Stayin' alive: Brewers erupt to gain ground

Stayin' alive: Brewers erupt to gain ground
CINCINNATI -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was already declaring 2012 a success before an 8-1 win over the Reds on Wednesday night -- a victory the Brewers badly needed to keep alive their scant hope of returning to the postseason.

Shaun Marcum worked another quality start and Norichika Aoki, Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy homered for the Brewers, who won for the 80th time this season and pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the Cardinals in the chase for the National League's second Wild Card, after St. Louis was shut out in Houston.

The Cardinals are idle Thursday, so both the Brewers and Dodgers will have a chance to narrow the gap to three games with six to play.

"As long as we have a chance, we're going to fight to the end," said Aoki, who snapped his 0-for-14 funk with three hits, including the third-inning home run that sparked the Brewers' offense.

The Wild Card remains atop the agenda, but then there's this: With one more win, the Brewers will guarantee at least a .500 finish in a year that began with much higher aspirations, after they won a club-record 96 regular-season games and the NL Central in 2011.

But considering the deep hole they dug -- 12 games under .500 as late as Aug. 19 -- Roenicke didn't hesitate when asked whether his club's late-season surge had transformed the season as a whole, in his view, into a success.

"Hey, I'm hoping we just play awesome the rest of the way out and then we get some help from somebody against St. Louis," he said Wednesday afternoon. "That's what we all hope for. But if we play out great the rest of the year and St. Louis stays hot, they deserve to be in it. We waited a long time before we got our streak together, and that may hurt us in the end."

The Brewers have won 26 of 35 games since their low point on Aug. 19, pulling as close as within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals as of Saturday morning. But three Brewers losses in four days from Saturday through Tuesday, coupled with four Cardinals wins in the same span, dumped them 4 1/2 games back with only eight to play.

They were back on the winning track on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park.

Marcum delivered his second consecutive quality start, following a six-inning, two-run outing over the Nationals with a six-inning, one-run win over the Reds. He limited the damage to four hits in each game, though Roenicke and catcher Lucroy said Wednesday's was the superior outing by far.

"Great. Awesome. Vintage Shaun Marcum," Lucroy said. "He made pitches in big situations, got some strikeouts in big situations. It was very impressive."

Said Roenicke: "We really needed a big outing from a starter, especially going in against [Reds starter Bronson] Arroyo, who we haven't hit well. I know we got runs off him, but normally we're going to struggle to get runs, and we needed a big outing from one of our starters."

The only hit that hurt belonged to Joey Votto, who lined an RBI double off the left-center-field wall in the first inning. Marcum walked Votto his next two times up, and the strategy worked; cleanup man Scott Rolen flied out with two runners on base to end the third inning and struck out with the bases loaded to end the fifth.

Rolen was displeased with the strikeout, which included two called strikes on pitches away. He dropped his bat and helmet at plate umpire Dale Scott's feet before walking off.

The Brewers, meanwhile, mounted a comeback against Arroyo, who entered the night with a 3.83 ERA against Milwaukee. He fell behind during a three-run third inning that featured five consecutive Brewers hits with two outs, leading with Aoki's 10th home run of the season and including RBI singles by Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart.

"It does feel like whenever we face him, he does do well against us," Aoki said through his translator, Kosuke Inaji. "Even though they scored first, we just felt we had to get one back as quickly as possible and go on a run from there."

As for what changed the Brewers' fortunes against the crafty righty, Aoki said, "I'm not sure. It was probably just the momentum changed. I can't say for sure."

Arroyo took the loss after allowing four runs on eight hits in six innings.

"The first two innings were really a breeze, and then after the third it was definitely a grind to make it through those innings," Arroyo said. "It was just one of those nights where I had pretty good stuff, but for some reason they were spitting on balls just off the plate and seemed to have a pretty good idea of what I was doing to them."

Jeff Bianchi made it 4-1 with a two-out sacrifice fly in the sixth inning off Arroyo, Braun hit a two-run home run against reliever Logan Ondrusek in the seventh and Aoki added more insurance with an RBI double in the eighth. Lucroy hit the Brewers' third homer of the night in the ninth to make it 8-1.

Braun leads the NL with 41 home runs and 110 RBIs, and with his 202nd career home run took sole possession of fifth place on the Brewers' all-time leaderboard.

With his third-inning infield single, Ramirez reached 100 RBIs for the seventh time in his career and the first time since 2008. Aoki finished with three hits, two runs scored and two RBIs. His 17 extra-base hits this month have him one off a franchise record for September shared by George Scott (1975) and Hart (2007).

He is trying to finish strong, and so are the Brewers. After Thursday's afternoon finale in Cincinnati, they return to Miller Park for six games against the Astros and Padres.

"You never know until the end," Aoki said.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.