Thames' blast a clutch close to Crew's June

June 30th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich logged his 1,000th career hit after a few days of near-misses, but it took another mighty swing from Eric Thames to muscle the Brewers back into a tie for first place as the calendar flipped to July.

A 2-1 win over the Pirates at Miller Park on Sunday, decided in the eighth inning with Thames’ second home run in as many days, gave Milwaukee its first series win in three weeks, while closing the books on a 13-13 month of June and boosting the Brewers into a tie with the Cubs atop the National League Central at 45-39.

Manager Craig Counsell knows that his club will have to be better to repeat as division champs. 

“You're not making progress, but you're not hurting yourself,” he said Sunday morning. “That's what happened in June. … We're going to try to get better, because we know we need to be better than that to be a playoff team.” 

The problem Sunday was an inability to get the “next” hit. The Brewers logged a whopping 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the first six innings alone, including at least one such chance in every inning. But thanks to stout pitching from Zach Davies, Freddy Peralta, Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Albers on a day that All-Star closer Josh Hader was unavailable, plus a series of fantastic defensive plays, led by left fielder Ben Gamel’s diving catch to end the top of the eighth, the game was locked in a 1-1 tie until the bottom of that inning. That’s when Thames connected with Pirates reliever Kyle Crick’s second pitch and sent it to the batter’s eye in straightaway center field.

Along the way, Yelich drilled an opposite-field double in the third inning off Steven Brault for career hit No. 1,000, and it just missed clearing the fence for a homer. Yelich has been sitting on a Major League-leading 29 home runs since June 21, tied with Prince Fielder for the most in Brewers history before the All-Star break.

But that scoring chance went unfulfilled, as did so many others on the way to a 2-for-14 afternoon with runners in scoring position -- including Yelich’s strikeout with the bases loaded in the sixth. Of those two hits, only one scored a run; Zach Davies’ game-tying single with two outs in the fourth.

Asked to describe the day from an offensive standpoint, Counsell quipped, “How well we pitched is what I’d start with.”

“They’re more than a hitting team,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

For so much of the month, the Brewers’ problem was pitching, but Brandon Woodruff on Saturday and Davies on Sunday (one earned run in 5 1/3 innings) did their part to lower the ERA of Milwaukee’s starters in June from 6.37 entering the weekend to 5.87 for the month. Still, that was the worst mark in the Majors.

“We still have work to do. We have another week left before the All-Star break,” said Davies. “Just to kind of start to turn around, to get us back on our feet, kind of stabilize the rotation for the team, is going to be big. I think everybody in the rotation knows their responsibility.”

Said catcher Yasmani Grandal: “The fact that we were able to come out still being in first place … I think it’s going to make us a better team.”

That was part of the conversation Sunday morning. Before it moved on to another topic, Counsell said, “Can I add one more thing?”

“I would say there are going to be stretches of the season when you have to get through that,” he said. “Maybe this is the stretch you have to get through. To play .500 in those stretches can be considered, 'All right, we got through this. We do know we have to play better baseball, but we got through this.'

“I guess 'survive' is right. We didn't cause too much damage, but we are going to have to play better baseball. I think good teams do kind of get through these stretches and find themselves still above water, but still with the understanding that they have to play better.”