PITTSBURGH -- When it comes to the National League playoff race, the Milwaukee Brewers have spent most of the final month of the season stuck in the middle.Ahead, the Cubs have had a steady, but small lead for the NL Central. Entering play Sunday, the Brewers were 2 1/2 games
PITTSBURGH -- When it comes to the National League playoff race, the Milwaukee Brewers have spent most of the final month of the season stuck in the middle.
Ahead, the Cubs have had a steady, but small lead for the NL Central. Entering play Sunday, the Brewers were 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs for first place.
Behind, the Cardinals have done as good of a job keeping pace with the Brewers as the Crew has with the Cubs. St. Louis entered Sunday two games behind Milwaukee for the first NL Wild Card spot.
That battle is poised to come to a head later this week, when the Brewers head to St. Louis for a three-game series that will likely have an outsized effect on determining their postseason fate one way or the other.
But don't tell the Brewers that. They aren't trying to treat the upcoming three games in St. Louis any differently than the previous three against Pittsburgh.
"I don't know what we're supposed to do differently," manager Craig Counsell said. "You come in and play the game, and you give everything you've got. That's what we've been doing, I think, a good job of throughout this whole stretch. … We're trying to keep the same attitude every day. I think changing things from a preparation standpoint or how you think about it, I don't know if that makes much sense."
"We've just got to focus on every night individually," added outfielder Christian Yelich. "We can't get caught up in the long-term picture. You've just got to focus on every day and put all your energy into winning that night."
But just because they aren't going to treat the way they prepare for or think about the upcoming games differently doesn't mean that they aren't enjoying the prospects of playing them. After all, important games down the September stretch are what everyone starts the season hoping to play.
"It is fun," said Giovany Gonzalez, who is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Cardinals. "You're playing a kid's game. So for me, it is kind of fun when you get that kind of competition, front and back, where there's two great organizations that are competing to get in front of you."
Gonzalez is one of several Brewers who are relatively new to the NL Central, but he's already picked up on what the series with the Cardinals means.
"It's good competition and a good rivalry right now," he said. "They're playing great ball. So are we. It's pretty incredible to see that kind of race right now. I've had my fair share of those in the National League East, and seeing it here, it's fun to be a part of something like that."
Bullpen holding it down
One of the few ways that the games have and will continue to change as September wanes will be bullpen usage. As the value of each game becomes more important -- and with the entire 40-man roster at his disposal -- Counsell has the ability to go get a starting pitcher out of the game early if he feels that's the best move. He did so in each of the first two games of the Pirates series, pulling Jhoulys Chacin after four innings on Friday and Zach Davies after five on Saturday.
The bullpen held the Pirates to one run over the ensuing nine innings, continuing that unit's inspired play as of late. The run charged to Dan Jennings in the eighth inning on Saturday was the first for a Milwaukee reliever in a week, a span of 20 2/3 innings.
"The bullpen has done a heck of a job," Counsell said. "We're in a very good spot. Those guys are throwing the ball well. They're rested. It strikes me as a different spot than we were in last year. Last year at this time, Anthony Swarzak was really being pushed hard. He was doing a heck of a job, but we were really pushing him hard."
Despite his propensity for a quick hook over the last week, Counsell's bullpen remains remarkably rested.
"I think [Joakim Soria's] appearance [Saturday] night was one of the first time in 10 days we've had a back-to-back appearance from a reliever," Counsell said.
Soria (2), Josh Hader (2 1/3) and swingman Brandon Woodruff (3) are the only Milwaukee relievers with two or more innings pitched over the past seven days.
Anderson won't start opener
The Brewers will open the series with a "bullpen game" after scratching Chase Anderson, their Opening Day starter who has struggled with home runs (he has allowed a National League-leading 30 this season) and the first inning (6.30 ERA). The Brewers have not said who would start the game in Anderson's place.
"Obviously, it's frustrating," Anderson said. "I want to pitch as much as I want to pitch. I want to pitch every time my name is called. Obviously, this is a better way to go this time of the season and I understand each game is very meaningful down the stretch with a close race, but obviously, I want to be on the mound, regardless of what the situation is. But, you know, sometimes, you've got to swallow your pride and continue to go. When my name is called to pitch, I'll take the ball and go out there and do my thing.
"My goal is to factor into this team the rest of the way and into the postseason and make an impact for the better. I know what I can do."
Alan Saunders is a contributor to MLB.com based in Milwaukee.