ST. LOUIS -- Believe it or not, Craig Counsell could think of worse ways to snap a seven-game winning streak than the 10-0 beating his Brewers suffered against the Cardinals on Friday night.
The Brewers came to Busch Stadium with a head of steam and a share of the National League’s second Wild Card spot only to be thumped in the opener of a hyped three-game series. Paul Goldschmidt hit a pair of home runs that totaled seven RBIs, and Adam Wainwright pitched the first six innings of the Cardinals’ two-hit shutout to deny Milwaukee an eighth straight win and a first taste of 11 games over .500 this season.
Instead, the Brewers fell to 78-69, five games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central and one game behind the Cubs in the chase for the second Wild Card with 15 games to play.
If they were going to lose, Counsell, the manager bullpenning his way through another September, could envision a scenario in which a less lopsided score actually could have hurt more.
“I mean, it’s a loss. That’s it,” Counsell said. “In some ways, the way we’re structured right now, we lost the game but I don’t feel like we used any capital in our bullpen. We’ve pushed those guys pretty hard and we got some key guys some rest. So from that perspective, it’s just a loss. We move on.”
Counsell asked a lot of his “A” relievers to secure three straight wins over the Cubs last weekend at Miller Park followed by a four-game sweep of the Marlins in Miami. On Friday, after Goldschmidt’s grand slam off Adrian Houser gave St. Louis a 4-0 lead in the third inning, Counsell pitched some of his lesser-used bullpen arms. Devin Williams, Jake Faria, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Williams finished the game. Of that group, only Faria appeared in the Miami series.
That long view did little to satisfy Houser, who found trouble after Wainwright hit a one-out double in the third inning to start a rally that culminated with Goldschmidt’s grand slam. Three innings later, after Wainwright had completed a scoreless outing that included the Brewers’ two hits -- Trent Grisham’s single leading off the game and Orlando Arcia’s two-out single in the second -- Goldschmidt added a three-run home run off Nelson that finished a six-run inning for St. Louis.
“That was super disappointing. I have to be better than that, especially the way the team has been playing,” Houser said. “I didn’t give the boys a chance to win the game tonight. I have to be better and give them a chance.”
“Ultimately,” Counsell said, “the Wainwright double, that kind of sets that inning up. It’s two outs, nobody on if he can retire him.”
Houser had been on a good run for the Brewers, entering the game with a 2.81 ERA in his last eight starts since rejoining the rotation in late July.
When Nelson split home plate with a sinker in the sixth, Goldschmidt hit it to the left-center field bleachers for a 10-run lead. The three-run homer followed Kolten Wong’s two-run single off Nelson.
“They got me, too. They struck me out twice today,” Goldschmidt said. “And last series, I didn’t do that well against them. Back and forth, you face a team that many times, there are going to be games where you have success and times where they get you out.”
The Cardinals’ co-players of the game are all too familiar to Brewers fans. Wainwright lowered his ERA against the Brewers to 2.45 in 246 career innings, second best all time among qualified pitchers (minimum 140 innings, according to Stats, Inc.). Roger Clemens tops that list with a 2.25 ERA. And Goldschmidt boosted a career OPS against the Brewers that stood at 1.102 entering the night, fifth best all time among qualified hitters (minimum 150 at-bats) and tops among active players. In 17 games this season, Goldschmidt is hitting .318 (21-for-66) against the Brewers with eight home runs and 20 RBIs.
“He’s crushing us this year,” Brewers first baseman Eric Thames said. “He had that three-homer game [at Miller Park.] I don’t know what the thing is, if he sees the ball well against us. I know his history with Arizona in our park was that he saw the ball well. Maybe he just likes facing the Milwaukee boys, I don’t know. Yeah, he killed us today.”
“He did a good job,” Thames said. “In the big leagues, if you get a pitch to hit, you have to hit it. You can’t foul it off. I don’t care who you are, if [he is] throwing 85 or 95. You can’t miss mistakes. He shoved today, and I guess their whole bullpen shoved after that, too.”
The scoreboard will be reset by Saturday night.
“At this point, every game counts and we know it,” Thames said. “So, it is tough to turn the page, but we have to. It’s just our job.”