MILWAUKEE — Without hesitation, Carlos Gomez confidently proclaimed this Brewers team has more talent than any of the five he’s been on since coming to Milwaukee.
Yes, including the 2011 team that set a franchise record with 96 wins and fell two wins short of reaching the World Series.
"I think this year is better," Gomez said. "When you look at the lineup this year, (we are strong) from the leadoff to eight. We have Scooter (Gennett) swinging the bat good, Ryan (Braun), (Jonathan) Lucroy, Aramis (Ramirez), me, Khris Davis. And then you see seven and eight — Seggy, (Mark) Reynolds. It’s really scary."
Only time will tell how Milwaukee’s 2014 squad will stack up with the four previous Brewers teams that have made the playoffs. But despite a three-game losing streak, Milwaukee will enter play on the Fourth of July with the best record in the National League and on a better pace than when the Brewers made the playoffs in 2011, 2008, 1982 and 1981.
The Brewers were one of two teams in baseball who hadn’t been swept until they dropped both games of a short series in Toronto this week.
One of the better traits the Brewers have shown over their first 86 games is a consistent ability to put the previous day behind them. Be it a win or a 16-inning loss, Milwaukee moves on to the next task at hand quickly. The Brewers are bothered by losses, but there is a true belief inside the clubhouse that they will get back on track the next day.
"They’re confident, for one," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of his team’s resiliency. "They are confident that they can all do it. I think it is just playing in today’s game and not being concerned with what’s happening tomorrow or the next series, how far ahead we are. We all see it, because if you watch any TV you are going to see it. So for me to say I don’t know what is going on is silly if I pay attention to what you guys tell me and get it in the news, but I try not to. I really don’t know what is going on past what I feel like I need to plan for.
"I really think these guys do a great job of that. I think they really plan on what is happening today. If we have a bad game, they don’t care. They worry about, ‘OK, who do we have tomorrow and how do we beat this team?’ I think thinking this way, with the veterans kind of taking charge of that, I think it keeps us in today’s moment instead of worrying about what’s going on."
Despite having dropped their last three, the Brewers still hold the largest division lead in baseball — 5 1/2 games over St. Louis. The Cardinals have maintained their hold on second place, but the Pirates and Reds are two of the National League’s hottest teams of late.
Cincinnati is 18-12 since the beginning of June, while Pittsburgh is 19-10 over the same time period. Both teams have overcome a slow start to put themselves right back in the mix.
"Our division is starting to play like I thought they would," Roenicke said. "Pittsburgh is playing way better, St. Louis is starting to do their thing and Cincinnati has been playing great. So, these teams are all going to be all up there trying to catch us. We need to somehow stay out there and not let that happen."
To Roenicke, the key to not letting the teams chasing the Brewers catch up is maintaining solid starting pitching. Milwaukee’s starting staff has produced a 3.74 ERA, good for ninth-best in the National League. Cincinnati and St. Louis are tied for the second-best ERA by starting pitchers in the National League at 3.27, while Chicago is eighth at 3.72.
"We are in a division where all five teams have five starters that can beat you on any night," Roenicke said. "To be able to stay with those guys and play with everybody, you have to have the same pitching.
"I feel like, our five guys when they go out there, I really believe they give us a chance to win every single night. Even when they are off that night, they are still giving us a chance. With our offense, if they are only giving up three runs and they go five or six innings, or if they are giving up four runs, we have a good chance to win that ballgame."
In order to help ensure the starters continue to pitch well, Roenicke has had conversations with bench coach Jerry Narron and pitching coach Rick Kranitz to try and come up with ways to keep the members of the rotation fresh.
Roenicke wouldn’t get into detail as to some of the discussed options but said the leading candidate right now is just keeping the rotation as is around the All-Star break, meaning not picking and choosing who to start before and after the four-day break.
"We’re planning on keeping it that way," Roenicke said. "It works out with these two off days (Monday and Thursday of this week), if we want Kyle (Lohse) to pitch the last day before the All-Star break, we could skip somebody and get him that last start. We could go there and jump him in right back after, but then he doesn’t get a break. We thought about these things and thought it was just better to play them out and see how it goes."
The Brewers face the Reds for three games this weekend and the Cardinals for three games next weekend, both important series before the All-Star break. St. Louis and Cincinnati are viewing their matchups with Milwaukee as an opportunity to really get back into the division race before the start of the unofficial second half of the season.
If Milwaukee plays .500 baseball over its final 76 games, the Brewers would finish with 89 wins. As of Thursday, the Washington Nationals hold the second Wild Card spot and are on pace for 89 victories. The Brewers have but themselves in great shape to at least be in the playoff picture down the stretch and can return to the postseason by simply continuing to do what they’ve done all year.
"There’s still a lot of baseball left, a long ways to go," Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun said. "We’re excited with the way that we’ve played so far, but there’s still a lot of baseball left."