After getting whipped at home by Philadelphia, 8-0, on Aug. 19, the Brewers were 54-66 and 12 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot in the National League. At the time, Pittsburgh held that playoff position.
My, how things have changed in the last 23 games.
By going 18-5 entering their off day Thursday, the Brewers have pulled within three games of that second wild-card spot, currently held by fast-fading St. Louis. The Brewers are a half-game behind the Pirates, who are fading worse than the Cardinals.
Thus, in a matter of 23 games, the Brewers picked up 12 games on the Pirates. Stunning, isn't it? So stunning, in fact, that even the players were caught off-guard by the surge into playoff contention.
"Honestly, it didn't look good," said Travis Ishikawa, who has been filling in for injured first baseman Corey Hart. "I felt we had dug a hole pretty deep and wouldn't be able to get out of it. That just shows you the character of this team.
"As far out as we've been and as bad as we played earlier this year, we found a way to play the ball we knew we were capable of playing out of spring. That's the way this game is. You never know what can happen.
"I've played this game for a long time and you always see things you never see before. Hopefully this is going to be something added to my list before the end of the season."
The math still is daunting for the Brewers, and so is their remaining schedule, which is difficult. The Phillies also have charged into contention, drawing even with the Brewers at three games out. And the Dodgers (one out) and Pirates still lie between Milwaukee and St. Louis. Arizona is only four games out, meaning there are six teams within four games of each other as they vie for the second wild-card spot behind Atlanta.
"You add that one extra (wild-card) spot and everybody seems like they're in it now," said Ishikawa. "We've got a little ways to go, but it's definitely going to be a fun few weeks."
The Brewers completed a three-game sweep of Atlanta on Wednesday night by scoring eight runs in the fifth inning to obliterate a two-run deficit. That game finished a stretch of 20 consecutive games without a day off, during which they went 15-5.
This surge took place after the Brewers supposedly waved the white flag by trading ace Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels. They also released struggling lefty Randy Wolf and have been plugging the rotation with rookie pitchers while somehow making it work.
The Brewers play a three-game series at home this weekend against the New York Mets, then face a three-city, 10-game road trip that takes them to Pittsburgh, Washington and Cincinnati. Obviously, those three playoff-minded teams provide challenges, especially on the road.
The Brewers cannot afford to look ahead, however. It is essential that they take this one game at a time because any loss at this point is damaging. They don't control their own fate, so it's best to keep their heads down, win games and then do their scoreboard watching.
Considering where they were a month ago, it beats the alternative.
"We're playing good ball right now," said right-hander Yovani Gallardo, a key figure in the late season surge with seven consecutive victories. "It's pretty exciting in here right now, for all of us. This run that we're in, we know we have to keep it up.
"We know what we have to do. We have to take care of business every day and on the last day of the season see where we're at."
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