PITTSBURGH -- As William Contreras was rung up on a pitch off the plate by home-plate umpire CB Bucknor, the frustration of a series loss in Pittsburgh was summed up in one moment, as Contreras turned to argue before slamming his bat against the steps of the visiting dugout at PNC Park.
The strikeout looking capped a 5-4 loss by the Brewers in a game in which they jumped out to a three-run lead in the first inning. Instead of holding on to hold pace against a surging Cubs team in the National League Central race, Milwaukee’s lead in the division was trimmed to 1 1/2 games.
- Games remaining: at NYY (3), vs. MIA (4), vs. WAS (3), at STL (4), at MIA (3), vs. STL (3), vs. CHC (3)
- Standings update: The Brewers (77-62) hold a 1 1/2-game lead on the Cubs (76-64), who beat the Giants on Wednesday. Milwaukee is the third-best division leader, meaning it would host a best-of-three National League Wild Card Series against the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
- Magic number: The Brewers' magic number over the Cubs is 22 to clinch the NL Central.
Big innings, quiet innings
The Brewers have not scored in more than two different innings in a game since Aug. 28, when they slugged two homers in the first before adding a run in each of the second and seventh innings.
They were forced to do so in Wednesday’s finale, after scoring in the first and eighth innings. Andruw Monasterio singled to lead off the ninth in a bid to level the game, but Tyrone Taylor lined out, Christian Yelich struck out swinging and Contreras was dealt the tough called strike three.
Of course, these rallies are beneficial to building some confidence, especially when they arrive as large as Tuesday’s six-run rally in the fifth inning. But consistency across the course of a game would help even more to get the bats in a groove.
“That’s baseball,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said on Monday, when the Brewers managed a two-run second but no further runs. “I wish we could do it every night, for sure. I’m sure guys want to do it every night.”
However, a positive development for the Brewers in the innings in which they feast has been the ability to work early-inning walks to set up success. Even when the swings aren’t going their way, they’re taking their base and making pitchers work.
On Monday, Sal Frelick and Willy Adames drew walks with no outs. After a hit by pitch, the Brewers were able to plate two on a pair of sacrifice flies, turning what would have been frustrating outs into productive outs.
Then, on Tuesday, Yelich and Contreras turned two-strike counts into eight-pitch walks to wear down Andre Jackson, who was perfect through three innings. And in the first inning on Wednesday, the same pair of players walked to set up Adames’ three-run homer.
“We’re trying to take a good at-bat,” Monasterio said on Tuesday. “That’s what all the hitting coaches taught us: Take a good at-bat, the pitcher is going to get tired and then they make mistakes.”
Speaking of mistakes
Brewers pitching on the whole was about where it wanted to be. Freddy Peralta, the reigning NL Pitcher of the Month, labored in the sixth and came two outs shy of a quality start, but he was all around the zone in a solid effort. Brandon Woodruff was dominant on Tuesday, when the only blemish to the group came when three runs scored vs. Clayton Andrews, who was optioned on Wednesday.
But in the two losses, the middle-middle part of the strike zone haunted. Corbin Burnes landed there a handful on times Monday, while Elvis Peguero’s two mistakes there spoiled a tie game. After Connor Joe grounded out vs. Peguero to begin the seventh inning, tied at 3, Jason Delay sharply struck a middle-cut sinker for a base hit off the foot of Peguero, who remained in the game.
Leadoff batter Ji Hwan Bae drew a 2-0 count before Peguero left a slider in the heart of the zone to cough up an RBI triple and give Pittsburgh its first lead.
The Brewers will have to limit the mistakes entering a series with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium given power threats like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Jasson Domínguez, not to mention the short porch in right field. And they’ll have to reign in the frustration of dropping a series to a team well out of the race in Pittsburgh.
“We were [hoping] to beat the Pirates and at least win the series, but they played good baseball this series, and they took advantage of these games,” Peralta said.