MILWAUKEE — It’s long been said in baseball that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.
The Milwaukee Brewers have proved that cliche to be true over the past two weeks.
When the Brewers left Miller Park two weeks ago for an eight-game swing through Houston and the West Coast, they were riding a five-game winning streak and were tied with the Chicago Cubs for the top spot in the National League Central.
Since then, Milwaukee (42-36) has lost eight of 12 games. While a slumping offense carries a share of the blame, a number of those losses can be attributed to a starting rotation that has been plagued by ineffectiveness — leading to early deficits and short outings.
During that stretch, Milwaukee’s starters combined to go 1-6 with a 7.47 ERA — the worst in baseball — with only three starts of at least six innings. Those starts came from Brandon Woodruff, who pitched seven innings in a win at Houston June 12, six in a loss to San Diego on June 18 and seven again Sunday, when he struck out a career-high 12 in a 7-5 victory over Cincinnati at Miller Park.
Zach Davies had been one of the best pitchers in the NL before the slump but he allowed a total of eight runs in 7⅔ innings spanning two starts, boosting his ERA from 2.41 to 3.06. In two starts since returning from the injured list, Jhoulys Chacin has allowed seven earned runs over 9⅓ innings. Chase Anderson has given up nine runs in his past two turns, covering nine innings.
“We just haven’t got any length (from the starters),” manager Craig Counsell said prior to Milwaukee’s two-game winning streak. “We need more, no question. And we need zeroes, too. We’re not handing the ball to our bullpen with a lead very often.”
Looking to shake things up a bit, Milwaukee moved Jimmy Nelson to the bullpen after he had a 9.75 ERA in his first three starts since his return from shoulder surgery last September.
Adrian Houser, who opened eyes with a 2.27 ERA in 31⅔ innings, mainly in relief this season, will start in Anderson’s place Wednesday vs. Seattle at Miller Park. Hauser has allowed only one earned run in his past 11 appearances, and none in his past two outings, including a 3⅓-inning stint against the Padres last week.
“There’s a lot to like,” Counsell said of Houser. “He’s thrown the ball really well. He’s earned it, really, as much as anything. This is a guy who’s earned his way back to the rotation.”
If need be, they could also turn to Aaron Wilkerson, who was recalled over the weekend from Class AAA San Antonio where he had a 6-1 record and 1.79 ERA in 10 starts. And left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury, is “moving in the right direction” and could be back before the All-Star break.
“It’s the baseball season,” Counsell said. “There’s going to be some ups and downs to it. You continue to focus your efforts the same way every day, understand the other team is trying to get you sometimes, and they’re going to.
“We had a stretch where we didn’t play well, and we did some good things the last two days. We needed it, for sure. We had a bad week. Now we’re off to a good start for putting a winning streak together.”
The good news, though, is the Brewers are still no worse for the wear in terms of the standings. Going into Monday’s off day they were just a half-game behind the Cubs, who played Atlanta on Monday night at Wrigley Field.
And while the Brewers have no more days off before the All-Star Game July 9 in Cleveland, their schedule is favorable: seven games at home against Seattle and Pittsburgh, four at Cincinnati and three at Pittsburgh heading into the break.
The Cubs, meanwhile, play three more this week against the Braves before heading to Cincinnati for three, Pittsburgh for four then, after a day off July 5, they wrap up the first half with a three-game series against the White Sox.