There are many reasons why the Milwaukee Brewers are suddenly collapsing with the postseason right around the corner, but a one-time strength of the ball club is near the top of the list.
The starting rotation that helped propel the Brewers to their quick start to the season suddenly can’t get the job done.
Milwaukee’s starting pitchers are 1-11 with a 6.95 ERA during this current stretch in which the Brewers have lost 12 of 13 games through Monday. Remove Mike Fiers’ two quality starts and the other five starters have a 7.91 ERA over that time.
"It is going to come down to pitching," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We’ve got to really pitch well. To have a nice run, they’ve got to keep the run totals down. We’re facing really good pitching the rest of the year. We’re not going to score a ton of runs every game, so we’re going to have to pitch really well."
In 11 of the 13 games, the Brewers trailed by multiple runs during the first four innings. The starting pitchers are putting the offense in an early hole on a nightly basis, deficits a struggling lineup haven’t been able to overcome.
It feels as if the energy seeps out once Milwaukee falls behind, and it has been happening game in and game out. On Monday, Yovani Gallardo had a chance to step up but turned a 2-1 lead into a 6-2 deficit in a matter of two innings.
"These past two weeks have been tough for all of us all around," Gallardo said. "We have to figure out a way. As far as (the starting pitchers), we set the tone for the rest of the guys around us.
"Obviously (Monday) I didn’t do the job I was supposed to do. It was just never there. It’s not easy for the guys to come back from being down four runs that early in the game."
The numbers aren’t pretty. Gallardo’s rough outing Monday pushed his ERA over his last three starts to 6.14, while Jimmy Nelson has a 5.06 ERA in three starts during this 13-game stretch.
It gets worse from there, as Wily Peralta has a 9.00 ERA and Kyle Lohse checks in with an 11.17 ERA during the freefall. Matt Garza, who started Tuesday against Miami, allowed six earned runs in three innings on Sept. 3 at Wrigley Field in his first outing back from an oblique injury.
"They are not pitching as well as they should be," Roenicke said. "I like the way Wily threw the ball the other day, but the other guys are not throwing it like they should. Hopefully we get them going and have a chance to win most of the ballgames.
"We wouldn’t be in position to where we have a chance if it wasn’t for those five starters. They did a fantastic job for most of the season and that’s why we are playing where we are playing. We need them to get back to what they were doing and hopefully finish strong here."
Peralta, Nelson and Fiers don’t have experience pitching in meaningful September games, but Lohse, Gallardo and Garza have combined to appear in 23 postseason games. The Brewers were counting on the highly paid veteran trio atop their rotation to lead them to and through the playoffs.
Instead, all three have struggled in late August and early September.
"I just haven’t pitched the way I normally do," Lohse said. "I pitch off my fastball then mix in the other stuff, but I haven’t been able to locate it as well. I just have to get back to work and fix it."
In April, four of Milwaukee’s five starters had an ERA under 3.00. They carried an up-and-down offense to a 20-8 start, the only reason why the Brewers have had a chance at the postseason.
While Garza missed a month on the disabled list and Lohse has battled an ankle injury, nobody could have seen this period of struggle coming for a staff led by proven veteran pitchers.
Then again, nobody saw the Brewers as a whole collapsing like they have.
"They’re angry about what’s happened," Roenicke said. "But baseball’s not like football. When you get angry in football, you get the adrenaline flowing, you can do some nice things on a football field. Baseball doesn’t work that way. It’s the fine motor skills. It’s putting the ball an inch here versus missing over the plate. You can get mad about it, but when you get mad about it, it has to be to get you back focused into doing something that is really fine-skilled.
"It would be nice if you could tell somebody to bear down and start playing and it would happen. That would be nice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way."
Entering Tuesday, the Brewers sit a game and a half out of the final wild-card spot in the National League with 18 games to play. In order for Milwaukee to turn things around and make the postseason, the starting rotation must return to early season form.
If they continue to struggle, more of their outings will end like Gallardo’s did Monday, with the biggest ovation of the night coming when he was removed from the game.
"We can’t make the pitch when we need to," Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "We can’t get the big hit when we need it. It’s just a culmination of frustration. We’re all feeling it. We’re human.
"We know the fans are booing us for a reason. We’re not getting it done. We’re not giving them much to cheer about. We’re trying our hardest out there, we’re just not getting any breaks."