September song: Surprising Brewers seek big finish

By: 

Gary Seymour, Leader Columnist

Some people can’t seem to get the hint.

Take the Milwaukee Brewers, for example — while not forgetting that one short year ago the correct response to that proposition would have been, “No, thanks.”

This preseason’s biggest long shot to win the World Series had been beyond pleasantly surprising. They’d not only been competitive, but actually held first place in the National League Central Division for 61 days, including a high-mark 5 1/2-game lead at the All-Star break.

Then came the inevitable dip, in the form of a seven-game losing streak last month, and finally, according to form, here came the defending champion Chicago Cubs, who overtook the Brewers for first place.

Baseball stood up from the couch, faked a yawn, looked at its watch and wondered where the time went. The quaint little pennant push by that low-budget Milwaukee outfit was fun while it lasted, but now it was time for the Brewers to be on their quiet way and let the real contenders duke it out.

After all, there were lots of other compelling stories to be told in this baseball season — great stuff from guys like Joey Gallo of Texas, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton and Rhys Hoskins of Philadelphia.

Hoskins was called up from the Phillies’ Triple-A squad on Aug. 10, and after going hitless in his first three games he homered in eight of his next 12 games. Now, that’s a debut. His power surge has helped Philadelphia storm to within a few games of the second-worst record in baseball.

Gallo is on the verge of becoming just the third player in Major League history to finish with more home runs (he has 36) than singles (20). It’s almost as if he’s swinging for the fence every time. Only Mark McGuire, who did it in 1998 (70 HR, 61 singles) and 1999 (65, 58), and Barry Bonds in 2001 (73, 49) have achieved the feat.

Speaking of juicers, there was the nice swipe at the record-breaking steroid users leveled by Stanton, whose 51 homers lead the majors. The Marlins right fielder said he still considers the home run record to be the 61 that Roger Maris hit in 1961 without the synthetic testosterone boost enjoyed by players like McGuire, Bonds and Sammy Sosa.

Stanton’s run at 61, coupled with his stated position on the Steroid Era records, would have made for some spirited, Hall of Fame-related confab.

It figured to be the beginning of the end for the Brewers when they traveled west last week to take on baseball’s runaway best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. After losing to LA in the series opener, the dirge was sounding for the Brewers. Party’s over, guys — there’s the door.

Then came unexpected new life. Zach Davies shut out the Dodgers for seven innings and closer Corey Knebel got his 28th save to preserve a 3-0 win in the second game. It was Davies’ fifth straight road start without allowing an earned run.

Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson followed that with his 10th win in the rubber match, Knebel notched his 29th save and the invincible Dodgers were brought down a peg, losing their first series since early June. Winning a series against the Dodgers had a nice ring to it, as did the prospect of playing them again this fall.

Mired in an offensive slump and in need of a big finish, the Brewers have made tenacity their calling card. Their refusal to leave the stage has been admirable.

Answers to whether starting pitchers Nelson, Davies and a healthy Chase Anderson will be enough of a core down the stretch — and the entire fate of the Brewers’ season — may be found in the seven games left with the Cubs, Sept. 8-10 at Wrigley Field and Sept. 21-24 at Miller Park.

Big games in September happen all the time around here, but the field is usually in the shape of a rectangle.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.