MILWAUKEE — Following a lackluster and downright ugly 9-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park on Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers held a players-only meeting in the clubhouse.
It’s time to start playing like the season is on the line.
"A sense of urgency is something we need to get ahold of," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "We, as a team, need to do it as a unit. Something like (Sunday’s loss) kind of wakes you up.
"We got punched in the mouth today. It’s about time we woke up from the little trance we’ve been in and move forward here."
Facing the Cardinals in a four-game series presented the Brewers with an opportunity to get back into the National League Central race.
Instead, the Brewers will wake up Monday morning in third place in the division.
The Brewers have gone from division leaders for 150 consecutive days to five games out with 19 games to play. After winning three of four games from Milwaukee, St. Louis appears on its way to yet another division crown.
From errant pickoff throws to simple tosses from back in from the outfield getting past two defenders and rolling all the way to the third-base dugout, the Brewers looked disinterested in the series finale.
A stretch of 11 losses in 12 games has knocked Milwaukee out of a postseason spot if the season were to end Sunday. Pittsburgh now leads the way for the final wild-card spot by 1/2 game over the Brewers and the Atlanta Braves.
"We’ve played really poorly in all facets of the game, and when you do that over a long period of time against good teams, this is the result," Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun said. "We worked so hard for the first (five) months of the season to put ourselves in a good position coming into this month. This is when baseball is supposed to be fun, and it is not any fun when we are playing like this.
"We just need to find a way to create better energy. The energy is not good when we are going like this, it’s not. We’re not pitching, we are not playing good defense, we are not hitting. We have to find a way to do all of those things better, but ultimately just the whole vibe, the mindset, the energy has to be better. We have to find a way to come out and be positive."
It’s not just one area in which the Brewers are struggling. The starting pitchers are 1-9 with a 6.64 ERA over Milwaukee’s last 12 games, while the offense has averaged just 2.4 runs per game and the defense has made 13 errors.
"We played earlier in the year, just I think, we enjoyed the game more," Braun said. "It was a lot of fun. We played free, we played loose, we played energetic, we played enthusiastic and we haven’t done that at all over the last couple of weeks. Part of that is winning versus losing, but we have to find a way as a team to come out and have better energy regardless of how things are going."
Although he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright entered Sunday with a 5.28 ERA in his last seven starts. He needed 100 pitches to throw a complete game against the Brewers, allowing a ninth-inning run to lose his shutout.
The trend of falling behind early continued Sunday, as Jimmy Nelson allowed four runs in the fourth inning. Milwaukee has found itself trailing by two runs or more during the first four innings in 10 of its last 12 games and down by three runs or more in 9 of 12.
"There’s no excuse . . . it’s tough," Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez said. "We know we not play like a team. Just put it in the past and come tomorrow and win the (expletive) game.
"We all did not expect this. But we do it, and we have to deal with it. Tomorrow is a new day. We got kicked today. Just come tomorrow and play the game right and win the (expletive) game."
Sloppy defense contributed to St. Louis’ four-run fourth inning, as Jean Segura threw high to first base to allow Jon Jay to reach on an infield single to start the frame. Nelson then threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt, sending Jay to second.
Things got real ugly defensively in the seventh. A throwing error by catcher Martin Maldonado allowed a run to score, while, although it was ruled a hit, Segura again threw the ball away on a throw to first.
In the eighth inning, Gerardo Parra’s throw back into the infield after a catch got by second baseman Scooter Gennett and Segura before third baseman Aramis Ramirez cut the ball off in front of the third-base dugout. The error allowed Jhonny Peralta to scamper to second base.
"This was a game we needed to win, just like yesterday — we come out and play a bad ballgame," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It’s hard. I watch the guys work and I watch the effort they put in and then we play like this."
It is fair to wonder if the players-only meeting will have any impact and if it does, is there enough time left to turn things around?
The Brewers still feel they still can right the ship but it needs to happen now. A drastic change of play has to occur in the coming days, as there just simply aren’t many signs pointing to the likelihood of a turnaround.
"It’s tough," Roenicke said. "We play that well for five months, we grind it out, and then we go through stretches like this. It’s tough. I still think we’re going to play well, but they have to believe that, and we have to see it. We need guys to compete and get out there and get after it and not have these games."
"There’s plenty of time left, but we better get it going. We can’t keep saying this and 10 days from now, keep saying it."
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Brewers either, as the Miami Marlins come to Miller Park also fighting for their postseason lives. Seen as a long shot to grab one of the wild-card spots, the Marlins could tie the Brewers with a sweep of the four-game series.
More than likely, Miami is going to have that sense of urgency Milwaukee is desperately in search of.
"If we no give the effort every day, we are not going to win, no matter how good you are," Gomez said. "It’s no question we are good. Probably one of the best teams in baseball. For 140 games, we do it. Well, we can do it the last 20."