The Brewers themselves had but a few hours to savor that soothing fact on Thursday evening, after Jim Edmonds hit a pair of home runs, including a fourth-inning grand slam, in Chicago's 11-4 win that finished a four-game Cubs sweep at Miller Park. Soon after the Brewers' chartered flight landed in Atlanta, it was August, leaving the team two months to play catchup in the National League Central.
"I don't think it will be a very happy plane ride to Atlanta tonight, but this is not a death sentence by any means," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "In September, yeah, this would hurt. We have plenty of time to recover from this."
Chicago asserted its division dominance this week by outscoring Milwaukee, 31-11, and extending its one-game lead over the Brewers to five. The Cardinals, who preceded the Brewers in Atlanta and were scheduled to play Thursday night, would bump Milwaukee back down to third place with a win.
The Brewers finished 1-6 on an embarrassing homestand that followed a 7-0 road trip. They had not been swept in a four-game series since May 12-15, 2003, also against the Cubs.
"We don't like the fact that we allowed their fans to come into our park and have a four-day party," said Yost. "But that's our fault."
The just-completed Cubs series reeked of the Brewers' three-game smackdown in Boston in May, after which outfielder Ryan Braun, with the ink still drying on his seven-year contract extension, called out the team for "not expecting to win."
This was different, Braun insisted Thursday, but no less painful.
"We expect to win, but [the Cubs] are just better than us right now," Braun said before going 2-for-4. "Bottom line. They've outplayed us in every facet of the game. They've been a lot better than us, but I don't think it has to do with our approach or our expectations or anything like that. They've just been better than us."
"I don't think it will be a very happy plane ride to Atlanta tonight, but this is not a death sentence by any means. In September, yeah, this would hurt. We have plenty of time to recover from this."
-- Ned Yost
Edmonds made his first appearance in the series and belted both of his homers off Brewers starter Dave Bush (5-9), a solo shot in the third inning that snapped a scoreless tie and then a two-out, opposite-field grand slam in the fourth.
Edmonds' seventh career grand slam -- his first in nearly two years -- came after Bush plunked Mark DeRosa with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases.
"I definitely didn't want to hit him to get to Edmonds," said Bush, a right-hander who preferred the matchup against DeRosa.
Alfonso Soriano added a solo homer in the eighth inning off Bush, who was charged with six earned runs on five hits in 7 1/3 innings.
Prince Fielder homered for the second straight game, a solo shot off Cubs starter Rich Harden (6-2 on the season, 1-1 for the Cubs) in the seventh inning. Harden was otherwise just as sharp as the Chicago hurlers who worked before him in the series, allowing a run on six hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Before Mike Cameron blooped an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning, Brewers hitters were 0-for-5 in the game and 0-for-20 in the series with runners in scoring position.
Pinch-hitter Bill Hall followed Cameron's single with a two-run double. The Brewers finished 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and are 5-for-59 (.072) over their last nine games.
"We're a better team than what we showed the Cubs in this four-game series," Yost said.
The Brewers lost their collective cool in the ninth inning. Reliever Eric Gagne was ejected by plate umpire Doug Eddings after a four-pitch walk to Edmonds, including a ball four that went behind Edmonds' back. Eddings also ejected Fielder after a flyout to left field in the bottom of the inning. The game was temporarily delayed while Eddings waited for Fielder to leave the dugout.
Fielder refused to answer questions about his exchange with Eddings. Gagne answered only a handful.
"I guess there's a rule that you can't throw in," Gagne said. "My thoughts don't matter. [The Cubs] played a great four games on us. They beat us. We got schooled."
On that point, there was agreement.
"We got spanked," Yost said.
"We got our [rear ends] kicked," Bush said.
"I'm pretty much embarrassed," Braun said.
The Brewers again were the team making mistakes. Craig Counsell started at third base and committed the team's lone error in the eighth inning, and it contributed to four unearned runs. Weeks committed a baserunning gaffe in the first inning, when he broke from first base on a full-count pitch to Counsell and apparently did not see Counsell hit a routine flyout to left fielder Soriano.
Weeks rounded second base, then did not hustle back to first as Soriano's throw came in. It bounced momentarily away from first baseman Derrek Lee, who still had time to tap the base and double-off Weeks.
"It looked to me like he lost the ball. That's the only explanation that I can have," said Yost, who did not directly answer a question about whether Weeks showed a lack of hustle. "That's not a ball you should get doubled-up on."
Braun tried to keep things in perspective after the Brewers fell flat in their most hotly hyped regular season series in 26 years.
"It feels bigger than it is," he said. "It feels like it may count for more than what it does. But I think last year really helped us put things in perspective. You're going to go through streaks where you're terrible individually and terrible as a team. You try not to get too down, or too up, and you deal with it. There are going to be times when you don't enjoy this game."
This week was one of those times.
"It stinks," Braun said. "We're disappointed, obviously. It's no fun to come out and lose, but we have to keep going. It's not the end of the world."