So the Brewers will try to finish the job after a September that put them through the ringer.
They held a comfortable, 5 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card standings on Sept. 1, when they began a three-game series against the Mets as the first leg of a 10-game homestand. A Mets sweep and a 3-7 homestand later, the Brewers still felt good going to Philadelphia for a four-game series with a four-game Wild Card lead. By Sunday night, after the Phillies swept a doubleheader and thus the series, that lead had vanished.
Left fielder Ryan Braun called the series a "complete and total disaster," but it was about to get worse. The next morning, Ned Yost was out as manager and Sveum was in, a move designed to spark the team for the final 12 games of the regular season.
Whether or not the managerial switch made any difference, the Brewers got hot at the last -- and best -- possible moment. Despite taking such a long and winding road to get there, they'll be dancing in the postseason.
The Brewers clinched the National League Wild Card on Sunday and earned a rematch against those Phillies. Game 1 is at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday at 2 p.m. CT on TBS.
"Some players can play a whole 15-year career and never be in this situation," Sveum said.
The new skipper described his 12-game regular season tenure as a pre-playoff playoff, and he managed as such, throwing the usual "marathon" approach out the window and approaching every game as a must-win.
Looking for a spark at the top of the lineup, he plopped veteran center fielder Mike Cameron there despite the fact Cameron led the team in strikeouts (even after losing the first 25 games of the year to a suspension). Sveum dropped shortstop J.J. Hardy to the five-hole, trying to get better protection for sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder than previous No. 5 hitter Corey Hart was providing. He bunted more than Yost, and called for the hit-and-run more frequently.
Sveum also blew up the starting rotation, partly by choice and partly from necessity. Manny Parra, the promising young left-hander who was struggling in August and September, was sent to the bullpen to protect his arm. Co-ace Ben Sheets was lost a few days later to a right elbow injury, leaving Sveum to use both CC Sabathia and Dave Bush on short rest while mixing in Seth McClung, who had been in the bullpen, Jeff Suppan, who has a history as a big-time pitcher in September but has not shown it in 2008, and Yovani Gallardo, who is limited because he is barely three months removed from major knee surgery.
"Any time you have a chance to set up and go into the playoffs, you have to do whatever you can to get in," said Sabathia, who has shattered even the most positive expectations since his July 7 trade from Cleveland. "Every game for us is like a playoff game."
Sveum admitted that the mix-and-match approach was not exactly ideal.
"There is a different feeling when you're making such decisions every day on the pitching staff," he said. "Like I said, nobody said life was easy."
Sveum and pitching coach Mike Maddux still have work to do to piece together a playoff rotation. And the offense also enters the postseason far from firing on all cylinders.
The Brewers will power through. There is too much at stake to pack it in now.
"It takes [guts] to stay positive," Fielder said. "There is that failure part where people get passive and that fear of failure comes in. Then you're playing -- not scared -- but you're not letting your natural ability come out. I think it takes a lot more courage to be aggressive.
"Especially since Dale has been here, he's really been stressing to stay positive," Fielder added. "Realize that baseball ... is not easy."
It will not be easy the rest of the way. But at least the Brewers are playing baseball in October while 22 teams watch at home on TV.