Brewers remain confident in playoff pursuit

After dropping 3 of 4 in Arizona, Milwaukee aims to get back on track in Colorado

September 5th, 2022

PHOENIX -- For as tough as the past five weeks have been for the Brewers, they still find themselves one winning streak from postseason position, even after becoming the latest lineup dismantled by D-backs ace Zac Gallen in a 5-1 loss at Chase Field on Sunday afternoon.

But realistically, Milwaukee's path to the postseason has become Wild Card or bust.

In 35 days, the Brewers have gone from four games ahead of the Cardinals in the National League Central standings to 8 1/2 games back -- the furthest Milwaukee has been from first place in the division since Chris Carter, Scooter Gennett, Jonathan Villar and top prospect Orlando Arcia comprised its primary infield. That was 2016, the Crew's first full season under manager Craig Counsell, when the franchise was in the middle of a rapid rebuild.

The Brewers' fall down the standings over the past month-plus happened fast, because they have gone in a dramatically different direction than the Cards since July 30. Milwaukee had won seven of its first eight games coming out of the All-Star break, but it is 13-19 since that date -- part of a larger stretch of unremarkable play in which it is 38-45 since May 30. St. Louis, meanwhile, has taken flight, going 26-7 over that same stretch to open a huge division lead.

The Cardinals (79-55) have 28 games remaining. The Brewers (70-63) have 29.

So it’s the NL's expanded Wild Card field that offers Milwaukee hope to extend its postseason streak to five consecutive seasons. The Phillies lost again Sunday in San Francisco, so the Brewers are 2 1/2 games out of the third and final berth.

“Absolutely, there’s time to do it,” Counsell said. “We have to play better baseball. We have to be more consistent. We have to string together wins. But there is absolutely time. No question about it.”

Winning streaks have proved elusive. Milwaukee has won three games in a row only once since the beginning of August.

The Brewers will try to wake up their bats in Colorado from Monday-Wednesday after losing three of four games in Arizona while scoring two total runs in the losses -- one on a bases-loaded walk Friday and another on Hunter Renfroe’s ninth-inning home run Sunday.

The good news is that Milwaukee is “trending in a good direction" for Christian Yelich to play Monday after the outfielder missed the past three games with a stiff neck, Counsell said. The bad news is that Freddy Peralta won’t start the opener vs. the Rockies as scheduled. The Brewers are pushing him to the next homestand to give him more recovery time, Counsell said.

On Sunday, the Crew faced the stiffest test of the Arizona series in Gallen, the right-hander who was named NL Pitcher of the Month in August and carried a 34 1/3-inning scoreless streak into the finale. Make it 41 1/3 innings without a run after he blanked the Brewers on two singles and one walk in seven sensational innings, leaving him two-thirds of an inning shy of the D-backs' record.

“Early on, I thought we had some good at-bats, hit some balls hard, they made some nice plays, we were hitting balls at them,” Counsell said. “And then, as starting pitchers get on a roll, he got in a rhythm, and we were pretty quiet after that.”

Milwaukee's best chance came in the second inning, when Tyrone Taylor hit a deep fly ball to right-center field with Luis Urías breaking from first base. If the ball fell, it would have been a 1-1 game. But Arizona right fielder Daulton Varsho, the pride of Marshfield, Wis., ran down the ball for a 5-star catch, per Statcast.

“Cold-blooded,” Taylor said.

“There's a reason he has 40-some scoreless innings,” designated hitter Keston Hiura said of Gallen. “Ever since I saw him in Triple-A, he's always had good stuff, and honestly, I think he was trying to find his command a little bit. When you have plus pitches, you can get away with all of that. 

“He dominated us. The fastball plays up, good curveball, changeup. And it's anywhere, any count, any situation. He's good at keeping hitters off-balance."

Does Hiura believe the Brewers can conjure a surge?

“Our pitchers are doing a good job, a hell of a job, it’s just a matter of [hitters] being able to execute things and keep the pressure on, coming up big,” Hiura said. “It wouldn’t hurt to have a big inning here and there, either. We’re going into Colorado and hopefully, we can swing the bats and get them hot.”