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Thames homers twice, Brewers move into tie for top wild card

Milwaukee Brewers' Gio Gonzalez pitches during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

While the Chicago Cubs collapsed under the pressure in must-win games in September, the Milwaukee Brewers just kept winning.

The Brewers lost reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich to a broken kneecap and didn't even flinch.

They have won 15 of their last 17 games to climb into the wild-card mix and remain in hot pursuit of the Cardinals for the NL Central lead.

Their magic number to clinch a postseason berth is three. They remain just three games back of the Cardinals in the division race, too, which is why the Redbirds didn't go overboard celebrating their sweep at Wrigley Field.

While the Cubs showed no heart down the stretch -- dooming manager Joe Maddon and ensuring a major roster overhaul -- the Brewers once again came together to make a huge late push.

“If we had the expectation that we would have played this well, it would have been unrealistic," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. "Things have gone as well as they could have possibly gone over that stretch, but at the same time, there's still work to be done.

"Our success this month epitomizes what a team is all about. We've got a lot of big moments from a lot of different guys.”

The big story in Milwaukee is pitching. While the Brewers lost Yelich to an untimely injury, they regained Brent Suter and Brandon Woodruff from the IL.

The earlier acquisition of reliever Drew Pomeranz from the Giants was just one of many pluses for the stretch run. MLB.com notes that the Brewers lead the majors with a 2.81 ERA in September and their pitchers went 6-1 with a 1.00 ERA on the latest homestand.

“We had it a little bit last year, so we're just trying to stay the course, keep playing the game the way we know we can play, and hopefully our guys keep doing what they're doing,” pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. “Everybody is trying to do a good job of piecing this all together."

Added Woodruff:

“It’s like this time of year, I don’t know. ... It seems like we’ve got some good leaders in the clubhouse and everybody’s pulling for each other. I think that goes a long way. And I think the attention to every pitch and every at-bat is coming up pretty big, and guys making a lot of plays in the field and everybody pitching and doing their jobs, and it’s all just coming together.”

TALKIN' BASEBALL

Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:

Jesse Rogers, ESPN.com: "For the second straight day, they had a ninth-inning lead against their archrivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. And again, they lost it. And in doing so, they lost who they were. The Cubs who won that championship are gone forever -- leaving behind only the memory of a dominant team. Some players will remain -- though likely not the manager -- but the vibe won't ever be the same. And that's a good thing. As these things go, the Cubs need a shakeup of epic proportions. The math says they still have a chance at the playoffs, but no one really believes that. Not after losing five consecutive one-run games and six overall at home. At Wrigley Field. In the hunt for the playoffs. The Cubs folded. Using a twist of a Joe Maddon saying, there is little doubt they let the pressure of the moment exceed the pleasure of the game."

Bob Nightengale, USA Today: "The biggest surprise in Chicago this winter will be if David Ross is not named their next manager by Thanksgiving. The Cubs have been preparing Ross, who helped lead them to the 2016 World Series championship and four consecutive division titles, to the heir apparent, and although bench coach Mark Loretta can’t be completely ruled out, they believe Ross will be the perfect fit. And just in case there was any lingering doubt where Maddon stands, Cubs president Theo Epstein took to the airwaves last week on his radio show and threw shade at Maddon. 'Honestly, we’ve been essentially a .500 team for months now ...,' Epstein told 670 The Score, the Cubs’ flagship station. 'If you go back 12, 13 months, it’s just been marked by underachievement and uninspired play.' The biggest question no longer is whether Maddon will be back in Chicago, but where will he end up? The Phillies? Mets? Padres? He’ll be managing again in 2020, but it just won’t be in Chicago."

Emma Baccallieri, SI.com: "The Rockies didn’t necessarily seem like they’d be good entering the season—their offseason didn’t seem to set any direction for the team—but it seemed hard to imagine that they’d be truly bad. The projections put them at 84-78; with Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon, plus a pitching staff that had the potential to be solid with Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Jon Gray, the situation looked as if it had to be at least okay-ish. And it was not. It was decidedly, remarkably, almost wondrously far from okay-ish. (Even with the most generous definition of 'ish' you can give.)"

Mike Axisa, CBSSports.com: "The hunch here is the Red Sox want to scale back spending -- they've had baseball's highest payroll the last two years -- and build more from within going forward, without tearing it all down and rebuilding. That's not easy! And the fact (general manager Dave) Dombrowski was let go one year after a World Series championship and Ben Cherington two years after a title suggests patience is not a virtue in Boston. Ownership will set the direction for the Red Sox going forward and Dombrowski's replacement will be tasked with leading the team down that path. It's a very desirable job (great city, historic park, talented young players, top of the league payroll, etc.) but it could also be a very challenging job. Whoever replaces Dombrowski will have their hands full."

Buster Olney, ESPN.com: "Two World Series titles in six years, and two executives -- with two very different personalities, operating very differently -- both dismissed. These decisions loosely frame the industry perception of the Red Sox as a chaotic company, a miserable place to work. Boston owner John Henry needs to understand this, because it is why some of the people he'd probably love to consider as possible replacements for Dombrowski privately dismiss the idea out of hand. They saw what happened to Cherington. They saw what happened to Dombrowski. In fact, a wide-held view in other front offices is that the highly respected and well-liked Red Sox president Sam Kennedy stands as a thin buffer between the team devolving to the level of the Mets, the team generally regarded by rival executives as baseball's model for dysfunction. 'If Sam ever walked away,' said one official, 'the whole thing would be a complete mess.' The Red Sox will eventually hire somebody good for the job, and in theory, it's a great job -- running baseball operations for a wealthy team steeped in history and legacy, in an iconic market packed with passionate fans. When Henry's time as owner is completed, his tenure will be viewed as an extraordinary success -- the 2004 comeback and breakthrough championship, and the three titles that followed. But in this time and place, highly qualified evaluators wave off the idea of working for Henry because they doubt that he'd have the patience to back his next general manager through the difficult crossroads ahead."

MEGAPHONE

“We all talk about how important Christian is to this organization and the city. The outpouring I got -- I mean literally from around the world -- I had people texting me in Europe and you know it was almost like he had, you know, he had died. And I think maybe what had happened is that it felt like a dream had died for this season, and now it hasn’t, and now the strength of the organization is showing through.”

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, to reporters Sunday on his team overcoming Yelich's injury.

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