The Milwaukee Brewers just didn't avoid a sweep with their 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday afternoon at Miller Park; they might also have salvaged their season.
The victory left Milwaukee 5½ games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central Division. That's just a half-game worse than they were a year ago on this date, when a 13-12 extra-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds sparked a 22-7 surge over the final month to set up a one-game winner-take-all showdown with the Chicago Cubs for the division crown.
Catching St. Louis isn't out of the question, especially with rosters set to expand on Sunday, giving manager Craig Counsell more weapons for the stretch run. But a wild card berth seems much more likely at this point with the Brewers just 3½ games behind the Cubs for the second and final NL wild card spot, making this weekend's series at Wrigley Field all the more crucial.
"Obviously, your goal is to win series and that’s what we’re going to need to do the rest of the way," Counsell said.
In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Cubs manager Joe Maddon announced that left-hander Jose Quintana would start the series opener for Chicago. Since Quintana was acquired in a pre-deadline deal from the Chicago White Sox in 2017, he has made a start in each of the 12 series vs. the Brewers, as well as the Game 163 tiebreaker last season.
In those 13 starts, Quintana has gone 6-4 with a 3.24 ERA against Milwaukee. But the Brewers tagged him for eight runs, including five home runs, in three innings on April 5.
Quintana was knocked around his last time out, allowing five runs (four earned) over four innings in a 7-2 loss to Washington last Saturday at Wrigley Field. But he posted a 1.38 ERA in his previous four starts, holding hitters to a .202 average with 33 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Getting past Quintana again would get a step in the right direction, especially with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish set to follow for the Cubs Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, counters with right-handers Chase Anderson and Zach Davies in the first two games of the series. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will look to bounce back from his worst outing of the season when he takes the mound Sunday in the series finale.
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All three Milwaukee starters have struggled at times this season but Counsell will have a rested relief corps after needing only Junior Guerra and Josh Hader to cover the final 3⅔ innings Wednesday and an off-day Thursday.
"But it was a nice game (Wednesday) and we go (to Chicago) with a rested bullpen," Counsell said. "It’s a good thing."
Counsell wasn't sure if third baseman Mike Moustakas would be available for the Cubs series. Moustakas sat out the last two games against St. Louis with a bruised wrist suffered when he was hit by a 107.2 mph ground ball from Harrison Bader Monday night in a 12-2 loss to the Cardinals.
Moustakas, second on the team this season with 31 home runs, wants to get back to action as soon as possible.
“Obviously I want to be out there with the boys, playing,” Moustakas said. “Especially right now against these guys. These are a bunch of huge games for us right now, and we’ve got some big ones coming up. I’ll do whatever I can to get back as quick as possible.”
Even with a need to chase the Cubs for a postseason berth — and the desire to pass them with the hope of catching the Cardinals — the Brewers know they are not in a position to look ahead beyond the task at hand.
"We have to win every game from here on out if we want to make a playoff push," Hader said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves. We know what we're capable of doing. We were five games back last year and made that run.
"I think we're definitely capable of doing it with the team we have. It's just putting it all together and playing fundamental baseball."