The Brewers responded to their best month since 1992 with three days of duds against the East-leading New York Mets at Miller Park. Of course, nobody could expect Milwaukee to play at its .741 August clip (20-7) for the rest of the season.
But the same old bugaboos that have plagued this team much of the season reappeared, namely shoddy defense at crucial times and not hitting with runners in scoring position. And that sorry combination cost Ned Yost's club victories in the first two contests.
The Mets have been almost as hot as the Brewers of late, so that helps ease the pain, but not much. Playoff teams, especially ones with the supposed big-game and postseason experience that Milwaukee has, find ways to win games like Monday's 4-2 decision and Tuesday's 6-5 setback in 10 innings.
Fans better hope that it was simply a hiccup and not a full-fledged burp. They also better hope that the team's well-rested bullpen kicks off the rust and that Prince Fielder wakes up his slumbering batting stroke.
Still, the Brewers—with the help of red-hot Houston and lowly Washington-- had the second-best record in the National League at 80-59 heading into a four-game set against San Diego.
Milwaukee remained 41/2 games behind Chicago in the Central Division and enjoyed the same distance ahead of Philadelphia, was 51/2 in front of St. Louis and suddenly only 61/2 on top of the Astros in the wild-card standings.
So, what does that mean with 23 games left—13 at home sandwiched around a 10-game swing through Philly, Chicago and Cincinnati. Well, let's just take a look at what lies ahead and for argument sake, let's begrudgingly cede the division title to the hated Cubs—although they appear vulnerable.
So, not even considering pitching match-ups—which are cloudy to ascertain until Ben Sheets' status is known—let's say the Brewers finish 12-11, which obviously would be disappointing. But for the sake of this discussion, that's a starting point.
That would give Milwaukee 92 victories. That means the Phillies (76-64), assuming that New York hangs on to win the East, would need to go 16-6 to tie. A big factor will be how the Phils fare this weekend with three games at Shea Stadium, but with four contests head-to-head with Milwaukee, they obviously can make up a big piece of real estate in a hurry and the Brewers can't afford to get swept in that series. Philly also faces Atlanta and Florida six times apiece.
St. Louis (75-65) sits 51/2 back after losing for the fifth time in six games since Albert Pujols and the sleeping Cardinals rallied to beat the Brewers last week. And don't look now, but Houston (74-66) may be the most dangerous team in the circuit and faces only six games against teams with winning records, three at home against the Cubs and three in Florida.
Again, if the Crew goes 12-11 the rest of the way, St. Louis would need to go 18-4 and must finish ahead of Milwaukee because the Brewers won the season series, 10-5, and would win a tiebreaker. Milwaukee also won the Houston series, 8-7, meaning the Astros would need to finish 19-3.
So, the Brewers are still sitting in the driver's seat and only need to stay between the white lines to clinch their first playoff spot in 26 seasons.
Then comes the true test, starting with four games at Citizens Bank Park, a place that hasn't been friendly to Milwaukee. Then they head to Wrigley and potential redemption after getting spanked four times at home in the teams' last confrontation. And then it's a three-game set against the pesky Reds, where the Brewers took two of three the last visit—remember Fielder's potshots at Manny Parra in the opener.
The Brewers close at home with three against this year's punching bag, Pittsburgh, which Milwaukee holds an 11-1 advantage against. And then what could be a raucous three-game series to end the regular season versus Chicago.
Could the Brewers repeat the Mets' dismal collapse of a year ago? Sure, anything's possible. But methinks they have shown that they are one of the top four teams in the N.L. over the long haul and thus will earn a postseason spot, although they must play a lot better than they did the previous three days.
That starts by taking care of the inferior Padres and Reds and hitting the road with momentum. So, even though the Brewers are scheduled to face Jake Peavy and Chris Young, Milwaukee shouldn't be satisfied with anything less than a 5-2 finish to this home stand.
Accomplish that, and the Crew should be well on its way.