ST. LOUIS -- In the end it wasn't employing an opener, or bullpenning, or whatever term the analytically-minded choose to apply to the hybrid path the Brewers took to 27 outs Monday night that made the difference in a game they desperately wanted to win.In the end, it was a
ST. LOUIS -- In the end it wasn't employing an opener, or bullpenning, or whatever term the analytically-minded choose to apply to the hybrid path the Brewers took to 27 outs Monday night that made the difference in a game they desperately wanted to win.
In the end, it was a little bit of help from the opponent that pushed Milwaukee closer to clinching a spot in the postseason.
"Wins are precious and you're doing everything you can to make sure you're in the playoffs, and we're inching closer to that," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell after a 6-4 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. "We aren't quite there yet."
Christian Yelich logged his 97th and 98th RBIs and Ryan Braun homered and drove in two runs as the Brewers closed to within 1 1/2 games of the National League Central-leading Cubs and pushed another game ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card standings. Milwaukee now leads St. Louis by three games and Colorado by 3 1/2 games.
Milwaukee's magic number to clinch a postseason spot is down to three.
"Every game is the biggest game of the year. Tomorrow will now be the biggest game of the year," said Braun. "We're well aware of the circumstances and the numbers and how many games up we are, where [the Cardinals] are at, where the Rockies are. We've approached every game the same way the last couple of weeks and that's worked well for us.
"But I do think that having this experience and playing these meaningful, stressful, anxiety-filled, pressure-filled games, is something that benefits us because we've been doing it for a couple weeks. We'll show up [Tuesday] and do it the same way."
The twists and turns of Monday's game, including a 31-minute rain delay in the seventh inning, overshadowed the Brewers' surprise decision to scratch scheduled starter Chase Anderson in favor of left-handed reliever Dan Jennings, who threw three pitches and called it a day.
Eight other relievers followed including Freddy Peralta, who did the bulk of the work with 3 2/3 innings; Josh Hader, who surrendered three runs on a pair of Cardinals homers in a rainy sixth; and Joakim Soria and Corey Knebel, who covered the final six outs with closer Jeremy Jeffress unavailable because of neck spasms.
It all added up to a Brewers victory in part because the Cardinals kept stepping on themselves. Starter Jack Flaherty was outstanding until a sudden lapse of command in the top of the sixth, when he walked two batters and hit another before reliever Dakota Hudson took over and walked Braun, forcing in the first of two Brewers runs.
It was defense that let St. Louis down in the eighth, when the Brewers took the lead. An Eric Thames triple skipped past Cardinals right fielder Jose Martinez before an errant pickoff by Cards reliever Bud Norris provided the go-ahead run. Norris was throwing over to first base in an effort to hold Mike Moustakas, he of one stolen base this season.
"That's first and third, they're trying to hold a runner close in case we hit and run, squeeze or something like that," Counsell said. "So we caught a little bit of a break when the throw went away. You take the break sometimes. Sometimes you need a break, too. We got one there."
Said Cards manager Mike Shildt: "I'm always a glass-half-full guy, but it's always a little harder when you feel like you didn't take care of your own business when it was there. We didn't help ourselves."
The Brewers' victory sealed the eighth 90-win season in franchise history and guaranteed they will head home for the final series of the regular season in position for the first NL Wild Card.
They still have their sights set on the Cubs, however.
"You've seen what these guys can do this past month," Hader said. "These guys have been working at-bats and scoring guys. These guys are going to keep rolling. We want to keep the momentum going."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Heads-up baserunning: It might have looked like a mistake when Travis Shaw was tagged out between second and third to end the Brewers' half of the sixth inning, but it was actually one of the pivotal plays in the game. Shaw was one of the three Brewers who walked in that inning and was at second base when Moustakas lifted a sacrifice fly to left field. Jesus Aguilar was the runner at third, and as the throw headed home, Shaw broke for third and induced third baseman Jedd Gyorko to cut off the baseball and go for the out. Aguilar touched home a moment before Gyorko applied the tag.
"First of all, it was a great send by [third-base coach Ed Sedar]," said Counsell. "It was a very nice, aggressive play by Eddy. I don't think the throw gets to the plate. The question, to me, is could it have been cut and thrown home. Travis did really nice baserunning to put himself in the vision of Gyorko. It was a good play all around. Good play by Eddy. Good play by Travis."
Cards get to Hader: By the bottom of the sixth, the Brewers had a lead and the man they wanted on the mound in Hader, the dominant lefty who had struck out 17 of the last 20 batters he faced before a three-batter flurry, bookended by Martinez's solo home run and Marcell Ozuna's two-run shot in the rain, gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. Entering the night, Hader had surrendered six home runs all season, and only once had allowed more than one homer in a game. That was in July against the Marlins.
Hader's fastball velocity, down a tick to a 94.2 mph average, indicated he may have been having trouble gripping the baseball.
"I can't use that as an excuse," Hader said. "I made mistakes, left two pitches over the middle. That hurt me. The walk didn't help as well. … It was wet; it was raining. Obviously, it's not the easiest thing. But I made a mistake, threw two fastballs down the middle. You saw what happened."
JENNINGS GETS THE START
A number of players were out for dinner Sunday night after the team charter landed in St. Louis, debating who would get the start after Counsell announced Anderson was being skipped. Jennings didn't find out it was him until he got a text from an unfamiliar number Monday morning.
That number belonged to Counsell.
"Somebody asked me if I was going to go five tonight before the game and I said, "Five pitches or five innings?'" Jennings joked.
The idea, Counsell confirmed later, was limiting Peralta's exposure to Carpenter, the Cardinals' left-handed-hitting leadoff man and MVP candidate. The Brewers knew they didn't have enough left-handers to cover all of Carpenter's at-bats, so they made the strategic decision to get the left-on-left matchup they wanted for the first at-bat, then see if Peralta could cover the second.
The first part worked, but the second did not. Carpenter hit an RBI double off Peralta in the third inning.
Did Jennings see the future of baseball in Monday's exercise?
"I kind of hope not," he said, "just because I really do see a value in having starting pitchers and relievers. That's what we grew up with and if it is going to shift in that direction, maybe the guys coming up will be more used to it and implemented at lower levels just to get guys used to it. ... Tonight, it seemed a little more like we're going to have all hands on deck because we need to win this game."
HE SAID IT
"I almost took the base out and held it over my head." -- Thames, on his triple. He entered the night hitting .125 since the start of August and has slipped into a bench role with the addition of Curtis Granderson to the outfield mix
The Brewers won't mess around with an opener Tuesday, when veteran left-hander Giovany Gonzalez takes the mound for his fourth Milwaukee start. The Brewers have won each of their first three games behind Gonzalez, who is coming off six scoreless innings against the Reds in his most recent outing. He'll work opposite Cardinals left-hander Austin Gomber in the 7:15 p.m. CT affair.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.