As quietly as possible, in four games, the Milwaukee Brewers swept major league baseball’s best team.
As quietly as possible, the Brewers seemed to fix every problem that had sent them on a slide to the bottom of the National League to start 2012. The dominant pitching of 2011 was back, including an impressive debut win from a lightly-regarded prospect in Michael Fiers. And when it seemed to matter most, the Brewers bats started to come alive, grabbing timely hit after timely hit, even without one of the league’s hottest hitters in the lineup.
As quietly as possible, the Brewers might have found their mojo out in Hollywood.
Eight games back in the NL Central on May 27, players in the team’s clubhouse even expressed that the team’s two-month slump was no longer easily brushed off. But sweeping the team with the best record in baseball at their own ballpark does a number for a team that clearly lacked confidence before its trip to California.
“We feel great,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I feel great with the way we played. We haven’t been consistent in what we’ve been doing, and for four games we were.”
On Wednesday, the lack of confidence that plagued them recently seemed to drift away. Milwaukee played a sound, unflashy, balanced brand of baseball — controlling the mound, getting the timely hit, and playing strong defense — to regain, at least partially, the swagger that had slowly diminished over the past two months.
And as expected, that swift resurgence began on the mound. A poster boy for quiet dominance, Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke bounced back from a season-worst outing in Phoenix to one of his best in Los Angeles on Thursday night. And for a full series, the rest of the pitching staff seemed to have followed the same formula.
In 26 innings of work, the Brewers’ four starters at Dodger Stadium allowed just six earned runs, good for a dominant ERA of 2.07. That wasn’t without allowing a handful of hits though, as Milwaukee’s starters routinely got out of tough jams, mostly on the laurels of the team’s impressive defensive performance.
The bullpen was no slouch either, overcoming its inconsistencies this season to tally a 1.80 ERA with two runs in 10 innings of work in the series. Closer John Axford looked like the pitcher that saved 49 consecutive games between this year and last. And important contributors out of the pen like Manny Parra and Kameron Loe had their moments of authority as well.
Nothing could have helped the Brewers more than a string of strong performances on the mound. And according to third baseman Aramis Ramirez, that was why the Brewers found so much success in the second half of their west coast trip.
“I think it’s the pitching,” Ramirez said after Thursday night’s game. “We really didn’t hit all that well. We have to be better, but it’s the pitching. … They all did a great job. That’s why we’re winning ball games.”
And Ramirez is right, of course. Pitching was what gave the Brewers a degree of consistency in 2011 that had been absent from the majority of the team’s games this season. With a huge hit in the power department in the offseason, the Brewers had been trying too hard at the plate at times in April and May, forcing things and falling deeper into a slump.
Pitching is the way out of that slump, and after stringing four straight solid performances together, the Brewers might just be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We sure should be heading in the right direction,” Roenicke said. “I know we’ve had the setbacks with what’s been going on here. But with these games it should give them a lift. We can compete with anybody.”
Whether they can continue to beat teams above them in the standings remains to be seen. But lucky for the Brewers, out of their next five opponents — Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota, and Kansas City — only one of those teams (the Pirates at 25-25) have a better record at this point. So if there’s any time to make a move up the division ladder, it’s now.
And on Thursday night, the Brewers may have shown us that they’re ready to start the climb.