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Well-built Brewers will make playoffs

By Michael Hunt Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 2:27 a.m.

Against the wave of popular opinion that has St. Louis gaining control of the National League Central in the final two months of the season, I interrupt this regularly scheduled Cardinals coronation for a brief announcement.

The Brewers will make the playoffs.

I cannot say if they will hang on to their slender lead in the four-headed beast of a division or if their third postseason appearance in six years will come via the wild card.

While it is reasonable to assume that three Central Division teams won't make the playoffs again this season as they did last year, one way or another the Brewers will manage to hang on to what they've built.

This, of course, is not the popular stance in Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, or even parts of Wisconsin. The vitriol that spewed forth during the Brewers' pre-break swoon was harsh and predictable.

This remains a football state in thought and perspective against the notion that there are no fourth-and-1's in baseball. They still do this every day.

The local backlash ignored that, along with the fact that the Brewers were still in first place by the time they could catch their breath against the inevitable dip that happens to virtually every team during the course of a 162-game season.

True, everything that happened during the dozen-game slump seemed magnified, from the improbable blown leads to the tragic death of Jean Segura's son. Nothing went right, and still the Brewers were able to right themselves for a final and decisive victory against the Cardinals that held their spot until after the All-Star Game.

Now, the question is whether the Brewers did enough to hold it through September.

There were no CC Sabathia deals to be made by the end of the trading deadline, but general manager Doug Melvin did pick up a useful piece in outfielder Gerardo Parra, a needed left-handed bat. The Brewers are where they are in large part because of defense, which also happens to be Parra's specialty.

He joins an already gifted outfield and can play all three positions. Parra's presence should come in handy on numerous occasions. He won't have the impact of a frontline arm, commodities that went to Detroit and Oakland and stayed out of the league, but the Brewers have enough pitching to defend their position.

The Cardinals picked up 35-year-old John Lackey, but they're going to regret that move now and later. They gave up too much to Boston in Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, plus their two-month rental of Lackey won't address the short-term needs of a roster that has been weakened by injury.

Yet, St. Louis' indomitable strength has always been persistence. The Cardinals are always there at the end with a finishing kick. The Brewers have that to contend with, along with the Pirates and the Reds, who aren't going away any time soon.

Still, the Brewers remain in possession of all of the qualities that made them baseball's biggest surprise team until just before the break. Their pitching is solid. Their defense is so much better than in past years, especially at first base. Up the middle -- catcher, shortstop and center field -- they are as strong as any team in the league.

And while it is susceptible to the occasional brownout, the offense remains quite capable of giving the pitching staff enough cushion more times than not. That hasn't changed.

The other thing the Brewers have going for them down the home stretch is confidence. Self-assurance doesn't trump a complete-game gem or a strategically placed three-run home run, but it's important when you're going head-to-head with the cockiest team in the league.

The Brewers proved that their fast start was the result of quality as opposed to a fleeting hot streak. They withstood the pre-break swoon with the same mental resolve. Knowing you're good and hoping you're good are two different things.

The former will carry them in the final two months.

Sports on 08/03/2014

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