MILWAUKEE -- The margin for error can be as thin as a pinstripe for what the Brewers call their “run-prevention unit” until the hitters consistently hit.
And once again on Wednesday, they didn’t manage many hits.
Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle matched his career high for strikeouts with 12 in only six innings, and a solid seven-inning pitching performance from Freddy Peralta went for naught in a 2-1 loss to the Reds at American Family Field that completed Cincinnati’s three-game sweep.
The Brewers came into the series having plated 26 runs in their previous four games, but they managed four total runs in three losses to the Reds, halted by the only National League team that entered the week on a comparable winning streak. Milwaukee had won seven consecutive home games, nine or 10 games overall and 14 of 16 coming in. Now Cincinnati has won six games in a row, seven of eight and 13 of 16.
“They pitched well,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, whose club had been showing some offensive life but still ranks last in the Majors in batting average (.210), next to last in slugging percentage (.365) and has the highest strikeout rate in the NL at 27 percent. “Tyler Mahle, he's having a really good year.”
Christian Yelich logged his seventh RBI of the homestand with a run-scoring single off Mahle in the third inning and moved to second when Avisaíl García was hit by a pitch for the second time in three innings. After that, the Brewers mustered nothing until the eighth, when García’s bloop single snapped a streak of 17 consecutive outs. They had another chance in the ninth after Willy Adames delivered a pinch-hit double, but Daniel Robertson and Jackie Bradley Jr. went down swinging as Milwaukee matched its season high with 17 strikeouts.
The Reds, meanwhile, pushed ahead with a pair of two-out doubles to the left-field corner which exemplified the fine line between winning and losing for a team with an on-again, off-again offense:
1) Fourth inning, two outs
Nick Castellanos narrowly reached on a two-out infield single off Peralta, who’d gone 11 up, 11 down to start the game. Luis Urías made a valiant effort on Castellanos’ ground ball over third base and threw off-balance to first base, where Daniel Vogelbach was pulled off the bag and attempted a tag, only to have the baseball break free from his glove.
Tyler Naquin followed by punching a double to left field. Yelich gathered the baseball and threw it on a hop to Robertson, who started at shortstop with Adames getting a day off. Robertson had to rush a throw home, but Castellanos was well on his way to scoring, anyway.
2) Seventh inning, two outs
Peralta didn’t have the big strikeout numbers on Wednesday -- his six whiffs tied his low mark for a season in which he ranks fifth among MLB qualifiers with a 35.9 percent strikeout rate -- but also didn’t walk a batter for the first time all year and was humming along in the seventh inning at 90 pitches before Joey Votto singled with two outs.
Tucker Barnhart followed with another double to the left-field corner, and this time, Counsell said, the Brewers had a real chance for a play at the plate. Robertson, again the cutoff man, saw his throw home cross paths with Votto in the third-base line, denying catcher Manny Piña a clean play as Votto scored the go-ahead run.
“That one, we had a chance at,” Counsell said. “With the throw, the ball got behind the runner from Manny's perspective, so he just couldn't get a good view of it with [Votto] kind of standing up and then sliding in. It would have been really, really bang-bang and probably would have taken an absolutely perfect throw to get him.”
“For one moment,” Peralta said, “I thought we were going to make the out at home plate, but it was a hard bounce for Manny, and the runner was bang-bang. That was the hard part about it.”
Some better run production would help ease the burden on the Brewers’ run prevention, and there have been two encouraging developments there.
First was Yelich, who has played in each of the Brewers’ last 21 games, starting 18 of them, after a long stint on the injured list for a back strain. Counsell will continue exercising caution to avoid a relapse, but said, “This feels like we're kind of back to a normal season with him.”
Second was the impending return of second baseman and leadoff hitter Kolten Wong, who is due to return from the 10-day IL (oblique strain) some time in the next four days in Colorado.
“Look, we've lost essentially four guys that have been pretty big offensive contributors, so there's a carryover effect to that,” said Counsell, referring to Wong, Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw and Tyrone Taylor being on the IL. “We're also in a stretch we're playing every day, and so we're trying to cycle through resting some guys that, frankly, need a day. If we can get back to adding one of our guys who is going to be in there a significant amount, of course it's going to help us.”