World Series contender: Milwaukee Brewers

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:59 AM ET

Bratwurst and beer have been a mainstay in Milwaukee for, well, forever and coupled with keggling a few frames that was pretty much all there was to look forward to this summer in you happened to be a Brewers fans.

For the cheeseheads, it was a time to hunker down and set their sights northward to the glory that the Green Bay Packers would truly bring.

Back in January, the Brewers’ prized first baseman, Prince Fielder, signed a $214-million deal with the Detroit Tigers in his free-agent year to officially sever ties with the Brew Crew.

Then following a spring and summer of wheel-spinning and back-sliding, the Brewers waved the white flag on the season in late July by trading their star right-hander Zach Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels for prospects. So that was that, the season was officially over and out.

However a funny thing happened to the Brewers as August and September rolled around. The bullpen, which had been a complete disaster, tightened up, the rotation buckled down, Ryan Braun got hot and the Brew Crew started to pile up the wins.

That whooshing sound you hear is not just the winds of fall but the sound of the Brewers zooming along in the National League Central and following their victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, they have now won 21 of their past 27 games to push their way back into the race for a wild-card spot. They are nipping at the heels of the St. Louis Cardinals, who hold the second WC spot.

It has been an amazing run considering Milwaukee was 12 games under .500 and 12½ games back of the second wild-card spot just a month ago.

The Brewers always had an under-appreciated rotation and the trading away of Greinke no doubt hurts as he was 25-9 with a 3.67 ERA in his brief career with the Brewers.

With the departure of Greinke, Yovani Gallardo stepped forward to take over leadership of the rotation. A solid contributor the past four seasons, Gallardo has gone a sensational 8-0 with two no-decisions in his past 10 games to run his record to 16-8 on the season.

He has become the de facto leader on the staff.

“I think every year he’s finished really strong,” Braun said of Gallardo following their victory over the Bucs on Tuesday. “He’s been our go-to guy. It’s continued this year, and it’s been really impressive.”

As for what factor has caused the Brewers’ turnaround, a number of factors come into play.

For much of the season their bullpen was in shambles to the point where the team fired bullpen coach Stan Kyles at the end of July. Closer John Axford had lost his job and overall the team had more blown saves than any in the National League.

The 27 blown saves is still a black mark, but Axford has turned his season around and has cemented the back end of the bullpen having converted 11 consecutive save opportunities.

“At the beginning of the season, there were a lot of points where we had streaks where we didn’t swing the bats well at all, but the second half of the season, we have really swung the bat well, and we’re scoring a lot of runs,” manager Ron Roenicke said of his team. “The bullpen was good early, then we had that stretch where we weren’t so good. We were bad. Then we have this stretch now where we’re pitching really well again. The starters have probably been the most consistent thing we’ve had.”

Whether the Brewers maintain their charge all the way to the wire will depend on how they perform during their current 10-game road trip. Following the three in Pittsburgh, they have four in Washington and close out with three against Cincinnati.

“We start with them (Pittsburgh), and then Washington has been the best team in baseball almost all year, and then we’ve got Cinci, which is right there with them,” outfielder Corey Hart, who is out with a foot injury, said of the trip. “But if we come out alive on this trip, we’ll be writing our own ticket. We have six games at home (to finish the season). It has to be a positive trip. We can’t have a bad trip and then come home and need to win six.”

Optimism is now rampant on the team.

“A month ago, we were out of it,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. “Now we’ve got a chance.”

Having played so hard to get back into the race, the Brewers don’t want to fold at the end and have all their hard work go for nothing.

“Everybody here will be extremely disappointed if we don’t make it,” Hart added. “Everybody wrote us off. Everybody in baseball forgot about us and were basically like: ‘All right, they’re going to get rid of everybody and get ready for next year.’

“But this whole team still had faith. We’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t get there, but everybody in here will hold their head up. We fought. We made this interesting. We didn’t give up.”

Don’t sell them short.

PERALTA A YOUNG GUN

When a team gets as hot as Milwaukee it usually means that their big money players are their best players and that has happened for the Brewers, who are receiving great contributions from the likes of outfielder Ryan Braun and right-hander Yovani Gallardo.

Along the way, though, teams that are on an extended run usually get excellent performances from unexpected sources and that’s where rookie Wily Peralta comes in.

In three starts, Peralta has gone 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA. In his most recent start, Sunday against the Mets, the rookie right-hander gave the Brewers eight scoreless innings.

At triple-A Nashville, Peralta was hardly lights out as he had gone 7-11 with a 4.66 ERA. Since being called up, though, the Brewers tweaked his delivery and the results have been spectacular.

“I’m getting more comfortable,” Peralta said after his last start. “The last couple of starts in Nashville were better. I’ve been working all season long on my command.

“I’m not trying to do too much. I’ve had way better command than I had in Nashville.”

He now has the veterans on the team jacked up over his performances.

“He’s been amazing,” Braun said. “I look at his stuff and I don’t know how he’s not the top prospect in baseball. He has dominant stuff. There are very few guys who have stuff like that in major-league baseball.”

Like the rest of the Brewers of late, Peralta has delivered.

IN THE SEATS

Outfielder Ryan Braun hit his 40th home run of the season on Sunday, marking just the seventh time a player has hit 40-plus home runs in the history of the Milwaukee Brewers history:

Player | HR | Year

Prince Fielder, 50, 2007

Prince Fielder, 49, 2009

Richie Sexson, 45, 2003

Richie Sexson, 45, 2001

Gorman Thomas, 45, 1979

Ben Ogilvie, 41, 1980

Ryan Braun, 40, 2012


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