0, 3.13 ERA) is expected to make a spot start in Game 1, and Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA, 91 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings) likely will start Game 2 on regular rest.
Like they did in a seven-game loss to the Dodgers in the 2018 NL Championship Series, the Brewers will lean heavily on a deep bullpen anchored by left-hander Josh Hader (1-2, 3.79 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 19 innings) and right-hander Devin Williams (4-1, 0.33 ERA, 53 strikeouts in 27 innings).
Right-handers Eric Yardley (2-0, 1.54 ERA in 24 games) and Justin Topa (0-1, 2.35 ERA in six games) add quality depth.
A Milwaukee offense led by Keston Hiura (.212, 12 homers, 32 RBIs), Christian Yelich (.205, 12 homers, 22 RBIs) and Ryan Braun (.233, eight homers, 26 RBIs) can’t match the Dodgers’ firepower, but the Brewers aren’t deterred.
“Hey, anybody can win a best-of-three series,” said Yelich, the 2018 NL most valuable player. “They’re a great team, no doubt, but we have a chance.”