Crew’s defensive misplay proves costly

August 21st, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Left fielder , third baseman Hernan Perez and shortstop all converged on Dexter Fowler’s broken-bat blooper. There were two outs and the bases were loaded and the Brewers and Cardinals were tied in the sixth inning of a late-August game between clubs in MLB’s tightest division race.

“We need to make that play,” Perez said. “I think that was the play of the game, and if we make that play, everything changes.”

But Perez spoke with the benefit of hindsight, as he and the Brewers absorbed a 9-4 loss Tuesday to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. In the moment, Braun peeled off toward the foul line at the last second. Perez peeled off in the other direction, with Arcia trailing behind. The ball dropped gently to the grass, and the Brewers were on their way to another loss on an increasingly painful road trip.

Fowler’s well-placed double cleared the bases and sent Milwaukee toward a fourth loss in the first five games of a trip that began against the contending Nationals and has continued against the Cards.

It concludes Wednesday night against Adam Wainwright, the veteran who owns a 2.33 career ERA against Milwaukee and whose 205 strikeouts of Brewers batters ranks sixth most all time (the five ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame).

Tuesday’s result kept the Cardinals alone atop the National League Central, while the Brewers fell to four games out of first place to match their low point this season.

“I don’t know if I think of it in terms of standings,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ve got to play better. We’re not winning games at a good enough clip to think about the playoffs right now. That’s what has to change. What the standings look like -- we’re still well within striking range, standings-wise. That’s really not a concern with this many games left. But we’ve got to play better. We’re [two] games above .500. That’s not good enough.”

Gio Gonzalez started for Milwaukee and pitched capably for five innings, allowing a run on three hits before departing in favor of a pinch-hitter immediately after the Brewers strung together three straight singles against Cardinals reliever John Gant in the top of the sixth to take a 2-1 lead.

The Cardinals answered with four runs in the bottom of that inning and four more in the seventh with a pair of rallies fueled by free passes and small ball -- one double, five singles, including Yadier Molina’s infield hit to load the bases against Jeremy Jeffress in the decisive sixth, plus five walks, including three with the bases loaded, and one hit batsman.

The double was hardly a smash hit. It left Fowler’s bat at 69.2 mph with a 46-degree launch angle and hung in the air for 4.4 seconds, according to Statcast. Batted balls with that profile are hits just 24 percent of the time. This one was the biggest hit of the game, good for three runs and a 5-2 lead against Junior Guerra, two batters after Guerra had walked Harrison Bader with the bases loaded to tie the game.

"I knew it had a chance,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “You look and see where [Braun and Perez] are going and they were both going aggressively at it, so you’re like, ‘OK. That thing is falling fast, so we have a shot at this.’"

Asked what should have been done or could have been done differently, Braun said, “It was my ball all the way. Either I dive and I catch it or I don’t come up with it. Obviously, in hindsight, I didn’t think I was going to get there. I thought ‘HP’ had a shot at it, so I tried to get out of his way. In hindsight, it’s either my ball or nobody’s ball. If I dive for it, maybe I catch it.”

“Somebody has to call that ball,” Perez said. “It could be Arcia, Braun or me. Somebody has to call it. I think we were scared to crash on that ball, but we have to make that play.”

The Brewers also have to pitch better. They have have surrendered 42 runs in their past four games, which includes three consecutive losses. Milwaukee pitchers issued nine walks on Tuesday, one shy of a season high. After Guerra walked home a run in the sixth, Matt Albers and Drew Pomeranz issued back-to-back bases-loaded walks in the seventh, as St. Louis’ lead grew as wide as 9-2.

“Obviously, we recognize the importance and significance of every game,” Braun said. “We just haven’t put it together consistently enough to this point. Last year, we entered September down 5 1/2 in our division and found a way to come back. We have the ability to go through a stretch of playing really good baseball. We just haven’t done it yet.”