Entering Wednesday, the Brewers ranked 25th out of 30 MLB clubs in home runs. Their 153 dingers to date would place them 26th in franchise history. Neither standing instills confidence, though they have some time to move up these lists. The problem is that the Brewers will likely finish shy of 175 taters on the season, indicating a run to the World Series is not likely.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals are the last team to reach the World Series with fewer than 175 home runs in a season (not counting 2020). While doing the "little things" in the playoffs can make a big difference, the ability to strike for multiple runs on one swing is often the game-changer come October. Because of the incredible pitching you find in the postseason, it's an enormous challenge to string together hits and runs to score consistently. This has become especially true since that 2015 Royals squad eight years ago.
Interestingly, the 2015 season was the last time teams scored more runs per game in the playoffs (4.36) than in the regular season (4.25). More ridiculous arms in the bullpen and managers' willingness to take out starters early and use their top pitchers in any spot have played prominent roles in reducing scoring. Thus, the sudden two-run home run or random solo shot has become increasingly valuable. According to a piece Fangraphs ran last November, between 2015 and 2022, teams who did not hit a home run went 43-135 in the postseason. The chart below from the article breaks it down.
Of course, the more home runs you hit, the more you will score and the better chance a team has to win a game. But it's jarring to see that playoff winning percentage jumps from .242 to .651 if a club hits two dingers, versus zero. The Brewers have the sixth-most games without a homer this year, failing to do so in 56 of their 151 contests (37.1 percent). They've gone 21-35 in those games, the seventh-best winning percentage (.375). While that is more than 130 points better than the recent postseason success teams have had without a homer and a testament to Milwaukee's 2023 pitching staff, it's easier to eke out those victories in the regular season.
Does that mean Brewers fans should give up on any dreams of a long playoff run this year? Not at all--especially since Milwaukee can do what the 2015 Royals did: ride three top-end starting pitchers, a lockdown bullpen and one of the best defenses in baseball. It's no coincidence that the last homer-deficient team to reach the World Series was built like the Brewers. If you don't have above-average power, you're not likely to have an especially robust offense in October. If your offense isn't going to lead you to the promised land, you need elite pitching and glove work to back them up. As frustrating as the Crew's offense can be, the hope is that Milwaukee's pitchers and fielders make life even worse on the opposition.
In the end, the Brewers will still need the long ball--at least occasionally. When they do homer, success follows. Milwaukee is 64-31 when they hit at least one dinger, good for a .673 winning percentage. In fact, the Brewers have gone 16-2 their last 18 contests with a homer, including seven in a row after Tuesday's 7-3 victory. Things like a healthy Christian Yelich, a locked-in Willy Adames and a passion-fueled William Contreras will be vital in producing home runs. Plus, some clutch power from trade deadline acquisitions in Mark Canha and Carlos Santana could make the difference between the offense early this season and the production that could come in the playoffs. They've been a better offense in the second half, and especially since the Aug. 1 deadline, though that improvement has almost exclusively been in on-base ability. The team is still slugging under .400 over the last seven weeks.
Stolen bases, bunts and sacrifice flies can all be ingredients to an important win, but like it or not, the home run needs to be part of the special sauce if the Brewers will make it through the Wild Card round and pull off any upsets beyond that. Here's to the bats getting hot and heavy at the right time.