Brewers complete four-game sweep of Washington
The Milwaukee Brewers continued their post-Cubs resurgence Monday afternoon, completing a four-game sweep over the lowly Washington Nationals with a 7-1 victory that delighted the 15th consecutive sellout crowd at Miller Park.
The Brewers’ sixth consecutive triumph pushed them a season-high 17 games above .500 (68-51), their best record since the end of the 1992 season. Since being pummeled in a four-game series by the Cubs at the end of July at Miller Park, the Brewers have won three consecutive series and gone 8-2.
“There was so much focus on (the Cubs series), but for us it was just a series,” said right fielder Corey Hart, who went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in the finale against Washington.
“There were so many games left. Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to. But at the same time, what we’ve done after that has been way more important than that series.”
Teams with playoff ambitions have to beat the bad teams, and that’s what the Brewers did against the Nationals, who had won six of seven games entering the series but still have the worst record in the league (44-75). Manager Ned Yost, anything but celebratory after the sweep, downplayed that notion but his players did not.
“These are games you have to win, when you’ve got a team that’s struggling a little bit,” said starter Dave Bush, who kept the Nationals in check with 6 1/3 solid innings (five hits, one run).
“It’s important to get wins against teams you should beat.”
Starting pitching has been the key to the Brewers’ surge. In the 10 games since the Cubs series, the starters are 7-2 with a 1.98 earned run average and nine quality starts.
CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Manny Parra and Bush dominated Washington’s lineup, allowing two runs in 31 1/3 innings (0.58 ERA) with three walks and 30 strikeouts. The Nationals scored in only three of 36 innings.
“CC and Sheets dominated the first two games,” Hart said. “It was tough for them to try to score at all.”
Washington’s only run Monday came on an RBI single with two outs in the first inning by Ryan Zimmerman. Rickie Weeks got that run back immediately with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning off substitute starter Garrett Mock, and Hart added his two-run blast in the fifth.
Bush’s moment of truth came in the fifth inning, when he walked the first hitter, Kory Casto, surrendered a single to Wil Nieves and plunked Mock on the leg with a curveball. Faced with the bases-loaded, no-out jam, Bush adopted a defensive policy.
“I just wanted to limit the damage as much as I could,” he said. “The tendency is to try to get three outs on one pitch.”
Willie Harris, who singled and doubled in his first two at-bats, hit a tapper in front of the plate that catcher Jason Kendall pounced on, tagging the plate for a force. Bush then gave himself a chance to escape by striking out Pete Orr.
When Zimmerman grounded out to end the inning, the Nationals basically were done. A couple of Milwaukee errors opened the door slightly in the seventh, but reliever Brian Shouse induced Orr to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“That was a big situation in the game,” Bush said of his fifth-inning Houdini act. “Bases loaded, nobody out, top of the order coming up. I was fortunate to make my pitches and work out of it.”
The Brewers proceeded to get those always-important tack-on runs and put the game away. Prince Fielder doubled in a run in the fifth, and Craig Counsell delivered two more runs with an opposite-field double past the diving Harris in the seventh.
The four-game sweep allowed the Brewers to pull within 3 ½ games of the idle Cubs in the National League Central and maintain a three-game lead over St. Louis in the wild-card race.
“These are situations (in which) we fell in the past and split with teams we should beat,” Hart said. “It’s a big thing for us to beat the teams that we should beat.
“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and we’ve got a chance.”