PHOENIX -- At the 100-game mark of the Brewers’ season, manager Craig Counsell hasn’t seen his team “clicking on all cylinders” yet. But maybe they’re just now getting rolling.
Mike Moustakas hit a go-ahead, three-run homer to power the Crew to an 8-3 victory over the D-backs on Saturday night at Chase Field. It was Milwaukee’s fourth win in five games as it moved ahead of Philadelphia and St. Louis in the race for the second National League Wild Card, taking a half-game lead. The Brewers are three games back of the Cubs in the NL Central.
“We have to worry about playing well. You expect [the Cubs] to play well, you expect teams to play better, but you expect us to play better,” Counsell said before the game. “I think we can say team-wide we haven’t created consistency. That’s not a pitching issue, that’s a team-wide thing.”
For seven innings, it seemed this night might not be different. The Brewers’ offense didn’t do much against D-backs ace Zack Greinke, tallying only two runs -- on a Ryan Braun single in the fourth and an Eric Thames homer in the sixth -- and starter Gio Gonzalez allowed three runs in four-plus innings in his return from the injured list.
But after Greinke’s departure, the Brewers capitalized. Facing D-backs left-hander Andrew Chafin, Christian Yelich led off the eighth with a single, then Braun walked. Moustakas followed with an opposite-field home run to left, his 26th of the season, to give the Brewers a 5-3 lead, their first of the game.
“I was just looking for a fastball out over the plate, and I ended up getting one and didn’t miss it,” Moustakas said. “Any time you can go up two against a team that had had our number for most of the day, obviously it’s huge for us.”
The Crew tacked on three runs in the ninth on a Yelich RBI double and a Keston Hiura two-run single.
After Gonzalez departed, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress combined to pitch five scoreless innings of relief. Hader, the Crew’s All-Star closer, has been dominant this season, and he was again as he entered in the eighth with a runner on third and one out, then struck out both batters he faced.
But much of the rest of the Brewers’ relief corps has struggled, so it was encouraging to have Peralta fan four over two hitless frames and Houser earn the win with 1 1/3 strong innings in his first outing since being moved back to the ‘pen.
“Freddy’s doing phenomenal, I think he’s trusting his stuff and he’s starting to pitch with his ability to move the ball around and put it where he wants,” Gonzalez said. “Same thing with Houser. The guys looked great and comfortable, and it’s just good to see those guys getting their comfort back and attacking the zone.”
The Brewers have only two series wins since June 10, but they’ll have an opportunity to take this four-game series in the desert on Sunday. And if they can continue to build momentum over the next week, it’s likely they could be buyers ahead of the July 31 Trade Deadline, perhaps adding an arm to their rotation and/or bullpen.
Before the Crew’s series win over the Braves earlier this week, it went 9-17 during a stretch against all sub-.500 teams. A game like Saturday’s may not have turned in the Brewers’ favor when they were struggling over that span.
But this could be the beginning of a push that solidifies Milwaukee’s spot in the postseason and brings the consistency that Counsell has been seeking.
“They got a good outing from their starter, but we kept it close with some good pitching of our own, and then we had a really good inning against a reliever who’s having a great year,” Counsell said. “Good late add-on runs, and that stuff’s important. … Offense, pitching, that’s all connected, man. It counts in all ways, and everybody did a good job.”