September and October have a way of separating the wheat from the chaff in baseball, and it sure did with the Brewers.
And while not all of the pressure and responsibility should fall on the shoulders of starting pitchers, they're the ones who set the tone for their teams and in a ball game.
That scenario played out again Sunday at Miller Park as Philadelphia, which has feasted on Brewers starter Jeff Suppan in the past, took big bites out of the right-hander with three homers in the first three innings for a 5-0 lead en route to a 6-2 victory that clinched a spot in the National League Championship Series.
Suppan had everybody fooled. Overcoming a mediocre 2007 season plus four months this summer, he finished 5-0 in August.
But at closer glance, like Milwaukee's 20-7 finish during the dog days, Suppan's perfect mark and 3.00 earned-run average were a wolf in sheep's clothing. The veteran who was signed to a four-year, $40 million contract on Christmas Eve of 2006 did it against bottom feeders Atlanta, Cincinnati and San Diego once apiece and Pittsburgh twice.
When the team needed him and his big-game and postseason experience the most, Suppan didn't deliver. Actually, he's failed miserably.
Suppan finished 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA in five starts, giving up 20 earned runs and 34 hits in 21.1 innings in September. That averages to about 4.1 innings per outing, which included back-to-back games of 3.2 and two innings.
That's just not good enough or acceptable from somebody the organization called an innings eater, one of the main reasons general manager Doug Melvin and company obtained his services.
Those numbers were even higher before his regular-season finale in which he gave up only one run in five frames against Chicago, which had already clinched everything at that point.
Then came Sunday afternoon's clunker against Philadelphia in Game 4 of the divisional series, a do-or-die situation for the Brewers in their first postseason since 1982.
Suppan put the Brewers in a hole from the first at-bat as Jimmy Rollins drilled a homer to right for a 1-0 Phillies lead. Then came the game-deciding third inning, when he gave up a two-strike, two-out three-run homer to Pat Burrell. The next batter, Jayson Werth, clubbed another offering over the fence deep to left-center for a 5-0 advantage. And if that wasn't bad enough, they are both right-handed hitters who shouldn't have gotten such good swings at offerings that must have looked like beach balls because of poor location.
Big-time, big-game pitchers—especially those earning more than $10 million per season—find ways to get batters out with two strikes and/or two outs. Suppan proved he doesn't have the stuff to do it.
And it's not like this is the first time. Coincidental or not, Suppan also turned in a subpar performance during the team's swoon last year in July and August, finishing 0-4 before rallying in the final month.
Suppan wasn't the only Brewers' player to struggle since Sept. 1, far from it. But times like Sunday are why the team signed him and why he's got the biggest salary. However, he failed to deliver a big-money performance.