Raise your hand if you forgot how exhausting a pennant race can be.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs did battle for four days at Miller Park over the past weekend, and it was epic. Three straight extra inning games, late lead changes, blown saves, walk-off home runs...it was arguably as memorable a series as has been played all season.
Unfortunately, our beloved local nine came out on the wrong end of things.
In each of the first three games, Milwaukee entered the top of the 9th with a one-run lead. On Thursday, Jeremy Jeffress was summoned (with Knebel, Swarzak, and Hader all down) to finish off a 3-2 game after Eric Thames’ RBI single had given Milwaukee the lead in the bottom of the 8th. But Ian Happ beat out an infield single to lead off the inning and would later come around to score on Javier Baez’s ground ball with to tie the game. The Brewers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the 9th, but failed to score. Oliver Drake coughed up a two-run dinger to Kris Bryant in the top of the 10th, and the Cubs escaped game one with a 5-3 victory.
Friday’s game was hard fought, each team scoring four runs within the first 5 innings before the bullpens took over. Both clubs went down 1-2-3 in the 9th inning to send the game to extras, and Craig Counsell made the decision to send closer Corey Knebel back out for the 10th inning after his perfect frame the inning before. For as good as Knebel has been this season, he’s had one bugaboo - free passes. He’s doled them out to 13.5% of the batters he’s faced this season, and issued a lead off one to Kris Bryant. A single and an intentional walk would load the bases, and with one out Tommy La Stella strode to the plate. None of Knebel’s five pitches to La Stella found the strike zone (though he did get a swinging strike), and the bases loaded walk forced home the go ahead run. The Brewers couldn’t answer in the bottom of the 10th, and lost the game in heartbreaking fashion by a score of 5-4.
Saturday looked like it was setting up to be similarly tormenting. The Brewers were trailing, 2-1, entering the bottom of the 9th inning. Joe Maddon called on his closer, Wade Davis, to lock down the save. Davis was perfect on the season, having converted each of his first 32 save opportunities. Clearly Orlando Arcia didn’t care though, cause he wrapped Davis’ second pitch around the foul pole and into the left field bleachers for a game-tying home run. Counsell once again gave the ball to Jeffress for the top of the 10th, and for the second time in three days Ian Happ reached base to lead off an inning against Jeremy. Happ was bunted to second and came around to score when Jon f***ing Jay knocked an RBI single back up the middle to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Davis came back out for the bottom of the 10th, and Ryan Braun breathed life back into the offense by clubbing an opposite field double with one out to put the tying run in scoring position for Travis Shaw. Shaw wasn’t interested in tying the game, however:
WALK. IT. OFF. TRAVIS SHAW!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 23, 2017
The @Brewers come back twice to defeat the Cubs 4-3 in extras. https://t.co/Fmcdt5aU78
The final game of the series didn’t have the dramatics that the first three games did, but was just as gut-wrenching and showed the value of going out and getting a stud pitcher. The Brewers and Cubs were both heavily involved in negotiations to acquire lefty Jose Quintana from the White Sox this summer, and the 28 year old ultimately wound up on the North Side after the Cubs gave up their top prospect, Eloy Jimenez (the Brewers were reportedly unwilling to deal Josh Hader for Quintana). He gave Milwaukee an in-person look at what they missed out on, tossing a three-hit shutout victory. He walked only one while striking out 10, needing 116 pitches to dispatch the Brewers. Chase Anderson tossed a quality start, but it wasn’t enough as Milwaukee fell by a score of 5-0.
Losing the series three games to one essentially ended Milwaukee’s hopes of winning the division. The Cubs pounded the Cardinals yesterday, 10-2, to extend their NL Central lead to 6.0 games with six games remaining on the schedule. They could clinch their second straight division title as early as today.
The good news is that there is still an avenue for the Brew Crew to qualify for the postseason. The Diamondbacks clinched the first Wild Card over the weekend, but the second Wild Card is still up for grabs. The Brewers are chasing Colorado, who is just 12-12 this month and 4-6 over their last 10 games. The Rockies are playing a series at home against the Marlins, and fell in yesterday’s game 5-4. That loss dropped their lead over Milwaukee to just 1.5 games. Colorado has two more games against Miami, then an off day on Thursday before finishing the season with three games against the Dodgers.
The Brewers, meanwhile, had an off day on Monday to try and collect themselves after a series that Keon Broxton described as “draining on our hearts.” Trust me, Keon, it was draining on all of us as fans, too. Milwaukee begins a three-game set with the Reds tonight at Miller Park before closing out the year with three games down at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals.
Time is running dangerously short and the Milwaukee Brewers are running uphill. They cannot afford any more missteps during this, the final week of the 2017 MLB regular season. It’s been six long years since Milwaukee was in this position this late in the year, but this upstart team full of young players and second-chance castoffs doesn’t appear to be shying away from the spotlight. They believe they can do this thing. It starts with a must-win game tonight behind Zach Davies.
As Ned Yost once said, “we still have math on our side.”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs