Wednesday September 3rd, 2014

Tuesday was not a good day for the Milwaukee Brewers. To begin with, they were creamed by the Chicago Cubs, losing 7-1 in a game that was very nearly over in the first inning when the Cubs put up a four-spot. Starter Yovani Gallardo gave up all seven runs, but two were unearned. Elian Herrera, who has been getting increasing time at shortstop due to Jean Segura’s complete collapse at the plate, made two errors, allowing a would-be double-play ball to go through his legs then making a wild throw to allow the fourth run of the inning to score. The loss was the Brewers’ seventh in a row, a streak that has now tied their worst of the season and has seen them fall out of first place for the first time since the season’s opening week.

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On top of that, the Brewers found out on Sunday that the wrist injury Carlos Gomez suffered on a swing in the third inning of Sunday afternoon’s loss will keep their All-Star center fielder out of action for at least a week and more likely two, and that’s with less than four weeks left in the season. Gomez has been the Brewers’ second-best player this season after MVP candidate Jonathan Lucroy. Gomez is an excellent defensive center fielder, though the advanced fielding metrics agree that he’s not playing up to his usual standard in center this season. He currently leads the team in slugging percentage (.479), stolen bases (29) and runs scored (85). He is tied for the team lead in home runs (21) and is second to Lucroy in wins above replacement with 3.7.

It is telling and damning that the Brewers’ current losing streak has coincided with Gomez’s recent slump. In the Brewers’ last win, on August 25, Gomez went 3-for-5 with a stolen base and a run scored. In the first five games of Milwaukee’s current losing streak, Gomez went 1-for-15 with nine strikeouts. His only hit came Sunday in a game that he left after three innings due to what has been labeled a sprained left wrist. Gomez hasn’t played since and could now miss up to half of the remaining regular season, if not more.

Among the games Gomez is sure to miss is this weekend’s crucial four-game set against the now-first-place Cardinals, who expanded their lead to two games Tuesday night with a 6-4 win over the Pirates. That series, which commences Thursday night, contains the Brewers’ final home games against the team they are now chasing for the division title. St. Louis is riding a modest four-game winning streak and has won seven of the two rivals’ previous dozen meetings this season, including four of six in Milwaukee.

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To make matters worse for the Brewers, St. Louis will welcome Michael Wacha back to its rotation for the series opener, allowing it to bookend the series with its top two starters, Wacha and Adam Wainwright. The sunny side to those pitching probables for Milwaukee is that Wacha has been on the disabled list since mid-June with a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder and threw just 34 pitches in his only rehab start. And Wainwright has been shockingly hittable in the second half, going 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA, giving up three home runs Tuesday night for the first time since June 2010.

However, without Gomez in their lineup, the Brewers are far less likely to be able to take advantage of the Cardinals' weakened aces. Over the course of its current slump, Milwaukee has scored more than two runs just once in seven games, averaging just two runs scored per game with Gomez first slumping and, for the last 2 2/3 games, absent.

There is some good news for Milwaukee. It acquired a capable fill-in center fielder at the non-waiver trading deadline in Gerardo Parra, who has hit a respectable .264/.316/.453 in 54 plate appearances since joining the Brewers. Despite his two home runs in that stretch, however, Parra lacks Gomez’s power and base-stealing ability, making him a far less disruptive and impactful offensive player even when on a hot streak.

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The Brewers will also get an injured starter of their own back when Matt Garza returns from his oblique strain to start Wednesday night against the Cubs. Garza won’t help with the team’s offensive slump, though, and despite the fact that they have allowed 49 runs over those last seven games, starting pitching depth hasn’t been the problem. The Brewers have only allowed more than four runs in a game three times in their current losing streak, and those three games were started by Wily Peralta, Kyle Lohse and Gallardo, the three pitchers least likely to be bumped from the rotation by Garza’s return. Rookie Jimmy Nelson, who has out-pitched Peralta and Lohse since the All-Star break, is the most likely candidate.

The Brewers can take some consolation in the fact that the two teams chasing them in the NL wild-card race lost as well Tuesday night, with the Pirates falling to the Cardinals and the Braves being shut out yet again by the Phillies. Indeed, the Braves' recent offensive slump is almost as disheartening as the Brewers’ woes, though it has been briefer and less detrimental to their position in the race. Atlanta has scored just one run in its last four games combined against the Marlins and Phillies and has just three hits in its last two games against Philadelphia (two of them by Jason Heyward). Still, after spending effectively the entire season in first place, Milwaukee doesn’t want to have to settle for a wild card. Without a prompt return from Gomez to jumpstart the offense, however, it may have to.

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