MILWAUKEE -- Though the Brewers are confident they’ll seal the National League Central crown sooner rather than later, the possibility of it happening on Monday is over.
Milwaukee’s magic number to clinch its third NL Central title stayed at three games on Sunday following a 6-4 loss to Chicago in the series finale at American Family Field.
Eric Lauer pitched four no-hit innings before allowing a solo home run to Cubs right fielder Trayce Thompson with one out in the fifth, but Kolten Wong and Eduardo Escobar contributed RBI doubles in the following frame to give their team back the lead. A five-run Cubs eighth inning all charged to Brad Boxberger and Jandel Gustave, however, ultimately sunk the Brewers’ hopes of setting up a clinching scenario on Monday night against the Cardinals.
“We didn't get the next hit today. That, to me, as much [as anything] was the story of the game,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “First six innings not getting the extra hit. We scored two, but I thought we had chances for much more, and we didn't capitalize on any of those opportunities.”
Had the Cardinals lost to the Padres on Sunday, the Brewers’ magic number would’ve dropped to two regardless of the outcome of their game against the Cubs. That would’ve meant that Milwaukee could clinch the division as early as Monday.
St. Louis held off San Diego for an 8-7 win, however, meaning Milwaukee didn’t move any closer toward clinching the division than it was when it clinched a playoff spot on Saturday night. The next possible day for the Brewers to win the division title is Tuesday, but they would have to take both of the first two games against the Cardinals. And though Milwaukee has already locked down a postseason berth, the division crown is where its lofty goals begin.
“It's nice to not have to worry about making it in or not,” Lauer said, “but we still have some things that we want to accomplish. I don't think anybody is letting off the gas.”
St. Louis is in the middle of a playoff push itself, having been 8 1/2 games back of the second NL Wild Card on Aug. 10 and now being up at least two games on every team vying for that spot. The Cardinals have won eight in a row, all coming against playoff hopefuls (the Reds, Mets and Padres).
“I think we had something to do with them getting on a run here, because I think we kind of lit a fire under [them] a little bit with the way we did them last time,” Lauer said, referring to the Crew’s series win over the Redbirds in early September. “It's that atmosphere and feel of the game that we strive for and play for. It's the most fun baseball you can play.”
Of course, the Brewers’ hopes of winning the division don’t start and end in this series vs. the Cardinals. Milwaukee still has series against the Mets and the Dodgers sandwiched around a three-game series at Busch Stadium. But considering how subdued they were after clinching a postseason spot on Saturday, the Brewers would like to get the division-title celebration underway as soon as possible.
“It's pretty simple,” Counsell said. “We have to beat [the Cardinals] twice to do it, and that's the mission in front of us. It's the next challenge. You talk about the next series as the next challenge, and it's right in front of us. They're playing great baseball, and so we'll have to tackle that, but enjoy that we get to try to do it against the Cardinals.”
“You know what's at stake. You know what they’re shooting for. You know what we're shooting for,” Lauer said. “It's the baseball you look forward to all year, really.”