After solid start, Thames now seeks strong finish

Slugger identified as one of the keys to Crew's offense down stretch

After solid start, Thames now seeks strong finish

MILWAUKEE -- The manager did not want to put too much weight on one man's shoulders, broad as Eric Thames' shoulders may be. But Craig Counsell's point came through.

For the Brewers to reach the finish line of this surprising race for the postseason, Thames is one of the hitters who will have to help lead the way.

"Look, for us to do something pretty special here, he's one of the guys -- I could list off a bunch of guys -- who we need a good three weeks from," Counsell said after Thames homered and drove in two runs in a 5-2 win over the Pirates at Miller Park. "One of these guys is going to have to have a special three weeks.

"[Thames] is certainly capable of it, and tonight was a good start."

It felt a bit like April on this September night, as Thames homered for the Brewers' first run in the second inning, then singled home another score in Milwaukee's go-ahead, four-run third. The homer was Thames' first since Aug. 29, and the two RBIs doubled his September total.

With his 29th home run this season, Thames tied Travis Shaw for the team lead. The two have been engaged in a friendly battle for the team title.

Asked about his other goals for the rest of the season, Thames said, "To finish strong. I mean, a lot can happen depending on when I play. Whether it's every day, once in a while, or to pinch-hit. There's a lot of roles on a team throughout the course of a season, and my goal is to do my best and help the team win.

"Don't mope. Don't complain. Don't do anything [other] than doing your job."

Playing time was not a question early in the season, when Thames seized everyday duty at first base by tying for the Major League lead with 11 April home runs. But his production has decreased since then, from a 1.276 OPS in April to a sub-.800 mark in three of the four subsequent months.

August was his toughest month, as Thames hit .173 with a .691 OPS. By Tuesday, his batting average with runners in scoring position had fallen to .146 (13-for-89 with 33 strikeouts). Thames boosted that figure with his two-out, run-scoring single off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole into Pittsburgh's defensive shift, which would have accounted for two RBIs had Domingo Santana been able to beat the throw home.

Thames' RBI single

With the Brewers alive in the postseason chase, the rest of September offers an opportunity to finish strong.

"We're right there, so the energy is high in this dugout," Thames said.

Counsell said he has "no concerns at all" about Thames' preparedness to physically weather the final weeks.

But what about mentally?

"Well, mentally, you need the success," Counsell said. "Success builds confidence."

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