On July 29, the Brewers lost to the Washington Nationals in 11 innings. They led the game 7-3 after seven innings, but the bullpen would give up eight runs over the next four innings to lose. The loss dropped them 16 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central, and 13 games back of the Pirates in the Wild Card chase.
Two days before, they traded Zack Greinke. Because of course they did. They got something close to the package they traded to get him in the first place, which was a bit of a coup. Pitchers under contract age like new cars, slowly decreasing in value with every mile, but the Brewers were still able to get a shortstop prospect, a good young pitcher, and a hard-throwing project. The only thing missing was a Lorenzo Cain dopplegänger.
That was supposed to be the best part of the Brewers' season. Getting a little something back for Greinke. That was the highlight of the season, and that was just 47 days ago.
So you can see why the Brewers are an exciting, trendy underdog right now. They just passed the Pirates and moved 2½ games back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card. The bullpen that was such a mess in the early and middle part of the season has been better. The last time the Brewers lost a series was when they were swept in Colorado, which seems impossible, even if it was just a month ago. They have the second-best record in baseball since then.
It's all happy fun time for the Brewers. At least, until you look at the schedule.
|Friday, Sep 21||MIL||@||WSN||7:05 pm|
|Saturday, Sep 22||MIL||@||WSN||1:05 pm|
|Sunday, Sep 23||MIL||@||WSN||1:35 pm|
|Monday, Sep 24||MIL||@||WSN||1:05 pm|
|Tuesday, Sep 25||MIL||@||CIN||7:10 pm|
|Wednesday, Sep 26||MIL||@||CIN||7:10 pm|
|Thursday, Sep 27||MIL||@||CIN||12:35 pm|
It's pretty ludicrous to look at the schedule and start assigning wins and losses based on the strength of a team's opponents. All the Phillies needed to do was win a series against the Astros to climb into the middle of the Wild Card standings; they dropped three of four against the worst team in baseball. The A's were supposed to drown when they hit their rough part of the schedule; they took five of seven from the Angels and Orioles.
Looking ahead at the Brewers' schedule is just as pointless. Except you know the Nationals and Reds are good teams. What's more is that they'll have something to play for -- the Reds are just 1½ back of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even if both teams were in shutdown, prepare-for-the-playoffs mode, it would be a horrifying gauntlet. They aren't. That makes it more horrifying.
And before that murderous swing against the Reds and Nationals? Three games in Pittsburgh against a Pirates team that might be doing the Kübler-Ross model out of sequence. They might be moving out of depression and acceptance and heading straight for anger. If you can't count on the Astros to lose to the Phillies, you certainly can't count on the Pirates to lose to the Brewers.
Yeah. Let's not. We're talking about the Brewers a month after they went 1-5 on a road trip to Houston and Colorado, and that's something else. The toughest road trip of the Brewers' season is coming up, though. The Cardinals are in the middle of a miserable stretch, and the Dodgers aren't doing much better. But the Brewers aren't just playing out the string against the Cleveland Spiders and Washington Generals.
If they can climb back in a race just a month after being 11 games under .500, they can beat the Nationals and Reds. The likeliest scenario, though, is that the rough road trip will hurt their chances, and they'll get close enough to spend a lot of time wondering "What if?" in the offseason, especially with regards to their bullpen.
If they can survive the road trip, they'll have earned their reward -- a single play-in game to make the playoffs. It doesn't seem like much. But it's a helluva lot more than they were looking forward to just a month ago. We're talking about the Brewers in September, which is amazing, but in order to make the playoffs, they'll have to amaze us even more.