MIAMI -- It’s mid-September and the surging Brewers are making noise in the postseason chase. Experiencing deja vu yet?
Ryan Braun homered and the bullpen went five scoreless innings as the Brewers extended their winning streak to a season-high-tying seven in Thursday’s 3-2 victory over the Marlins.
Milwaukee (78-68) remained tied with the Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot with 16 regular-season contests remaining. The Crew is 10 games over .500 for the first time since June 12 (39-29).
“If the season ended today, I’d be a little happier,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Look, we’ve got whatever we’ve got left. It’s not a one-game season; it’s 16 left. We’ve got a lot of teams around us. There’s teams that are still ahead of us that are within reach, and we’ll keep shooting for that."
When the Brewers dropped their series opener to the Cubs last Thursday at Miller Park, they fell five games back in the standings. A week later, they entered play even with Chicago for a postseason berth.
Last September, the Brewers went 19-7 to erase the Cubs’ five-game division deficit and force a tiebreaker in Game 163 that they would win.
“It feels a lot like last September,” Braun said. “I think kind of the same formula where everyone on the roster is contributing. We're experienced playing in these circumstances and this type of situation. Last year toward the end, basically we knew we had to win every single day, and we've taken that approach over the last seven or eight days, and it's worked well for us.”
Braun, wearing Yelich’s jersey underneath his own for the second consecutive game, hit a go-ahead two-run homer to right field to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead in the third. He flashed “22” with his hands after crossing home plate.
“Like I said yesterday, wasn't a good day for me individually, but the only thing that matters this time of year is winning,” said Braun, who had gone hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts in Wednesday’s win. “And we're all somewhat superstitious. As long as we keep winning, I can't change anything up. I had it on again today.
“Threw up the double deuces for him. He texted me, 'It's about time you hit a homer. It's been a while.' Forty-fifth homer that's been hit in this jersey this year.”
The rebuilding Marlins got a firsthand look at how potent this Brewers bullpen can be, which locked down three close games.
“The way Craig uses his bullpen in September right now, it can be a big advantage for them,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He can always bring a fresh guy in. It's hard to do that when you've used the same guys over the course of the year. But obviously he's aggressive in the 'pen early in games. He will do that with you and try to match up the best he can.”
Next up for the Brewers is a pivotal weekend series with the NL Central-leading Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Milwaukee is four games behind St. Louis.
While scoreboard watching has focused on the Wild Card of late, the division is still within reach.
“We’ve responded really well. We’ve had some perspective in this all along because of what has happened previously to a lot of those guys in that clubhouse, whether it was 2017, last year, making the run at the end of September,” Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager David Stearns said. “I think everyone knew there was a lot of baseball left. There still is a lot of baseball left, and it really comes down to how we’re playing and how we’re clicking.
“We have a lot of baseball left. We’re playing teams that are still competing at a high level, and so it’s going to be an exciting couple weeks. But to make up the ground we’ve made up in the standings in a week certainly helps, and that’s not easy to do and we recognize that.”