ST. LOUIS -- Every day since April 30, the Brewers have gone to bed in postseason position. They either led the National League Central, held one of the two NL Wild Cards outright, or, at worst, they sat in a virtual tie for one of those positions.That was still true
ST. LOUIS -- Every day since April 30, the Brewers have gone to bed in postseason position. They either led the National League Central, held one of the two NL Wild Cards outright, or, at worst, they sat in a virtual tie for one of those positions.
That was still true Friday, even after a 5-2 loss to the surging Cardinals at Busch Stadium gave the Brewers seven losses in their last 10 games.
On Saturday, however, it will require a win.
Friday's defeat, set in motion by another rough first inning for Freddy Peralta and an offense that didn't come alive until too late, cut Milwaukee's advantage over St. Louis to one-half game for the second NL Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the Brewers fell 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central.
The Cardinals have won nine of their last 10 games, and if they prevail again Saturday, the Brewers would find themselves in third place for the first time since May 12, when they were in a virtual tie with the Cubs behind the Cardinals and Pirates.
"Last year, we were really close. This year, we're supposed to finish," said Jesus Aguilar, whose single in the eighth inning provided the Brewers' only runs. "Let's see what happens. We have a great team, great guys. It's going to be tough. It's going to be a good race."
In a matchup of 22-year-old rookie right-handers, the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty out-pitched Peralta. A first-round Draft pick of St. Louis in 2014, Flaherty worked around a pair of baserunners in the first and third innings on the way to six shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out seven.
Peralta, too, allowed three hits and three walks in six innings, but his baserunners were bunched at the beginning of the game. Marcell Ozuna's two-run single in the first inflated Peralta's first-inning ERA this season to 9.00 in 12 starts. Peralta has surrendered 12 runs on 13 hits and 10 walks in his 12 first innings.
He settled in to retire 15 of the final 16 Cardinals batters he faced beginning in the second inning. The exception was Jedd Gyorko, who homered leading off the fourth inning for a 3-0 St. Louis lead.
"He recovered and gave us six good innings, but we have to get to the bottom of the first inning here," Counsell said. "We did change some things up today. … Unfortunately, same result."
Peralta said the change was hitting the weight room before he took the field to warm up for the game.
"Just trying to find something that works," Peralta said through translator Carlos Brizuela. "I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable early on, but it's something we have to work on."
The Brewers remained scoreless until Aguilar's two-run single in an 0-2 count with the bases loaded in the eighth briefly made it a 3-2 game, before the Cardinals answered right back in the bottom of the inning against Jordan Lyles to seal their victory.
Aguilar's 57 RBIs in two-strike counts are a Brewers franchise record and lead Major League Baseball by a wide margin. Entering Friday's games, Colorado's Nolan Arenado was the runner-up with 39.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Lyles struggles in eighth: After Aguilar's hit brought the Brewers within a run, Hicks bounced back to retire slumping Travis Shaw (1-for-16 on the road trip) and Jonathan Schoop (8-for-48 since being traded to the Brewers) to preserve the Cardinals' 3-2 lead. That was significant, since it informed Counsell's decision to send Lyles out for a second inning of work, and to stick with Lyles through a single, a hit batter, a walk and left-handed-hitting Kolten Wong's game-sealing, two-run double. Wong was 0-for-6 lifetime versus Lyles with three strikeouts before that hit.
Counsell remains opposed to pitching high-leverage relief aces Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress when the Brewers are trailing in a game so they will be available to protect leads. With the season winding down and wins at a premium, is Counsell second-guessing that philosophy?
"No, I don't," he said. "I mean, we need those guys, and if we go on a good stretch, those guys are going to be critical for stretches like that. That's how we're going to win. We're going to win by getting the lead and putting those guys in the game.
"Tonight, Jordan's got to pitch in those situations. We're losing, he's got to hopefully get through that inning. He's certainly capable of getting through that inning. If we get to the last week of the season or the last couple of weeks of the season, yeah, there might be some instances when we're rested that we can pitch guys in games like that."
And he doesn't feel that the season has reached that point yet?
"No, we are not there yet," Counsell said. "There's a game tomorrow and we've got seven guys down there [in the bullpen] and a couple guys that are struggling a little bit that we have to be cautious of. We have to keep these guys fresh for when we have leads."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Eric Thames made one of the Brewers' most harrowing catches all season, but it came at a cost. Thames exited in the middle of the third with right knee soreness, two innings after a hard collision with Lorenzo Cain on the warning track after the pair converged on Matt Carpenter's long fly ball leading off the bottom of the first inning. Thames made the catch and somehow held on when he smashed face first into the wall while falling to the dirt. He would exit the game two days later due to right knee soreness.
• Thames exits after collision with Cain
HE SAID IT
"It's really one more game on the schedule. We have a healthy respect for our opponent, but we don't think in terms of who we're playing. We think in terms of how we play." -- Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt, on chasing the Brewers
Wade Miley looks to even the series on Saturday, with first pitch at 6:15 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium. The left-hander has faced St. Louis five times in his career for a 4.85 ERA, with his last outing against the Cards coming last season, when he allowed six runs over 5 2/3 innings. Miley has been strong this season with a 2.23 ERA through eight starts. Miles Mikolas will start for St. Louis.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.