MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers bade farewell to Miller Park and embarked on what they hope is one of the longest road trips in baseball history.
Ryan Braun touched home for perhaps the final times here on each of Daniel Vogelbach’s two home runs, Josh Lindblom pitched into the sixth inning in his return from bereavement and the Brewers, appearing intent on another sprint to the postseason, completed a three-game sweep with a 5-3 win over the Royals on Sunday.
On deck for the Brewers: Eight games in the next seven days at the Reds and Cardinals, who are just as hungry to play into October.
“Coming down the stretch,” said Brandon Woodruff, who will be on the mound Monday night as the Brewers begin their final push, “these are the games you want.”
At 26-26 and riding a season-best four-game winning streak, the Brewers are back to .500 for the first time since they were 11-11. They haven’t been above .500 all year, yet are right in the middle of a three-way race in the National League Central with Cincinnati and St. Louis for second place -- and the postseason berth that goes with it.
The Brewers and Reds both won Sunday and remained in a virtual tie for third, one game behind St. Louis.
It all feels familiar. In each of the past two Septembers, the Brewers went 20-7 from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. They may have been slow out of the blocks this month, but now it looks like manager Craig Counsell’s club is intent on doing it again.
"We've given ourselves a chance. That's the biggest thing,” Counsell said. “We're going on our last road trip, and we've got a really meaningful week of baseball. And the other thing is we don’t have to play perfect, you know what I mean? ‘Win series’ is a good way to look at it.”
Perhaps it’s a case of needing to hit rock bottom before rising up. One Sunday earlier, the Brewers were held hitless for the fourth time in franchise history and committed three errors in an ugly loss to Alec Mills and the Cubs. They were four games under .500, matching their 2020 low point.
Since then, the Brewers have won six of eight games against the Cardinals and Royals with an offense showing signs of life. The Brewers have scored at least five runs in five of their last six games, starting with an 18-run outburst against the Cards on Tuesday.
Vogelbach has provided a jolt. He was 5-for-57 for the Mariners and Blue Jays in 2020 before the Brewers won a waiver claim, hoping to “catch lightning in a bottle,” Counsell said. Now Vogelbach is 15-for-36 with the Brewers, and he had more RBIs on Sunday (five) than he did all year for the Mariners and Jays (four).
Two things, Vogelbach says, have aided his resurgence. Instead of trying to hit home runs, he’s back to hitting to the whole field and, as he put it, “let homers be thrilling.” Second, he landed with a team that believes in him.
In turn, he believes in the Brewers.
“A lot of times, you raise your level of play to the people around you,” Vogelbach said. “It’s fun to come to the ballpark every day with these guys in the clubhouse believing you’re going to win every single day you step on the field.”
Equal credit on Sunday went to Lindblom, who was away from the team for a few days while his wife, Aurielle, received treatment for a medical emergency. She will undergo a procedure this week while the Brewers are in Cincinnati, and Lindblom expects to make his next start as scheduled in St. Louis, aiming to build on consecutive starts without allowing a walk.
The Brewers are scheduled to finish their 60-game regular season with three games at Cincinnati from Monday-Wednesday and then five games in four days at St. Louis, including a doubleheader on Friday at Busch Stadium in which the Brewers will be the “home” team for Game 1. It’s the final makeup of the three-game series at Miller Park that was postponed in early August.
Even if the Brewers make the postseason, they probably won’t play another home game in 2020 because of MLB’s unique postseason format. In one scenario the Brewers wouldn’t mind at all, they will live in hotels from Sunday night through Oct. 28 in Arlington, Texas, the date and site of a potential World Series Game 7.
“It’s really unique to pack and not know if you’re going to be gone for a week or six weeks,” Braun said.
“Hopefully we’re gone for a long time,” Vogelbach said.
First, they have to stay hot for one more week.
“It's like, 'We're ready to go.' We've gotten a lot of big hits, guys are stepping up,” Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook said. “I think this is our season; this is our part of the season that we do well in and that we're comfortable in. There's a different level of energy that exists in this club right now, and it makes you excited."