MILWAUKEE -- After three straight heartbreaking losses in the opponents' final at-bat, including two in a row to the team they are chasing in the National League Central, is it Wild Card or bust for the Brewers?
Mathematically, no. A 5-4 loss in 10 innings to the Cubs on Friday night at Miller Park dropped the Brewers 5 1/2 games behind Chicago in the NL Central and two games behind the Rockies in the chase for the second NL Wild Card, with the Cardinals suddenly standing in the way again. The Brewers have eight games left. However slim their chances, both goals remain within reach, even the division crown.
But realistically? Third baseman Travis Shaw said it may indeed be Wild Card or head home for the winter.
"I mean, common sense tells you yeah," Shaw said. "It's 5 1/2 versus [two]."
The Brewers face this challenging math after following a stretch of nine wins in 11 games with three of the most gut-wrenching losses imaginable.
On Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, All-Star closer Corey Knebel's throwing error gave the Pirates the tying run in the eighth inning before Adam Frazier hit a walk-off home run off Knebel in the ninth, snapping his streak of 21 consecutive saves. Back home on Thursday with Knebel, setup man Anthony Swarzak and lefty Josh Hader all unavailable, Jeremy Jeffress was a strike away from his first save in more than a year when Javier Baez golfed a pitch below the strike zone for a tying RBI single. It scored Ian Happ, who had started the inning by reaching on a bang-bang play at first base that Brewers players were still debating during batting practice on Friday.
Then came Friday night, when Knebel was saddled with his second straight loss. This time, it came in particularly painful fashion; Knebel walked pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella with the bases loaded to force home the winning run.
"He's a competitor and he went out there," catcher Jett Bandy said after Knebel departed without speaking to reporters. "He looked good; a little erratic, but that's Corey. He does what he does."
Knebel was pitching a second inning in his fourth outing in five days, a risk manager Craig Counsell acknowledged after the game. Counsell took that risk in part because Knebel had needed only nine pitches to navigate a scoreless ninth inning, and because the Cubs' three best hitters were due up in the 10th.
Knebel found immediate trouble when he walked Kris Bryant to open the inning. Anthony Rizzo sent Bryant to third with a single, and after an intentional walk to Ben Zobrist and a Leonys Martin strikeout, up stepped La Stella for the game's decisive plate appearance.
"We can wait until the next game and not know what the game is going to be like," Counsell said, "or we can pitch him there and know he's our best guy to put up a zero."
It did not work, but the Brewers had no time to mope. Saturday's 12:05 p.m. CT game was a little more than 13 hours away, and they won't have Knebel or Hader at their disposal.
"We've lost three tough games. There's no way around that," Counsell said. "It's tough losing late. You obviously expend a lot when you lose late. We just haven't been able to put that next pitch, play or hit together to overcome it.
"We have to deal with it. That's what's happened. Tomorrow is a new day. We'll come in and try to get them."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.