Crew confounded by roller-coaster stretch

Crew confounded by roller-coaster stretch

MILWAUKEE -- How does a team beat the Washington Nationals three times in four games, then go to cellar-dwelling Cincinnati and get swept? And what explains sweeping the first-place Cubs in three charged games in Chicago, then coming home and being unable to move a runner past first base against a rookie pitcher in Monday's 7-0 loss to the Pirates at Miller Park?

Manager Craig Counsell didn't have an answer for Monday, other than to say the Brewers ran into a pitcher [Pittsburgh's Steven Brault] having a good night. Third baseman Travis Shaw said the same.

"I feel like we were flat in Cincinnati. I don't feel like we were flat tonight," Shaw said.

So there was no explaining the Brewers' odd past three weeks. In the span of their last eight series, they have won 11 of 14 games against the Rockies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Nationals and Cubs -- a collection of clubs that includes each of the National League's three division leaders, and another in Wild Card position, that entered Monday a combined 105 games over .500.

MLB Division Standings

In the same span, including the loss to Pittsburgh, the Brewers lost six of seven games against the Giants, Reds and Pirates, a group of teams that includes two of the NL's three cellar-dwellers, that entered the day a combined 83 games under .500.

Counsell acknowledged those facts but chalked it up to "a smaller stretch of the season" in a discussion of the trend on Monday afternoon.

"This isn't college football where Alabama's playing [a small school]," Counsell said. "Every night, you have to bring your A-game to win. We've played really good series against good teams the last few weeks. It's a good sign to me.

"The series against Cincinnati was a blip. There are things happening in baseball that are probably less explainable than the series in Cincinnati. I don't mean to diminish that. It was an important series for us and it didn't turn out good. Now, it's what's in front of us and tonight, that's the Pittsburgh Pirates."

It was the Pirates and rookie left-hander Brault, the Triple-A International League pitcher of the year who entered the day with a 5.79 ERA in his first seven games in the big leagues. That number included a debut start against the Cubs six days earlier in which he surrendered three earned runs on eight hits in five innings.

He baffled the Brewers with a crossfire delivery and a sneaky fastball for six innings. Milwaukee didn't have a hit until Jesus Aguilar singled leading off the fifth. Against Brault and three relievers, Milwaukee didn't advance a man past first base.

The Pirates have been a lot tougher on the Brewers, winning nine of the first 14 matchups between the teams, than the Cubs (9-10, but outscored by 20 runs) or Cardinals (6-10, including a St. Louis sweep this weekend that kept the Cardinals even with the Brewers in the Wild Card race).

Could it simply be that the Brewers are young, and unaccustomed to the emotional swings of a pennant chase?

"I would credit how they've handled these situations," Counsell said. "One trait of the team is they're able to come back the next day after something bad has happened to them, and bounce back. Sometimes it's a three-day stretch, sometimes it's a one-day thing. But we've been consistent at that. I know we've continually bounced back. When you've bounced back for 140 games, you feel safe to say it's going to keep happening."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.