WASHINGTON -- Several factors have certainly been at play during the Brewers' surge back into playoff contention, but John Axford's turnaround might be among the most significant.
The Brewers' closer sealed Friday night's 4-2 comeback win with his second straight save, allowing only a walk over 19 pitches. One day earlier, Axford struck out the side to clinch a 9-7 win and a sweep over the Pirates.
Axford's ERA sits at 4.68 for the season, but considering he entered September with a 5.17 mark and has allowed just three runs -- on a pair of home runs -- over 11 1/3 innings this month entering play Saturday, his improvement has been a boon to the Brewers' much-maligned bullpen.
All along, manager Ron Roenicke has attributed Axford's struggles to confidence issues rather than any mechanical problems.
"He may not be completely locked in like he gets at times," Roenicke said. "I see it on a couple of batters, and then he'll kind of lose it a little bit. But overall, the confidence looks like it's there, the ball's coming out really well. He's thrown some outstanding breaking balls now, which is really the difference, for me, in what he needs to do."
Everything now is a far cry from earlier in the season's second half, when Axford was removed from his closer's role on July 16. At that point, Axford held a 5.35 ERA with six blown saves.
But following a meeting with Roenicke in mid-August, Axford regained his closer spot on Aug. 22. Since that point, Axford had posted a 3.00 ERA over 15 innings with 13 saves in 16 appearances entering Saturday.
"I think that was my main objective, to turn things around," Axford said after Friday's game. "I was never going to just back down and lay down and leave it where it was in July or August. When I went to talk to Ron, that was the objective. I wanted to turn things around, I wanted to be the closer that I was before, and show him that I could do it, not only on the hill, but also that my mind was there and I wanted to do it and I was willing to do it."