Two months ago, on July 20, the Milwaukee Brewers were a promising 44-48, 8 1/2 games out of first in the National League Central Division and seven games out of the second wild card playoff spot. On Aug. 20, they were 55-66 and had slid to 11 1/2 games out of the wild card race.
Milwaukee traded starting pitcher Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels on July 27, and to many that signaled that Brewers management was conceding the season and looking to develop young players. Greinke was a popular presence in the clubhouse and the ace of the starting staff, so the subsequent slide was inevitable. By late August, when playoff contenders separate from the pretenders, the Crew appeared to be one of the latter.
But that's just about the time the 2012 edition of the Brewers caught fire. Since Aug. 20, Milwaukee is 20-6 and now sits just 2 1/2 games out of the playoffs, thanks to the addition of a second wildcard spot in each league this season. The bullpen has stopped blowing saves, young starters like Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers are showing promise, and it doesn't hurt that Ryan Braun is aggressively pursuing a second straight MVP award with 40 home runs, 104 RBIs and a .314 average.
The problem: The Brewers have just begun a 10-games-in-10-days road trip that hits Pittsburgh, which is battling Milwaukee for that second wild card spot; NL East-leading Washington; and NL Central-leading Cincinnati. The Brewers are winning 39% of their road games this season, a rate that won't be good enough catch St. Louis, which plays a significantly easier schedule over the same stretch. But if meaningful September baseball is what you want out of the home team, you have it - for the second straight year.