The Milwaukee Brewers play in the 38th-largest television market in the United States. That happens to be the smallest market for any Major League Baseball team.
Thus, the Brewers are seemingly in a tough situation, especially playing in the only major North American professional sports league that doesn’t have a salary cap.
Yet for the sixth straight September, the Brewers are in the thick of the pennant race. They lead the National League Central by three games over the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee’s magic number for clinching a postseason spot is 15 with 20 games remaining.
Should the Brewers make the playoffs, it will be their fifth trip in the last six years. They fell one game short last season.
The one thing the Brewers don’t do is complain about their market size. They believe the whole thing matter is irrelevant.
“We know we have a talented group of guys who can win a lot of games,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “No matter what market you’re in, no matter what your payroll is, to win a division or just to get to the postseason is not easy. There are no guarantees because you never know how the season is going to go. You just have to live day by day and figure out how you’re going to accomplish your goal of winning that night. We’re good at that, I think.”
The Brewers have been winning many games since 2017, when they had an 86-76 record, before beginning their run of postseason appearances a year later.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has been willing to spend on player payroll relative to the franchise’s market size. Yet Milwaukee still ranked 21st among the 30 MLB teams at the start of this season with their $116-million payroll.
Yelich believes the Brewers’ success hinges in large part on having a group of players who know how to win, as simple as that might sound.
“It rarely looks the same, but you do develop a formula for winning and know what you need to do to win or give yourself the best possible chance each night,” Yelich said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that.”
Yelich believes manager Craig Counsell also plays a pivotal role in the Brewers’ success. Counsell has a 694-618 record since stepping into the job 25 games into the 2015 season.
“He puts guys in situations where they can be successful,” Yelich said. “Whether that happens or not, who knows, but he puts the right guy in the right spot to be successful. In a large enough sample size over a full season, it kind of ends up turning out in your favor. He’s built a culture here and sets the tone for it from the first day of spring training. There are certain expectations here. We expect to win.”
Counsell downplays his role in the Brewers’ success, crediting the front office and the players. Yelich, though, says the ninth-year manager – who has declined the Brewers’ offer to extend his contract beyond this season –is a difference maker.
While he has declined to talk about his future, Counsell is expected to step away at the end of the season to spend more time with his family, which includes two sons playing college baseball and two daughters in high school.
“It starts from Couns,” said Yelich, who was the 2018 NL Most Valuable Player. “You just kind of go into the season expecting to be in this position where you can get to the postseason. It’s not you’re just hoping to be in it or wondering if you can be. You just know we’re going to find a way. Over the course of a season there is obviously adversity, losing streaks, injuries you have to overcome. I think we’ve just kind of done a good job of finding ways to win every night.
“It doesn’t always look pretty. It doesn’t always look great. If you win the game at the end of the night, it’s all that really matters.”