MILWAUKEE -- Most every team goes through a stretch of losing four in a row and six of eight, but the Brewers are doing it at the most excruciating time.
For four straight days since Milwaukee was guaranteed a spot in the postseason on Saturday, fans have come to American Family Field hoping to see their team move to the cusp of clinching the division. For four straight days, they have watched the Brewers play some of their worst baseball all year, bottoming out with a 10-2 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday night in which Brett Anderson was knocked around in his return from the injured list and Milwaukee went into the fifth inning trailing by seven runs with more errors than hits.
By night’s end, utility man Jace Peterson had pitched, catcher Omar Narváez had played second base and the magic number to clinch the National League Central remained stuck at three. Still, the Brewers have an 8 1/2-game lead over the second-place Cardinals with 10 games to play and math on their side. But the Cards are testing the nerves of the locals with a winning streak of 11 games and counting, with a chance to finish a four-game series sweep behind ageless ace Adam Wainwright on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re a really good baseball team that’s hit a little bump in the road,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We don’t want it to happen. It’s never any fun when it happens. But it’s happened. We’ve hit a bump in the road. We’ve got to respond to it, and it’s about playing good baseball.
“Nobody’s excited that we haven’t played well here in the last 4-5 days, but we’ve still earned a pretty good road ahead of us, and I think we’re still sitting in a really nice spot. That has not changed.”
The Brewers have lost four in a row for the first time since a five-game skid in the middle of June.
After that, they won 13 of 14.
To get back in the win column, the Brewers will have to clean some things up. In the second inning on Wednesday, third baseman Eduardo Escobar’s throwing error on a fielder’s-choice grounder led to four unearned runs, a 6-0 deficit and an early exit for Anderson, who surrendered six hits while recording five outs in his first start since being struck on the pitching shoulder by a comebacker on Sept. 1 at San Francisco.
In the fourth inning, shortstop Luis Urías threw errantly on another fielder’s choice and saw it lead to an unearned run. In the seventh, Peterson fumbled a Dylan Carlson ground ball long enough for Carlson to reach on what was ruled an infield hit.
All told, the Cardinals out-hit the Brewers by a 15-4 margin.
“The goal is to come in and hopefully have some clean innings and feel good about the next one, but obviously that wasn’t the case,” Anderson said. “Hard contact, soft contact -- it all seemed to find holes, gaps or what not. That’s kind of how this series has been going. The Cardinals have obviously been playing really well in all facets of the game, and we haven’t been.”
Meanwhile, Brewers hitters remained stuck in a funk. Since sweeping the Indians by a 24-4 margin from Sept. 10-12 -- the series in which Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader threw a combined no-hitter -- the Brewers have baseball’s lowest OPS at .559 and have scored the fewest runs per game among NL clubs: 3.0 runs per game while losing six of eight.
It’s not just a player or two searching for hits. Christian Yelich has six hits in 46 at-bats over his last 12 games. Escobar has four hits in 39 at-bats over his last 10 games. Narváez has two hits in 18 at-bats over his last six games.
“Credit to those guys over there [the Cardinals] -- they’ve got the hot hand, and they’re playing well,” Anderson said. “But I like our club, and all it takes is something to spark it and ignite everybody. …
“It’s one of those little ruts. Our club’s too talented to let it extend too long. Hopefully we get a good pitching performance and our offense comes around. Every ball the Cardinals have hit the last couple series -- hard, soft -- have seemed to find grass. We’ve had quite a few lineouts the last couple days that nobody is getting rewarded for, so hopefully some of those find some holes, find some grass and it kick-starts some things.”