MILWAUKEE — When the Brewers last left Milwaukee, the clubhouse was full of players and coaches searching for answers.
The bullpen was exhausted and had just coughed up another game, a starting pitcher had to pinch hit with the tying run on third base in extra innings. The starting pitchers couldn’t go deep in a game and the offense couldn’t scratch runs across the plate.
Fast forward two weeks and the clubhouse had a totally different feeling as the Brewers packed up for a six-game trip to San Diego and Los Angeles as the hottest team in baseball.
Since dropping to 2-8 last Saturday, the Brewers have won seven in a row, including Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Cubs to finish the homestand 6-0.
Just how historic has the quick turnaround been? Well, the Brewers are now the first team in the history of baseball to start 2-8 and then win seven straight games to go to 9-8.
Add in the fact Milwaukee rode a franchise-record scoreless streak of 32 innings into the eighth inning of the first win of the winning streak, and the turnaround is mind-boggling.
“It’s a crazy game,” Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. “There’s no rhyme or reason for why things seem to happen. You just continue to compete, try to stay optimistic and stay positive and things can turn around quickly like they have for us. It’s nice to be playing good baseball.”
Just it seemed the Brewers could do nothing right in all aspects during the first 10 games of the season, they are doing the big things and the little things right during the winning streak.
Unlike during the sweep of San Francisco to start the homestand, the Brewers didn’t mash the ball against the Cubs. The Brewers were outhit in all three games, and the Cubs could make a strong argument they gift wrapped the last two with many defensive blunders.
But the Brewers took advantage and made Chicago pay for every mistake. It started right away Friday when they used Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s error to fuel four runs in the first inning. Saturday the Cubs allowed four unearned runs, but the Brewers still had to execute in order to score.
The Cubs just had to have a bad feeling when starter Scott Feldman booted an easy comebacker that should have ended the inning but instead gave Braun a chance to hit in the fifth inning. Feldman hung a curveball and Braun didn’t miss it, crushing a three-run home run and giving the Brewers their final margin of victory at 4-2.
Braun is 5-for-32 in his last nine games, striking out three times in four of those games, but also has four home runs and 10 RBI. Just like the Brewers, he’s making his count.
“Good teams take advantage of mistakes,” Braun, who was ejected in the eighth inning for tossing his bat after a questionable strike three call by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, said. “When an opponent makes a mistake and you are a good team, you have to find a way to win. We were able to do that the last couple days.
“It starts with the pitching. We’ve gotten really good starting pitching, the bullpen has been great and when other teams do make mistakes we’ve been able to take advantage of it. We’ve done a lot of little things right. We’re bunting and getting guys over, we’re stealing bases and we’re doing some things well. We haven’t gotten a lot of hits but the ones we have gotten have counted. We’ve just found a way to win.”
And it hasn’t just been timely hitting and offensive execution getting the job done for the Brewers. Milwaukee has played good defense, got good performances from its starting pitchers in five of the six games on the homestand and has seen its bullpen right the ship in a hurry.
With Jim Henderson solidifying the closer’s role for the time being, the Brewers bullpen has settled in and posted a 1.86 ERA over 19-1/3 innings against the Giants and Cubs.
“Things are really on a roll and everybody is picking each other up,” Brewers reliever John Axford said of the bullpen. “That’s something that we talked about. We are going to be together a lot down there, and we are our own team. We are always going to try and pick each other up. That’s something we’ve been really to focus on lately.”
On the other side of things, the Cubs are going through the frustrations the Brewers saw in the season’s first 10 games. There’s a fine line between winning and losing in baseball and this three-game was evidence enough to support that claim.
“It’s not like we really outhit them that much,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “Those three games can turn around and go either way, so that part is frustrating (for the Cubs). We went through it early in the season and most likely we are going to go through it again this season. It’s the ups and downs.”
While the Padres are the second-worst team in baseball at 5-13 and the Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak Sunday, the Brewers know just showing up and expecting their run of solid all-around play won’t cut it, especially in two places where historically Milwaukee hasn’t had a lot of success.
But the long plane ride is going to be a lot more enjoyable knowing the rough start is a thing of the past.
“It’s nice to come here and pick up six wins, seven in a row now,” Axford said. “We know what we want to accomplish going on the road now, too. We want to keep playing this type of baseball we have been playing, small ball and big ball when we need to and pitching in the clutch situations.”