Brewers continue to battle despite struggles
One month ago this week, the Milwaukee Brewers had clawed their way back to 44-47 overall, just three games under .500 and within shouting distance of first place.
Unfortunately, July 20 was the start of a seven game losing streak that stretched to nine of 10 before a sweep of Houston stopped the bleeding on July 30.
In that stretch the Brewers lost four straight one-run games – including three in a row to the Philadelphia Phillies by the score of 7-6 – and five one-run games overall.
It was a period of play that effectively ended the Brewers season, dropping them to 11 games under .500 and 16 out of first place.
Since the last game of the losing streak – an 11-10, 11-inning affair against Washington – the Brewers have gone 10-10, putting together a pair of three-game winning streaks and a pair of three-game losing streaks. Four of those losses have been by one run.
The inconsistency may be maddening to all involved, but manager Ron Roenicke has seen something encouraging out of his team: character.
"I realize that this is part of what you have to go through sometimes to find out what people are made of," Roenicke said. "Everybody always seems like they're a good person when things are going good, but what happens in adversity and when we go through these tough times? I've already seen some things in some people, some good, maybe not so good. In the long run, I think the character of a person, and a player, and if he's a gamer, you always see regardless of how things are going."
Roenicke then singled out the Phillies series in July.
It may have been a backbreaker in terms of the team's playoff hopes, but not its will. He hasn't heard how demoralizing the season has become, or how unhappy players might be.
If that were to have happened, Roenicke said, it would've happened a month ago.
"I haven't seen a game where we haven't battled," said starter Marco Estrada, who has yet to win a game in his 15 starts. "It's not so much that we've turned it around, but we keep battling. It's been going on this entire year. Yeah, sometimes we come up short, but you never see anybody give up. You don't see people with their heads down. We keep pushing, and we keep fighting. If you look, we've lost a lot of games by one run – it's incredible. We don't give up."
Through Monday, the Brewers had played 46 one-run games out of 121, an incredible 38 percent of the team's games. Toss in another 16 extra-inning games, and over 50 percent of the Brewers games have been decided late.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have played 45 one-run games, but with markedly different results at 25-20.
Only the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins (41) have played anywhere close the same number of close contests, yet all have winning records.
"Unfortunately we've gotten through this a lot," Roenicke said of the Brewers' 19-27 record in one-run contests. "The more times you have things happen to you, the easier it is to understand how to get out of them, to understand how to bounce back and just play the next day hard.
"No matter how bad the loss was – and we've had as bad as you can have – that next day we always come out and play pretty well. Now, we may lose it again late, but we've bounced back and really played a good game."
The struggle, however, has been putting together a consistent, team-wide bounce back. At times the pitching is hot, and the hitting is cold, or vice versa. Or, those two elements come together and the bullpen struggles.
"We've done our best to stay positive, stay optimistic," reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun said. "It hasn't been fun. It definitely hasn't been easy. But I think we've done a good job of continuing to compete every day, go about our business and still try to win as many games as possible."
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