MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers were denied in the eighth inning and again in the ninth in their bid to sweep the D-backs, but the schedule offered no time to sulk. On tap is Milwaukee’s most important two weeks of the season to date.
A 5-2 loss propelled the Brewers into a potentially pivotal stretch against the Cardinals, Cubs, Astros and Cubs again, starting with three games at home against St. Louis beginning Monday night. Sunday’s loss temporarily dropped the Brewers four games behind the Cardinals and two games behind the Cubs in the National League Central.
“We’ll have a pretty good idea of how the rest of this year is going to go after these next few series,” said Brewers star Christian Yelich, who had the last of the Brewers’ series of chances to tie Sunday’s game in the final innings.
“More than anything,” said Ryan Braun, “it's going to be a tough 12 games when you go St. Louis, Chicago, Houston, Chicago. All three teams are playing really well, all three teams are really good, so obviously we have to be at our best to put ourselves in a position to win the majority of those games. If we're able to do that, I like our chances. I like the way it sets up once we get beyond these next 12 games.”
The Brewers are home for most of the stretch, starting with the Cardinals series. Then it’s three games at Wrigley Field over the weekend before another homestand with two games against the Astros from Sept. 2-3 followed by four against the Cubs from Sept. 5-8.
“The story is written every day,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Sunday morning. “As much as we talk about what's trending, we just [have to] come out and play a good game, and that's going to be our task the rest of the year. It's as simple as that. ... We've got to win at a better clip. This homestand has been a good start to it. We need to win series; that's what it's going to take the rest of the year.”
The Brewers did win the series against Arizona, but missed a chance for a clean sweep behind Zach Davies, who was charged with four earned runs on four hits including a pair of home runs in a four-inning stint that left his ERA at 9.41 over his past five starts -- all Brewers losses. He was burned by the home runs, starting with Christian Walker’s two-run shot in the first inning that came two batters after Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura’s relay throw was high on a potential double-play ball. Counsell said the Brewers believed the runner -- speedy outfielder Tim Locastro -- would have been safe on the play even with a good throw.
It was the first of many close calls for Milwaukee, which went scoreless on three hits and four walks over five innings against D-backs starter Robbie Ray in Ray’s return from a minimum 10-day stay on the injured list for back spasms. Manny Piña finally put Milwaukee on the board when he hit a solo home run off Yoan López to start the seventh inning.
The Brewers continued to threaten against Lopez in the eighth, when Braun settled for a sacrifice fly on a deep fly ball to right field with two runners aboard. Three Arizona relievers combined to escape the inning, but the Brewers were at it again in the ninth against Archie Bradley, whose pitch count pushed into the 30s as Cory Spangenberg doubled and Hiura worked a nine-pitch walk to bring Yelich to the plate as the tying run.
Bradley won the battle -- and the game -- by inducing a 113.6 mph groundout to second base. According to Statcast, it was the hardest ball in play for either team all day.
“We did a good job of fighting the whole way and staying in it, I guess,” Yelich said. “But no moral victories this time of year.”
The Brewers need actual victories in bunches in the days and weeks ahead, starting with Monday’s Adam Wainwright-Gio Gonzalez matchup at Miller Park. The question is whether the Brewers’ best pitcher, Josh Hader, will be available after he made a rare appearance in a loss on Sunday and threw 14 pitches. After not appearing in a game since Aug. 17, Counsell argued that Hader had to pitch.
“We’ll wait and see how he feels, for sure,” Counsell said. “I mean, other guys have to rest, too. But Josh not pitching eight days, he needed to pitch. We had to get him out there, and he got out there.”
Doesn’t it matter that the first-place Cardinals are in town Monday night?
“We have to get the other guys rest, too. We do. That’s part of this,” Counsell said. “And to expect Josh to be good after not taking the mound for long stretches of time, I don’t think -- that’s not how it works, either. We kind of got to a point we got long enough, and today was the day we needed him to pitch.”