Thus far, four has been the magic number for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers are 23-1 when scoring at least four runs, but lately they have struggled to do much of anything offensively. Although the game got away from Milwaukee late with Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang imploding, the Brewers’ offense continued to be lackluster in a 9-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Monday at Turner Field.
After producing just two runs over the final 25 innings of their series in Chicago, the Brewers scored all three of their runs Monday on home runs. Milwaukee has scored its last four runs on home runs and hasn’t plated a run without the benefit of a long ball since Friday.
A passed ball and a throwing error by backup catcher Martin Maldonado in the first inning helped the Braves jump out to a 1-0 lead against Brewers starter Wily Peralta.
"He’s usually so good throwing the ball," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Maldonado. "He’s like everyone else. When you are not in there every day, it’s hard to repeat things all the time. We expect him to when he catches every fifth, sixth, seventh day or whatever it is, but it is not that easy."
Peralta just didn’t have command of his fastball Monday, snapping his run of consecutive quality starts at seven. The right-hander, who entered with a 2.05 ERA, allowed two earned runs on nine hits and four walks in five innings.
It could have been a whole lot worse for Peralta and the Brewers, but he was able to limit the damage with the help of a couple of fine defensive plays.
"I hope when his fastball command is off as much as it was today that he’s able to get through ballgames like this," Roenicke said. "His changeup actually was really good, probably the best changeup he’s had. He had to go to something else because the fastball command wasn’t there. He was able to do it.
"I know we’ve been depending on him to go out there and put up all zeros just because we haven’t been swinging the bat that well, and that’s not necessarily fair to him. But he hung in there and gave us the five."
A two-run home run from Khris Davis got the Brewers on the board and cut Atlanta’s lead to 3-2 in the fifth, but the Braves answered back with a run against reliever Zach Duke in the sixth. Making just his fourth start of the year, Mike Minor limited the Brewers to just the two-run home run in 6 2/3 innings.
"I did think Minor threw the ball really well," Roenicke said. "You get down runs and you are hoping you can get some things going. We did with the Davis home run. We got back to within a run and then we gave up another one."
Ryan Braun’s solo home run in the top of the eighth cut the deficit to 4-3, leaving the Brewers with work to do against dominant Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. As it turned out, Kimbrel didn’t even need to break a sweat in the bullpen.
Thrown into a one-run game after Ryan Braun homered in the top of the eighth, Wang couldn’t keep things close to even give Milwaukee a crack at Atlanta’s closer. The rookie left-hander allowed five earned runs on four hits, including home runs to Ryan Doumit and Justin Upton.
The Brewers have insisted they plan to keep Wang on the 25-man roster all season long, but outings like Monday’s have to at least raise the question as to whether keeping the 21-year-old is something a contending team can afford to do.
Wang’s inability to finish the eighth inning led to Roenicke needing to use a position player to pitch for the second time this season, as first baseman Lyle Overbay got Ryan Doumit to pop out to shortstop Jean Segura to end the eighth.
Occasionally the Brewers are going to need Wang or whomever the long reliever is to pitch in high-leverage situations. Thus far, Wang hasn’t proven he can pitch at the major-league level just yet.
While the future of Wang is sure to be a topic of discussion, Milwaukee’s offensive struggles are the bigger concern. The Brewers just aren’t scoring enough to be able to overcome shaky starts by their starting pitchers.
The Brewers have scored three runs or fewer in 21 of their 45 games and have won just four of those contests.