For a few games, the Milwaukee Brewers looked as though they were ready to make the climb back into the NL Central race.
They had swept the major league-leading Dodgers in Los Angeles, and after a brief slip-up against the Pirates, the Brewers won four of five. The music was back in the clubhouse. The frustration on Brewers manager Ron Roenicke’s face was less and less noticeable.
But that was before Milwaukee headed to Kansas City. Before the Brewers hit rock bottom.
First, it was mistakes by Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth inning of game one that did the Brewers in. Then, an absolute meltdown in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game from closer John Axford had the Brewers ninth-inning specialist frustrated and embarrassed. It was enough for Roenicke to challenge his bullpen and the rest of his squad to live up to their potential.
And for eight innings on Thursday night, it appeared the Brewers were doing just that. Then, like a broken record, Milwaukee collapsed again in the ninth. The wheels fell off. A walk put the winning run on base after a wild pitch strikeout saw Royals’ Mitch Maier make it to first. A hit to the left field corner by Brayan Pena looked as though it’d score just one run, but a poor throw from Edwin Maysonet to second and another poor throw from Rickie Weeks to home allowed the Royals to score a second run that never should have been plated.
“Same thing,” Roenicke said after the game, openly frustrated. “We let it get away again.”
John Axford, the same closer who owns the fourth-longest consecutive saves streak in the history of baseball, had blown saves in consecutive games. The Brewers were swept by one of the worst teams in the American League.
The greatest shame of the Brewers’ recent struggles isn’t just the late collapses though. It’s that their starting pitching — the rock of their NL Central title team in 2011 — has bounced back in a big way in the last eight games, boasting the best rotation ERA in all of the major leagues in that time. Brewers starting pitchers had allowed an average of just 1.5 earned runs per game in their past eight games.
But without a reliable bullpen and without much offense — just seven runs in three games in Kansas City — the Milwaukee starting rotation could only do so much.
So where do the Brewers go from here? How do you bounce back from rock bottom, where the breaks refuse to come and the mistakes continue to happen at the worst possible times?
“It’s been tough all year,” bullpen coach Stan Kyles said. “We’ve got to be able to fight back from this. We’re running out of opportunities and chances to get back in this thing.”
Indeed, time is running out. And if the Brewers have any hopes of making it to the playoffs — a goal that is quickly diminishing — they’ll need to find a way to climb back up the mountain.