MILWAUKEE -- When the 2017 schedule circulated at Miller Park about a year ago, this nine-game trip to Colorado, San Francisco and Los Angeles in late August stood out for its length, but not necessarily its importance. The Brewers were less than a month removed from trading All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and their two best relievers, and not even the most optimistic among those remaining could have conceived of contending for a division title one year later.
Yet that's where the Brewers found themselves as they boarded a Denver-bound flight on Thursday. It took a Cubs walk-off win the night before to keep Milwaukee 1 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central ahead of what could be a defining road trip.
"They're playing very inspired baseball," said newcomer Neil Walker, who was still getting used to referring to himself as a member of the Brewers. "We know what's at stake here, but I don't see anybody pressing, I don't see anybody trying to do more than they're capable of. That's a sign of a good team."
Of the pending trip, Walker said, "It's going to be a good test. Colorado is playing well, obviously the Dodgers are playing well and San Francisco is not an easy place. We know what's at stake."
The Brewers only recently started showing the good traits which drew Walker's praise. They scored three or fewer runs in 19 of 25 games before a players-only meeting a week ago, following the fifth of six straight losses.
In five games since, the Brewers lead the Majors with 13 home runs and trail only the Cubs among NL clubs with 6.6 runs per game. In its only loss during that stretch, Milwaukee came back from a 10-2 deficit against Cincinnati before falling, 11-10.
"The momentum is really good right now," said center fielder Keon Broxton after hitting two of the Brewers' five home runs in Wednesday's 7-6 win over the Pirates, Milwaukee's fourth in a row. "The vibe in the clubhouse is awesome. I think everyone is getting back to playing baseball the way we knew how, and that's really fun for us, the fans, everyone. It's really relaxed in here right now, and we just have to continue on."
Here's a look at the road ahead, with stats through Wednesday:
Friday-Sunday at Colorado
Rockies: 67-53, lead NL Wild Card race
What to know: Believe it or not, the Rockies were in an offensive rut of their own before a 17-2 rout of the Braves on Wednesday, scoring three or fewer runs in their eight previous games. … After struggling in Texas, Lucroy was 10-for-30 to start his career with Colorado after being acquired in a trade. … The Rockies bolstered their bullpen in July with right-hander Pat Neshek, who has a 0.89 ERA in 19 career appearances against Milwaukee. … The Brewers get a big boost on Sunday, when Chase Anderson is scheduled to return from the disabled list. He had a 2.89 ERA in 16 starts before suffering a left oblique strain at the end of June.
Monday-Wednesday at San Francisco
Giants: 48-74, last in NL West
What to know: The Brewers will miss Madison Bumgarner, who is scheduled to start Sunday against the Phillies. He's 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 10 career starts against Milwaukee. … The Giants have pitched well to start the month of August. Their 3.56 ERA through Wednesday trailed only the Dodgers among NL clubs. … The Brewers have lost 35 of 55 games at AT&T Park since it opened in 2000, and Milwaukee's pitchers have a 4.67 ERA there.
Aug. 25-27 at Los Angeles
Dodgers: 85-34, best record in MLB
What to know: Where to start? With Yasiel Puig's walk-off double against the White Sox on Wednesday, the Dodgers were just shy of a 116-win pace, which is the MLB regular-season record. It was the 50th win in 59 games for Los Angeles, which has not lost a series since early June. … Clayton Kershaw remains sidelined by a lower-back strain. He's throwing simulated games, but he is not expected back by the time the Brewers come to town. It appears Milwaukee will catch Trade Deadline acquisition Yu Darvish, however. … Ryan Braun, a boyhood Dodgers fan, has a 1.063 OPS and 16 extra-base hits in 25 career starts at Dodger Stadium.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell tried not to overstate the importance of their big trip.
"I don't see any productivity in that," Counsell said. "We're going to Colorado. We're playing Colorado, San Fran and L.A. That's who we play next. There's challenge every single night. I think if we play a good game, we have a really good chance to win. That's how you look at it."