When the Milwaukee Brewers lost seven games in a row just prior to the All-Star break, they lost the cushion a fast start to the season had provided them.
Milwaukee’s second seven-game losing streak of the year has it on the brink of falling apart in the season’s final month.
Thanks to an ugly first inning in which they combined bad pitching with even worse defense, the Brewers found themselves in yet another early hole and limped their way to a 7-1 defeat Tuesday at the hands of the last-place Chicago Cubs.
The Brewers are now two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and are in danger of letting the division slip away.
With the way Milwaukee has been swinging the bats, Chicago’s four-run first inning Tuesday had the feel of an early knockout blow. It was more of the same for the Brewers, as a starting pitcher couldn’t overcome defensive miscues behind him.
Gallardo issued a one-out walk to Javier Baez, while Starlin Castro followed with a single. He made a good pitch to Luis Valbuena, but the Cubs third baseman flared a bloop single into left to score Baez.
After Jorge Soler singled home Castro, shortstop Elian Herrera booted a routine double play ball. Instead of being out of the inning, Gallardo watched as another run scored. Arismendy Alcantara then hit a grounder to first baseman Lyle Overbay, who threw to second for the force out.
Herrera’s second defensive miscue of the inning came when he threw the return throw away, allowing Soler to score and put the Cubs up 4-1.
"Things are not going right," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "So, I don’t know. Yovani, I thought was throwing the ball OK, but we made some errors. You get behind 4-0 again and you feel like the pressure is on the offense to come back and score some runs.
"We have to put up some zeros, play some good defense, pitch well and give our offense a chance to hopefully get a lead sometime."
The Brewers appeared as if they might get something going offensively in the third after Scooter Gennett, Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun recorded three straight one-out singles to cut the deficit to 4-1.
But with runners at first and third with one out and Aramis Ramirez at the plate, Braun was thrown out attempting to steal second.
"With Rami up there, there have been a couple of times where I haven’t run him and he hits a groundball and we are out of the inning," Roenicke said. "But there the thinking was — the pitcher was 1.45 (seconds) to home. We don’t get that very often, so you try to take advantage where you can.
"We tried to sit back and not do much and not run, and that doesn’t work. Something different, let’s try to move some runners and try to score some runs that way."
Gallardo tossed three scoreless innings after the four-run first, but he suddenly lost it in the fifth. A two-out RBI double from Welington Castillo plated one run, but Alcantara put the game out of reach with a two-run home run.
"He was up in the zone," Roenicke said. "Until then, after that first inning, I thought he threw the ball pretty good. He had a real nice slider today, was spotting his fastball well. He makes a bad pitch and they hammer it pretty good. We’ve got to go through and play some clean ballgames."
The losing streak is particularly puzzling because of how bad all three aspects of the game have suddenly gone for the Brewers. Milwaukee has been a poor defensive team for most of the last month, nobody has been able to step up from the starting rotation and the offense has scored 14 runs in seven games.
Over the course of the seven-game losing streak, the Brewers have been outscored 49-14.
If there was a silver lining Tuesday, all four teams chasing Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot lost as well, leaving the Brewers still in the postseason by 1 1/2 games.
"We’ll get through this, whether it is tomorrow or the next day," Roenicke said. "We’ll come out and start playing good baseball."
Gomez out: If the Brewers are going to turn things around, they are going to have to do it without one of their key players.
Center fielder Carlos Gomez had his injured left wrist examined by team physician Dr. William Raasch in Milwaukee on Tuesday. While an MRI revealed no structural damage, Gomez’s wrist is sprained enough to keep him out for a couple of weeks.
Gomez will be shut down from baseball-related activities for a week and will go from there.
The 28-year-old is hitting .282 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI and 29 stolen bases for the Brewers this season. With Gomez on the shelf, Gerardo Parra will likely seen the bulk of the playing time in center field.