Milwaukee hopes to regain winning ways post all-star break

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By Tom Haudricourt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, July 18, 2014

MILWAUKEE--Before the Milwaukee Brewers scattered for the all-star break, general manager Doug Melvin met with his coaching staff to pose an important question.

“We had a brief little meeting and I said, ‘Guys, over these last 12 games, are we a bad team or did we play bad?’” recalled Melvin.

“The answer was, ‘We played bad.’ You have to evaluate the 80 games when we were very good, too.”

Things indeed went very well for the Brewers over the first three months. They soared 19 games above .500 and built a 6 game lead in the National League Central. Then came July and a team-wide collapse in which the Brewers lost 11 of 12 games and seven in a row before whipping St. Louis, 11-2, on the last day before the break.

That victory left the Brewers one game ahead of the Cardinals, 1 games ahead of Cincinnati and 3 games over Pittsburgh, setting up what should be a compelling four-team battle to make the playoffs. Even with a division winner and two possible wild-card entries, one of those four clubs won’t be making the dance.

The playoff quest begins for the Brewers on tonight in Washington as they open a three-game series against the pitching-strong Nationals.

“We’ve got a great division,” all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “We’ve been saying it all year. We’ve got great players in our division, great teams. Four teams in our division are all beating each other up, fighting for that lead.

“I think we’re the best division in baseball. We’re really talented, all the teams. It’s going to be a dogfight the rest of the year.”

A look at the second-half schedule reveals the challenge the Brewers have ahead of them if they want to make the postseason after a two-year hiatus. After the three games in Washington, they return home for three games against the Reds, who are 7-3 against them this season.

In August, the competition will be stiff, beginning with a three-game series in St. Louis. During that month, the Brewers play home and away series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, the two best teams in the NL West. They also have home series against Toronto and Pittsburgh.

It should really get interesting in September, when all but four of the Brewers’ 26 games come against teams from the NL Central.

“It’s more exciting,” centerfielder Carlos Gomez said of the bunched-up division. “Every game is going to be more intense. With the team we have, we love that. We like to compete. We want to come to the field every day and show we are the best.”

The Brewers know they played awful baseball during the two weeks before the break. The offense, in particular, suffered a massive meltdown that put too much pressure on the pitchers to throw gems.

It’s how teams react to such skids that separate contenders from pretenders, and the Brewers are confident they will regroup and start playing winning baseball again.

“We played pretty brutal those two weeks,” Lucroy said. “We weren’t competing at the level we should be at. I think if we can get back to that high level and competing and having good at-bats, and our starters going out there and doing what they do, I think we’ll be OK.

“Every team has a tough spot in the year. Adversity is good for you.”

It’s important during down times not to lose confidence as a team and allow doubts to creep in, which could lead to a longer downward spiral. Veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who has seen the good times and the bad during his 16 years in the majors, said the Brewers still believe in themselves.

“You don’t play good for 80 games and because of a week and a half not playing the way you should, you’re not a good team anymore,” Ramirez said. We’ve still got the (second-best) record in the National League. That’s not a fluke. We played well for 3 months, so we’ve got a good team.

“We always knew that Pittsburgh and Cincinnati weren’t going away. They are two really good clubs, especially Cincinnati with that starting rotation they have. When you have pitching like that, you’re going to be in the race, even if you don’t hit well.

“We hit a little bump. Every team goes through that. Nobody said it’s going to be easy. We’ve just got to stay healthy and stay positive.”

Or, as Gomez put it, “We’re still in first place. Nobody expected us to be here at the all-star break. We still have 60-something games to play.

“I think you’re going to see us in October.”

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