Just minutes before the Aug. 31 trade deadline, Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns swung a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, acquiring veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson for outfield prospect Demi Orimoloye. At the time of the trade, many wondered why Stearns would say goodbye to one of his prospects to add another player to an already crowded outfield.
Two weeks later, and nobody is questioning the Granderson trade, or really any of the other handful of moves Stearns has made to help turn the Brewers into a legitimate World Series contender. In his third year as the GM in Milwaukee, Stearns has hit a home run with just about everything he has done.
On Wednesday night, it was Granderson that starred in what was probably the biggest win of the season for Milwaukee, as the outfielder homered, tripled and scored three runs in a 5-1 victory over the Cubs that pulled the Brewers to within one game of first-place Chicago.
Granderson has been especially good against the Cubs, which can’t be overlooked, considering a Brewers-Cubs playoff series is a very real possibility come October. In the four games Granderson — a Chicago native — has played in against the Cubs, he is a combined 5-for-9 with three RBI, five runs scored and a pair of home runs.
Other offensive players added to the roster via trade this season include third baseman Mike Moustakas and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Moustakas has been as advertised, coming up with some big hits in the middle of the batting order. Schoop is the one addition that Stearns could be criticized for. After coming to Milwaukee, Schoop struggled mightily, but also has shown signs of snapping out of his funk. His grand slam was the key blow in Milwaukee’s 6-3 win over the Giants on Sunday, and over the last two weeks, he is batting close to .300.
While Granderson was the big offensive star on Wednesday, it was the moves Stearns made in the offseason that have made the biggest difference. The addition of Christian Yelich in a trade with the Marlins, and outfielder Lorenzo Cain as a free agent signing, has completely turned things around for the Brewers.
Last year Milwaukee was a home run-or-bust offense. This year, while Milwaukee still does depend on the long ball, it can now manufacture runs with Cain and Yelich setting the table. Heading into Thursday’s action, Yelich was third in the NL in batting with a .313 average, while Cain was second at .314. Atlanta is the only other team that has two players currently in the top 10 of NL batting average leaders.
The recent additions to the Milwaukee roster have also bolstered Milwaukee’s bench. Depending on the starting lineup on a given day, manager Craig Counsell has players like Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Jesus Aguilar, Keon Broxton and Travis Shaw available to pinch hit in the late innings. And while that won’t necessarily be the case when the current 40-man roster limit goes back down to 25 players should Milwaukee make the postseason, Milwaukee’s bench will still be loaded with whoever the team decides to put on the active roster in the playoffs.
Sometimes it is the moves you don’t make that can be just as important for a team. When the non-waiver trade deadline was approaching at the end of July, Stearns failed to find a starting pitcher worth trading for. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to go for it, trading a pair of top prospects for Tampa Bay starting pitcher Chris Archer, who many Brewers fans had hoped would be heading to Milwaukee.
In Archer’s seven starts since the trade, he has failed to throw more than six innings and his earned run average has risen from 4.31 to 5.24. And while Archer isn’t solely to blame, the Pirates have floundered since getting the pitcher. When the deal was made, Pittsburgh was 56-52 and just six games out of first place. Heading into Thursday, the Pirates were 72-73 and 12 games out of first place.
The Brewers meanwhile have stuck with the starting pitchers it has counted on most of the season, though it did get a boost from the return of Zach Davies, who has been impressive in his two starts back from an injury that has kept him out for most of the season. Stearns also added starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez in a trade before the Aug. 31 deadline. And Gonzalez, who really struggled this season for Washington, was great in the one start he’s made so far in Milwaukee, giving up one unearned run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over the Giants.
The other key to Milwaukee closing in on the Cubs has been the bullpen. After a rough patch, former closer Corey Knebel has been outstanding. In his five September outings, Knebel has given up just one hit and zero runs, while striking out 12 and walking nobody in 6 2/3 innings.
Then there is left-handed reliever Josh Hader. With the way he has pitched this season, he has to be considered the best relief pitcher in the game. In the recent three-game series with the Cubs, Hader pitched three innings and gave up just one hit while striking out nine batters. He enters this weekend’s series with the Pirates with a remarkable 130 strikeouts in just 74 2/3 innings of work.
All these players coming together should add up to an exciting final two weeks of baseball in Milwaukee. After going 4-2 against the Cubs in September, the team is a real threat to overtake Chicago for the division lead, and that is something Milwaukee fans can thank Stearns for making happen.