Reigning MVP Christian Yelich will miss the rest of the season with a fractured kneecap, but the Milwaukee Brewers are determined to press on to the postseason.
The Milwaukee Brewers still have 18 games left, but their season may have ended on Tuesday with a slider by Miami Marlins right-hander Elieser Hernandez.
Hernandez was facing Christian Yelich, the reigning NL MVP for the Brewers and a favorite to win the award again, in the first inning at Marlins Park. With a 1-1 count, Yelich swung at the slider and fouled it off his right knee. He immediately fell to the ground and hung his head between his knees in despair while being attended to by trainers.
He had to be taken out of the game, and Brewers general manager David Stearns announced afterward that Yelich had fractured his kneecap, ending his season.
It cannot be understated how big a loss Yelich is to the Brewers lineup. Over his past 162 games dating back to last August, he trails only Anthony Rendon with a .340 batting average and 140 RBI and leads baseball with 57 home runs. His 1.148 OPS in that span would be the fourth-best season this millennium by someone not named Barry Bonds.
Yelich was also playing as well as he has all season. During the Brewers five-game winning streak, which was extended with a 4-3 victory on Tuesday, he’s hitting .583 with an on-base percentage of .750. He’s batting .351 with five home runs over his last 22 games, seemingly pulling ahead of the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger in the “Belli vs. Yelli” MVP race.
It’s like the Angels losing Mike Trout, the Patriots losing Tom Brady or the Lakers losing LeBron James. But all is not lost for the Brewers, even without Yelich. The main factor playing in their favor is their schedule.
The Brewers are only one game behind the Chicago Cubs for the second NL Wild Card spot and a game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies. Milwaukee, though, has the most favorable schedule of the three contenders. Just three of their last 18 games are against a team above .500. The Cubs have seven games against winning teams, while the Phillies face the toughest test with 15 games remaining against teams with a winning record.
The impressive play of the man who came in to replace Yelich after the injury is another reason for optimism in the Brewers clubhouse. Trent Grisham, a 22-year-old rookie, went 1-3 with a double against the Marlins. He went 5-6 on Monday and is now batting .263 with four home runs and 13 RBI over his first 33 games.
The Brewers have other injury concerns: star rookie Keston Hiura, second on the team with a .301 average, has been out since Aug. 31 with a hamstring injury. Mike Moustakas, whose 31 home runs trails only Yelich on the team, came on as a pinch-hitter on Tuesday but hasn’t started a game since Sept. 2. But so do the teams the Brewers are chasing. The Cubs also lost Javier Baez to a fractured thumb that will keep the All-Star shortstop out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season.
Losing their star player for the rest of the year doesn’t mean the Brewers are giving up. “We have to move forward,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We feel awful for Christian. That’s the thing that kinds of resonates with me right now. He’s a special player and it’s a joy to watch him play every day. He’s the best at what he does. Not being able to see that every day is definitely no good. But we got to respond and we have a great opportunity.”
That fateful slider on Tuesday may make most prognosticators count out the Brewers in 2019, but they owe it to their fallen teammate to keep fighting. Not all hope is lost in Milwaukee.