It's been quite a run for the Milwaukee Brewers, who have won 20 of their last 26 games to find themselves in legitimate contention for the second wild card.
The Brewers are only 2.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, with the only other team in their way being the Los Angeles Dodgers, who trail the Redbirds by a game after splitting a 4-game series with the Cards.
It was the best case scenario for Milwaukee to not only keep pace, but to also gain on the wild card leaders. The Brewers took two out of three over the weekend against the New York Mets.
Here's how the Crew can survive its 10-game road trip.
Brewers first baseman Corey Hart hasn't played since Sept. 9. At first, it was reported that Hart had a slight ankle tweak, but what has really bothered Hart is plantar fascia, which causes a great deal of pain in the arch of his left foot.
On Sunday, Hart suffered a setback when testing out the foot running the bases. He was hoping to return on Tuesday against the Pirates, but that looks unlikely now.
Whether Hart can return at any point during the road trip is uncertain, but his absence would undoubtedly hinder the Brewers, with Travis Ishikawa mainly playing in his place.
The absence of Hart's bat in the lineup over the next ten games could prove to be costly, so we'll see if Hart can find a way to tolerate the pain, because injuries like his don't just go away.
The Brewers offense is the reason Milwaukee is in this position, and it will have to continue pouring in runs if the Brewers want to remain in contention for the second wild card.
It won't be easy—the Nationals and Reds rank first and second respectively in team pitching in the National League. The Pirates have tailed off lately, but they still rank in the upper half of the league as well.
Milwaukee gets to ease into this road trip, so to speak, by playing the Pirates first, but the trip is back-end loaded with a four gamer against the Nats followed by a trip to Cincy.
With a resurgent Rickie Weeks in the two-hole, Braun and Ramirez anchoring the lineup, and Jonathan Lucroy hitting well over .300, it's hard to find any glaring weaknesses in the top-scoring offense in the NL. It will have to remain that way throughout this road trip.
As mentioned before, the Brewers catch a break by beginning the 10-game trip in Pittsburgh.
There's no other way to put it—the Pirates are in a full-out nosedive with no signs of the engine flipping back on. The Bucs are 3-12 in their last 15 games and have fallen from the second wild card position to fourth place in the NL Central in just over two weeks.
It would be ideal for the Brewers to sweep the Pirates, because it's far from guaranteed that Milwaukee will win series' against Washington and Cincinnati.
A struggling James McDonald has been pulled from the starting rotation in favor of Kyle McPherson, and the Brewers will face McPherson along with AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, so it will be a tall task to pull off the sweep.
Then again, it was a tall task for the Brewers to get back to .500. At 74-72, Milwaukee is two games above .500 for the first time since it was 4-2 in April. Conclusion: anything is possible.
The Brewers can't ask for much more from Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta—especially Peralta—but Mike Fiers and Shaun Marcum have faltered down the stretch.
Marcum just hasn't been the same pitcher since returning from his stint on the disabled list, going 0-1 with a 5.70 ERA since Aug. 25. Meanwhile, Fiers' ERA has jumped from 1.80 to 3.23 since Aug. 7.
Obviously, it was asking a lot for Fiers to continue his ridiculous pace, but we've seen this story play out with Marcum before. He simply can't locate his pitchers, which spells trouble since Marcum relies so much on control.
In fact, both Fiers and Marcum rely on pinpoint accuracy for their success. If they can both rediscover the black of the plate, the Brewers could ride their starting five through this road trip.
It's popular belief that the offense is the reason the Brewers are in the position they're in. But I like to say it's because the bullpen hasn't gotten in the way.
This group has been on quite a run. The last bullpen mate to blow a save was Jim Henderson against the Cardinals on Sept. 7, but the Brewers still went on to win in extra innings.
The last loss you can really pin on the pen was the debacle on Aug. 30 against the Chicago Cubs, when the Brewers blew a 9-3 lead despite seven RBIs from Jonathan Lucroy.
Yes, this unit still leads baseball in blown saves, and my head explodes when I think about how well positioned Milwaukee would be if not for this unfortunate statistic, but the fact of the matter is that John Axford is back in form as closer, and everyone else appears to be falling in line.
The Brewers are bound to be in some close games during this east coast swing—they'll need their bullpen now more than ever.
According to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, the Milwaukee Brewers have one of the more difficult remaining schedules as of Sept. 13 among the other wild card-2 contenders.
Sure, this information is a little dated, but the point is that the Brewers will need teams outside of the Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks to step up, because Milwaukee still has to play catch-up while holding others off at the same time.
The Dodgers face a more difficult schedule down the stretch, while the Cardinals have the benefit of playing Houston and Chicago nine times. On a lighter note, the Astros and Cubs are playing much better baseball as of late.
With six teams within 4.5 games of each other, anything can happen, but the Brewers will have to hope the chips continue to fall their way in order to get out of this road trip alive.
A sweep, or even a winning series, over the Pirates would be one thing, but to get through the Reds and Nationals with a winning record is a completely different beast.
They are the two best teams in the National League, although both are 5-5 in their last ten games. Perhaps the Brewers will catch them at just the right time and manage to go 4-3 or better against the NL's elite.
It's impossible to know exactly how the next ten days will play out around the National League, but if the Brewers do escape Pittsburgh unscathed and finish the road trip strong, they will probably still have a shot at winning the second wild card.
Hell, they might even hold the second wild card with six games to go. That's how crazy these last few weeks have been, and you can bet the last couple will be just as wacky.
Milwaukee is playing like a team that—well—has nothing to play for. The exact opposite is true, however. Just don't tell the Brewers.
I'm not sure if there is a team having more fun right now than the Milwaukee Brewers, and that is a huge reason why the Crew is back in contention. The unique characters on this team help keep the clubhouse loose, and the veterans' calm demeanor provides a lax atmosphere for young, inexperienced players like Wily Peralta and Jean Segura.
Credit has to go to veterans like Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez, but most importantly manager Ron Roenicke. If you're going to pin the blame on him for the team's earlier struggles, you have to give him props for turning this thing around.
Keep having fun, Brewers, and we'll keep having fun right along with you.