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Crew confident amid skid as rivals gain steam

Counsell happy with squad's play, attributes sweep to hard luck, Pirates' surge
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell believes his squad is playing good baseball, even if the scoreboard suggests otherwise.

The latest box scores indicate cause for concern. The Brewers fell to the Pirates, 4-2, on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park as Pittsburgh completed a four-game sweep. The loss was the Brewers' fifth in a row, matching their longest losing streak of the season. What was once a 5 1/2-game lead at the All-Star break is now just a one-game lead over the surging Cubs, who have won six straight to begin the second half. The Pirates, who have won 11 of 13, are three games back.

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PITTSBURGH -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell believes his squad is playing good baseball, even if the scoreboard suggests otherwise.

The latest box scores indicate cause for concern. The Brewers fell to the Pirates, 4-2, on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park as Pittsburgh completed a four-game sweep. The loss was the Brewers' fifth in a row, matching their longest losing streak of the season. What was once a 5 1/2-game lead at the All-Star break is now just a one-game lead over the surging Cubs, who have won six straight to begin the second half. The Pirates, who have won 11 of 13, are three games back.

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But the Brewers aren't panicking. At least, not yet.

"We just played four tough games against a team that's playing really well. … I really don't have any problems with how we're playing," Counsell said. "We are playing good baseball, [but] some things haven't gone our way."

Things started going wrong for the Brewers again on Thursday. After taking 2-1 lead in the fourth, their starter Jimmy Nelson surrendered a home run to Gregory Polanco in the bottom of the frame. He then gave up a couple of flares in the fifth that allowed the Pirates score the go-ahead run, plus one for insurance.

Video: MIL@PIT: Counsell on team's hard luck, being swept

The sequence was a microcosm of the series. The Brewers were only outscored by six runs over the four games, and they led at some point in every game. But they couldn't string together hits in key situations, hitting just 5-of-30 (.167) with RISP. Meanwhile the Pirates were 9-of-31 (.290) in the series. Pittsburgh rallied from a three-run hole on Tuesday, and tied the game in the ninth and walked off in the 10th on Wednesday.

"We didn't play poorly, we just didn't get that next hit. They got the next hit," Counsell said. "I'll say it again: Just keep getting men on base. You are worried when you are not getting anybody on base. That's when it's quiet and that's when nothing is happening.

"I am confident in our offense. We are going to score runs. I think that is a place we have been very consistent all year, and I think that will pick up for sure."

Counsell also liked the way his starters performed in the series. Right-hander Junior Guerra faced the minimum through five on Tuesday before giving up two home runs in the sixth. Zach Davies didn't allow an earned run in seven innings on Wednesday, and Nelson only coughed up three hits before falling victim to some soft contact.

That's why the Brewers aren't worried about the Cubs gaining ground. A couple of more timely hits could have changed the series in Pittsburgh. The Brewers have faced adversity before. They are confident they can do it again.

"We're still in first place," Nelson said. "You're not going to win every single game, you're not going to win every single series. But there's a lot of games left to be played and we know what we're capable of. It doesn't make us question our ability by any means. We're all still just as confident, and we know what we can do."

Jonathan Toye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Milwaukee Brewers