1. To be fair, the Pirates played until 1:28 a.m. on Tuesday in Chicago, flew back to Pittsburgh, drove to their homes, maybe saw the kids off to school, maybe caught a few hours of sleep and then headed to the ballpark, where all they had to do was face one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, Yovani Gallardo. You can argue that it was unfair to make the Pirates sit through that long rain delay at Wrigley Field, but there was little choice as the Pirates didn't have any more open dates on the schedule and no more games against the Cubs.
2. Gallardo entered with a 7-0 record and 2.98 ERA over his past nine starts, all Brewers' victories. The Pirates had a chance to get to him in the second inning when he walked two and gave up a single with two outs, but A.J. Burnett was batting. He grounded out and Gallardo settled down, retiring 13 in a row at one point. Gallardo's curveball has been a key pitch during this stretch as he'd thrown it 187 times during those nine starts and batters were 7-for-42 against it, with 16 strikeouts and no walks in at-bats ending with the pitch. He didn't use his curve early in the game, relying mostly on his fastball and slider, then turned to the curve more in the middle innings. He also retired Andrew McCutchen all three times he faced him -- twice on sliders that resulted in ground outs and a first-pitch fastball that McCutchen lined back to Gallardo.
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Disciples of Uecker
One of the best aspects of the Brewers' white-hot month of play is that it largely centered around the insertion of a couple of young arms into the starting rotation. The wonderful surprises of Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta have contributed to the Brewers' victories, and also to a suddenly shifting mindset about 2013. Meanwhile, franchise pitcher Gallardo is quietly working one of the best stretches of his career.
The Cardinals have attempted to sacrifice bunt 90 times so far this season, the fourth most in baseball. But with the league's best on-base percentage (.336), they also tend to put a lot of runners on base (3645, the second-highest total in baseball), thus affording them more opportunities to sacrifice. So how often, adjusted for base runners, do the Cardinals attempt to sacrifice?
The Ray Area
I think we can all agree that this is one of the toughest stretch in club history. It is definitely the worst period since 2008. We're floundering here and, based on the season this pitching staff has had, we're squandering a potentially huge opportunity. Watching us go down in flames like this is brutal. I feel an obligation to be honest about it because I think I will lose credibility with y'all.
3. Ryan Braun. OK, let's talk about Ryan Braun. Two more hits, a run, an RBI, three of the Brewers' seven stolen bases. (Did I mention the Pirates looked listless?) Look, you may dislike him because of the positive PED test that was overturned. You may believe the dagger of doubt cancels out any appreciation of his skills. Pirates fans were booing him on Tuesday night, pretty precious from people who will cheer Ben Roethlisberger. Fact is the dude can absolutely rake and absolutely is an MVP candidate. As Jayson Stark outlined on Friday, the odds against Braun winning are slim, more so for what happened last winter than for any holes in his game. Because if you can find a hole, let me know. And remember, he's doing this without Prince Fielder batting behind him.
4. I think the Pirates are done. Great story. We rooted for them. I think I speak for most fans without a dog in the fight in saying we wanted the Pirates to make the playoffs. The depth just isn't there yet. With James McDonald struggling, the Pirates will give rookie Kyle McPherson his first major league start on Wednesday. I can't say Clint Hurdle is making the wrong decision considering McDonald's recent performances, but it's a sign of desperation. And desperation rarely works in a playoff race.
5. Unsung hero of the Brewers: Their catchers. Led by Jonathan Lucroy's .324 average, they were hitting a combined .292/.364/.451 with 18 home runs before Tuesday's game. Lucroy had three of Milwaukee's 13 hits.
6. Jeff Clement pinch-hit for the Pirates. The Mariners once drafted Clement third overall in the 2005 draft. Two picks ahead of a guy named Braun.
7. Can the Brewers really do this? The Cardinals' win over the Astros means the Brewers remain 2.5 games behind St. Louis. But they've passed the Pirates and passed the Phillies, so only the Dodgers and Cardinals stand between them and the second wild card. Since losing on Aug. 19, they're now 21-6 and have gone 11-2 against the Pirates, Cardinals and Braves. Over those 27 games they've outscored their opponents 161-99, averaging 6.0 runs per game.
8. Late in the game, the Pirates' announcers were talking about the batting title race in the National League, basically suggesting it would be a farce if Melky Cabrera wins it. He's hitting .346 to McCutchen's .339. I understand promoting your guy, but what is baseball supposed to do? Pretend Cabrera's 2012 season never existed? You can't do that, just like you can't take away home runs from Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. McCutchen went 0-for-4, although he has played well in September (.293, four home runs). Sure, we'd like to see McCutchen catch Cabrera, but baseball has a long history of controversial batting titles. You could just add this one to the list.
9. Norichika Aoki has been quietly productive: .291/.361/.431, 27 steals, 2.7 WAR, solid defense in right field. The Brewers have him signed for 2 years, $2.5 million, with a $1.5 million team option for 2014. Great signing by Doug Melvin.
10. If you're the Brewers, do you second-guess trading Zack Greinke? Considering where they were, I don't think you can. The guys who replaced Greinke -- essentially Mark Rogers and now Wily Peralta -- have pitched well, so I'm not sure the Brewers would have a better record with Greinke. Now, having him around to pitch a potential tiebreaker game or wild-card game would be a nice option.
11. I think the Brewers need to win these next two games in Pittsburgh, take advantage of a reeling Pirates team. You don't want to head into Washington and Cincinnati having to go 6-1. As is, if we say 86 wins is needed to make the second wild, the Brewers have to go 11-4 over their final 15. I still think the Cards' schedule is a huge advantage -- they have eight more games against Astros and Cubs while the Brewers have just three against the Astros. In the end, I think the Brewers fall a game short. But wouldn't a three-way tie with Cardinals, Brewers and Dodgers be fun?
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Andrew McCutchen can only do so much as the Pirates slip behind the Brewers in the standings.