The Milwaukee Brewers have ridden quite the rollercoaster since the All-Star break.
The Brewers opened the second half with 5.5 game lead in the NL Central, which quickly slipped away when Milwaukee coupled a 6-12 start with the Chicago Cubs' 14-3 run. On Aug. 11, the Brewers were in fourth place in the division and three games behind the Cubs.
Since then though, Milwaukee has managed a four-game winning streak, bringing them back to second place and one game within Chicago. The Brewers are also just 4.5 games from a Wild Card spot.
Milwaukee kicks off a brutal nine-game road trip this weekend, which features a stop in Colorado before three-gamers in San Francisco and Los Angeles. While the Giants are one of the worst teams in the NL, the Rockies are currently atop the Wild Card standings, and the Dodgers are on pace for 115 wins. Combine that with the Cubs' cupcake schedule - they are in the midst of a 20-game stretch against teams that are under .500 - and Milwaukee will need quite a run to hang on in this race.
But they just may be capable of putting together that type of run. It finally seems as if the starting pitching is coming together. Chase Anderson (2.89 ERA) returns from the DL this Sunday. Zach Davies owns a 2.20 ERA in his last six starts. Jimmy Nelson has combined a career-high strikeout rate with a career-low in walks. Matt Garza and Brandon Woodruff are both solid back-of-the-rotation arms. There is no top-end pitcher in that group, but there is also no weak link either.
When the offense is going, that level of pitching will be more than enough. And this lineup is certainly going right now. The Brewers are averaging 6.6 runs per game over their last five contests (4-1 record).
Ryan Braun is slashing .407/.462/.593 since July 29. Manny Pina is in the middle of a career campaign and blasted the decisive home run in Wednesday's win over Pittsburgh. Even the trades are working out; newly acquired Neil Walker has reached base seven times in three games since coming over from New York.
The offense will need to stay hot through this road trip. Colorado and Los Angeles are two of the three best offenses in the NL, and a combined 51 games over .500 at home. This is not going to be easy for Milwaukee, which is just 28-29 on the road.
But a good weekend in Colorado does more than keep the Brewers on Chicago's hip. The Rockies are just 4.5 games ahead of Milwaukee in the Wild Card race. A sweep brings that playoff avenue into play as well.
The Brewers are not winning the division on this road trip. But a successful two weeks away from home puts the pressure on the defending champs, and proves Milwaukee is capable of hanging with the best teams in the National League.