MILWAUKEE -- How excited was Willy Adames to be back in the Brewers’ lineup on Monday? So excited that he couldn’t sleep on Sunday night. So excited that he’d been “annoying” manager Craig Counsell in recent days as the date approached, his skipper said with a smile.
Can you blame him? Even after a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals at American Family Field in Adames’ return to action, the Brewers can clinch the National League Central with just a split of this four-game series against St. Louis.
“I’m like a little kid, man,” Adames said on Monday afternoon. “I could barely sleep last night because I was so happy I was going to play today.”
Avisaíl García and Luis Urías hit solo home runs in the second inning to make it a 2-2 tie against Jon Lester after two innings, but the Brewers provided no resistance at all after that and Yadier Molina drove in a pair of runs as the Cardinals won a ninth straight game to strengthen their hold of the National League’s second Wild Card spot.
The Brewers’ magic number to clinch the division remained stuck at three for a second straight day as Adames returned from a 12-game absence due to a left quadriceps strain with an 0-for-4 night.
“We’ve been working a lot and working hard to try to push it so that I can be kind of normal, and I feel really comfortable right now,” Adames said. “I would say I’m almost 100 [percent]. I feel really good. I’m feeling like it’s going to be good the rest of the year.”
The Brewers could use another offensive boost from Adames, who proved to be a difference-maker almost immediately after arriving in a May 21 trade with Tampa Bay. He’s hitting .291 as a Brewer with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs, and the team is 70-36 since he walked through the clubhouse door in Cincinnati the day after the trade.
Now Adames returns amid what qualifies as a lull for a team at 91 wins with 12 regular season games to go. The Brewers have lost four of their last six games as they close on the division crown, and Christian Yelich was dropped to the five-hole on Monday as he went 0-for-3 and fell to 6-for-41 over his last 10 games. Yelich hadn’t started a game below the cleanup spot since 2015 with the Marlins.
“Overall, we haven’t done enough offensively,” Counsell said. “It’s been a dry week except for maybe one or two good innings. We’re in a spot where our pitchers have to be darn near perfect.”
Freddy Peralta wasn’t perfect, but he delivered six quality innings while throwing 96 pitches -- his most since prior to a stint on the IL for shoulder inflammation. One strike away from a clean first inning, Tyler O’Neill hit a two-out single before Nolan Arenado hit a two-run home run to establish an early Cardinals lead. Peralta then rebounded before surrendering Molina’s tiebreaking single in a hard-fought sixth.
What was it like to turn around and see Adames back at shortstop?
“It was pretty good to have him back,” Peralta said. “Every day, we could tell he was trying to be back as soon as he could. What I think is it was great that they gave him enough time to come back where he is healthy for the rest of the season.”
Just like with García, who missed parts of five games with low back stiffness, the Brewers took a cautious approach with Adames given their commanding place in the standings -- 10 1/2 games up on second-place St. Louis after Monday’s loss. Adames took part in a series of high-intensity baserunning exercises over the past week-plus and had been seeing velocity off the pitching machine.
That will be the biggest challenge as he rejoins a Brewers team that has already clinched a postseason berth: Readjusting to live arms.
“It’s really hard when you’re not seeing pitchers for two weeks, but we tried to do as much as we can with the machine to [simulate] game situations, and during BP I was trying to tell the guys to push it a little bit more, just so I can get used to it,” Adames said. “At this point in the season, you just have to get ready for the playoffs.
“We’ve got two weeks. I think that will get me ready.”