Every time Zack Greinke needed a big pitch he delivered on a night he felt less than stellar. His numbers looked brilliant at the end anyway.
Greinke won his fifth straight start and Jerry Hairston Jr. singled in two runs to lift the Brewers to a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night for their 19th victory in 21 games.
The NL Central-leading Brewers remained seven games ahead of St. Louis after the Cardinals topped Pittsburgh 7-2 and are on track for a second playoff berth in four years.
“It’s definitely not locked up or anything, but if we continue playing well, it should happen,” Greinke said. “It’s on us, mainly. We’ve just got to keep doing as good as we’re doing or close to that and make it as tough as possible on the other teams. It is ours to lose.”
The hottest team in baseball has gotten contributions on offense from unlikely candidates all season, including Hairston, the utilityman acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline when second baseman Rickie Weeks severely sprained his left ankle.
“The one thing I did hear about him is he’ll get you some big hits and he’ll come in with the game on the line like it was tonight,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “He battles, especially with two strikes and gets you that big one. You name a whole bunch of guys, everybody’s chipping in.”
Hairston’s two-out single in the sixth helped Greinke (12-4) become the first Brewers pitcher in franchise history to win his first nine home decisions with the club. Greinke’s only mistake came when Tony Gwynn Jr. homered in the seventh.
Milwaukee is 11-0 when Greinke starts at Miller Park and 47-15 at home this year, the best pace since the 1998 Yankees won 62 games.
“This is definitely the best team I’ve ever been a part of, it’s definitely fun,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who joked that only a Little League team he was on had a better record at 25-0. “The talent level on this team has been unbelievable.”
Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young winner, scattered five hits and struck out eight over seven innings to lower his ERA to 1.57 over this five-game winning streak.
“It wasn’t a great outing, but I made big pitches when they needed to be made,” Greinke said.
The Brewers have only scored 11 times in the past five games, all victories, because of their dominant pitching staff and just enough clutch hits.
“Since the second half, everyone’s been playing well,” Greinke said. “Not just that, the defense has been better, the bullpen’s been really good and starters have done better. Pretty much one of those things everybody on the team is doing their job right now. That’s why we’re winning the games we are.”
In the sixth, Milwaukee got to Dodgers rookie Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) after the 21-year-old right-hander loaded the bases with one out. Eovaldi forcedYuniesky Betancourt to pop up for the second out, but Hairston’s bouncer up the middle was just out of the reach of rookie shortstop Justin Sellers to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
Hairston’s big hit came a night after Mark Kotsay‘s tiebreaking single in the ninth.
Gwynn homered for the first time this season in the seventh against Greinke, but the Brewers answered when Dodgers reliever Josh Lindblom allowed a single to Lucroy then threw two wild pitches that allowed him to score.
Los Angeles remains in an ugly rut on offense, something that’s been a problem all season.
We realistically (are) not mathematically eliminated, but realistically we haven’t shown that we are the kind of club that can go rattle off 10 in a row,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Dodgers, who have two runs in three games here, loaded the bases with an out in the fourth and had two on and two out against Greinke in the sixth, but both times failed to score with each inning ending on a groundout byDioner Navarro.
Sellers made two terrific plays to keep the Brewers off the board early, including a diving catch of Ryan Braun‘s liner with the bases loaded and one out in the third that turned into an easy double play. But Sellers couldn’t quite reach Hairston’s roller in the sixth, and the Dodgers failed to score at least two runs for the 37th time this season.
“Our lack of offense has been fairly standard, but we know these guys can pitch a little bit,” Mattingly said. “They’ve been doing it not only against us, but they’ve been doing it against a lot of teams.”
By Curt Hogg
Randy Wolf didn’t nearly have his best stuff of the season, but the defense behind him sure did.
Milwaukee turned four double plays and a triple play, all within the first five innings of the game as Wolf went eight scoreless innings.
With runners on first and second in the second, James Loney hit a tapper that turned into a 6-4-3 double play, but Matt Kemp tried scoring from second. Prince Fielder rifled the ball home to catcher George Kottaras in time for the triple play as Miller Park erupted. The defense wasn’t done there.
In the third, rookie Justin Sellers singled up the middle and catcher Dionner Navarro was waved home. Jerry Hairston Jr. threw a laser to the plate in plenty of time to nab Navarro. Next inning, Hairston bested his previous play by laying out to rob Kemp of a base hit and sprawling to his feet to double off Andre Ethier at first.
The Brewers scored their runs on three solo home runs by Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, and Corey Hart. Braun’s blast in the fourth was Milwaukee’s first baserunner. Lucroy’s pinch hit home run to left and Hart’s no-doubter to right both came in the eighth inning off Scott Elbert and Mike MacDougal, respectively.
Wolf (10-8) walked five, including the leadoff man four times, but pitched out of trouble each inning. His defense got him through the first five innings before Wolf began striking out batters with runners on. The Brewers starter pitched with runners on in every inning but the eighth.
Dodgers starter Ted Lilly (7-13) appeared to be the better pitcher in person Monday. He only surrendered two hits, both to Braun, and made one crucial mistake that cost him a loss. The lone run given up came on an 0-2 hanging breaking ball.
Here is the Brewers lineup for Monday’s game against the Dodgers.
- Hart RF
- Hairston CF
- Braun LF
- McGehee 3B
- Betancourt SS
- Wilson 2B
- Kottaras C
- Wolf P
By Curt Hogg
Coming off a three game sweep of the Pirates, Milwaukee hosts a four game series to close out the homestand against the 55-64 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Probables: Monday: Wolf (9-8, 3.48) vs Lilly (7-12, 4.71); Tuesday: Gallardo (13-8, 3.67) vs Billingsley (10-9, 4.17) Wednesday: Greinke (11-4, 4.08) vs Eovaldi (1-0, 1.64); Thursday: Estrada (3-7, 4.46) vs Kershaw (14-5, 2.72)
-The Dodgers just came off a three game sweep of the Astros.
Keep the Bottom Down
The top and middle of the Dodgers lineup can and will produce runs, with each of their 2-5 hitters hitting over .290 as of Monday. Of course, Matt Kemp is having a career season and will be the player to keep an eye on at all times.
But if the Brewers pitching can avoid trouble at the bottom of the order, they will be in a good position. LA manager Don Mattingly mixes it around at the bottom, so we may see an combiation of Aaron Miles, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe, James Loney, and Tony Gwynn in the 6-8 slots in the batting order.
As a team, Los Angeles ranks 8th in batting average, 13th in home runs, and 15th in runs scored in the National League.
Closing the Door
To put it plainly, the Brewers bullpen has been nothing short of dominant over this hot stretch.
Brewers relievers have not allowed a run in 16 2/3 innings, making it their longest such streak of the season. Hawkins, Saito, Loe, Rodriguez, and Axford can either lead the Brewers to a sweep or cost the team a game or two. In innings 7-9, the Dodgers hit only .241 and struggle in high leverage situations as a team. The bullpen may be the key to the Brewers’ success in this series.
For three entire months, it seemed Yuniesky Betancourt was the Brewers’ one liability. But ever since the All Star break, he’s been the team’s best hitter. Since the break, he is hitting .369 with 4 homers, 21 RBI, and 13 runs scored.
Ron Roenicke says that the turnaround came after he sat Betancourt for consecutive days in Colorado. Two days later, Yuniesky had a two-home run game in Arizona and hasn’t stopped hitting since.
If Betancourt stays hot against the Dodgers, they could be in for a long series at Miller Park.