With only four weeks left until the much-anticipated month of October arrives, the Milwaukee Brewers have set themselves up for a chance at a run for the World Series, but it won't be easy getting there.
The Brewers have seemingly been on a mission to not just make the playoffs in 2014 but do so as the champions of the NL Central division. They've held atop the division for most of the 2014 season and until lately looked to be in firm control heading into the final stretch.
While the division begins to take shape for the final time this season, the Brewers find themselves one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals and two games ahead of the surging (6-4 in their last 10 games) Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, the Brewers have stumbled down the stretch and have lost six straight and eight of their last 10 games.
Historically, when the Brewers are in contention late in the season, general manager Doug Melvin has selling teams on speed dial and is looking to make a splash with All-Star additions like C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke. However, the Brewers' front office seemed content with the team's roster this year as the trade deadline came and went without any blockbuster deals (unlike some of the league-altering transactions by Oakland, Detroit, and division-foe St. Louis).
Following this year's deadline, Brewers fans seemingly couldn't argue with Melvin's decision to pass on the trade market's available starting pitchers. The Brewers won 11 of their next 17 games following the deadline and did so against some of the game's best in Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
A potentially devastating injury to starting pitcher Matt Garza put a strain on the pitching staff and created a more dire need for productive plate appearances by the Brewers' hot-and-cold offense. One bright spot to the injury bug plaguing the Brewers' starting pitchers was the stellar step-in performance by Mike Fiers (4-2) and the flashes of potential displayed by Jimmy Nelson.
Fiers is already drawing praise from his teammates.
"It has been incredibly impressive," outfielder Ryan Braun told The Associated Press (via USA Today) regarding Fiers performance this year. "I don't think anybody foresaw him coming up and being the best pitcher in baseball the last four starts."
It's likely that Broxton's role will be to set up for Francisco Rodriguez initially, though it's feasible Broxton will take over at closer at some point. K-Rod has allowed runs in three of his last four outings and sports a 4.86 ERA in his last 18 outings. Of course, Broxton's ERA in August is 5.23, so it's not like either one is hot right now.
With the return of Matt Garza this Wednesday, a talented and reinforced bullpen, consistent offense, and a little luck, the Brewers are definitely worth the price of admission this month as they look to win their second division title in the last four years.
So as September begins, the Brewers will look to hold off the veteran Cardinals and surging Pirates to ensure their place in the hunt for the NL title. With 10 of the Brewers' final 26 games against the Cardinals and Pirates (a key matchup begins Thursday with a four-game series against St. Louis), their fate lies within their own hands.
Win those divisional games, win the division. Win the division, all bets are off.