The Brewers went from having the best record in the National League to enduring their worst losing streak in three years, all in less than a week.
Brent Suter departed a spot start with right calf cramps and his replacement, Patrick Weigel, surrendered the fourth grand slam off a Brewers pitcher in the last six days during a sixth consecutive loss, 6-1, to the Marlins in Miami on Friday.
Not only is this the Brewers’ longest losing streak since July 2018, but they haven’t led at the end of a single inning during the skid. They have been outscored by a 29-4 margin in the first three innings of those games.
“This is a 162-game season,” manager Craig Counsell said. “You're going to have tough times, you're going to have tough stretches, you're going to run into teams that are playing really well and you don't do enough. You're also going to run into times when you're a little short-handed. Right now, we're in one of those stretches.
“Fortunately, we played really good the first 27 games to get us to a good point. We're in a tough stretch right now, but we'll come out of it. Playing good baseball is the way you get out of it and that will come.”
It’s tougher to play good baseball when the injury bug won’t stop biting. Three of their “length” pitchers were among the Brewers’ 16 players -- 16! -- on the injured list as of Friday’s first pitch, so they called upon left-hander Suter to make a spot start. And in a sight all too familiar, Suter left the game in the third inning with an athletic trainer by his side.
At least the early diagnosis was promising. He left the game with cramping in his right calf, the club said, and while that can sometimes be a precursor to a muscle strain, Counsell said in this case it was “nothing more.”
Suter departed with one out, two runners aboard and the Brewers already in a 1-0 deficit. That grew to 5-0 when Weigel, who’d already been warming in anticipation of pitching the next inning, walked Adam Duvall and surrendered a slam to former Brewers prospect Isan Díaz on a first-pitch fastball down the middle.
Only the Nationals, with five, have surrendered more grand slams in 2021 than the Brewers, and Milwaukee’s have all left the yard since Sunday. Alec Bettinger surrendered a pair of slams to the Dodgers that day in his first two innings in the Major Leagues. Freddy Peralta then surrendered a first-inning grand slam on Wednesday at the Phillies.
“It's tough to win a game when you give up grand slams,” Counsell said. “I don't have an explanation for it. We're loading the bases, that's not good. And we're unfortunately not making pitches when we get the bases loaded.”
The closest thing to a stretch like this in Brewers history was from Sept. 18-21, 1983, when Pete Ladd, Mike Caldwell and Rick Waits all surrendered grand slams in games against the Orioles and Indians.
Brewers pitchers have already matched the dubious record for grand slams allowed in a month with four, something that happened most recently in July 2010. That was also the year the Brewers allowed their most grand slams in a season, with 10.
“Yeah, it's tough to play from behind. We're trying our best to put up runs early for our pitching staff because they've been doing a great job,” Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain said, refusing to pin the team’s offensive shortcomings on injuries to the likes of Christian Yelich and hot-hitting catcher Omar Narváez. “I don't blame us being short-handed for why we're not hitting. As a team, we're just not getting it done, you know? I had a rough night tonight myself, so I need to step up and play better.”
A day after they were shut out by Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler in a 2-0 loss in Philadelphia, Cain & Co. were unable to provide much resistance against the Marlins’ Trevor Rogers. The up-and-coming left-hander’s ERA is 1.89 after he held the Brewers to one run in five innings.
The Brewers’ best chances for a game-changing moment were in the third inning, when Tyrone Taylor hit a booming fly ball that sailed only a few feet foul with two runners aboard before striking out, and in the fourth, when they had two runners aboard and a run already in with one out. Rogers stopped the rally there.
“We need a few moments, the way it's going right now,” Cain said. “We need a lot of good things to happen right now. I mean, what else can I say? We're just not getting it done. You can say that starts with me. I've got to play better. I can only talk about myself. But yeah, we need a lot of things to go in our favor, a lot of things to go right, because what we're doing right now is not going to cut it.”