CHICAGO -- One hundred and fifty consecutive days.
That's how long the Milwaukee Brewers held at least a share of first place in the National League Central Division before finally buckling under the weight of holding that lofty position.
The Brewers dropped their sixth consecutive game Monday afternoon on a nightmarish three-city trip that ironically began with a 10-1 thrashing of San Diego. This time, the vanishing offense was handled by right-hander Jacob Turner, he of the 5.84 earned-run average entering the game, in a 4-2 loss to the last-place Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Combined with St. Louis' 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh, the Brewers' second-longest losing streak of the season dropped them a game behind the Cardinals. Milwaukee had held at least a share of the top spot since April 5.
The way the Brewers had been playing, it was inevitable that either the Cardinals, who also were struggling, or Pirates eventually would pass them. They had a 1 1/2-game lead before the losing streak began and only St. Louis' recent slide allowed the Brewers to stay in first until Labor Day.
The Brewers now have two choices: Get this thing turned around and engage the Cardinals and Pirates in a spirited September battle for the division title, or continue to collapse and not even earn a wild-card berth.
"This is a rough stretch; it feels like a long road trip already," said Khris Davis, whose seventh-inning homer finally got the Brewers on the board. "We've just got to weather the storm best we can and grind it out, day by day.
"Timing is key. We want to get hot at the right time and jump into the playoffs. It's easy getting to the top; it's harder staying there. That's what I'm learning on a daily basis at the big-league level."
Manager Ron Roenicke said he has seen no difference in his players during this untimely slide, but the hitters have been lifeless (13 runs in the six losses), putting too much pressure on a fraying pitching staff.
"We didn't swing the bat that well, obviously, didn't get a lot of hits," said Roenicke, whose club dropped to nine games above .500 for the first time since July 20.
"We need to get going. That (batting) order has got to produce some runs. ... When we get people on base, we need to drive in some guys."
The Brewers were frustrated by Turner until the seventh inning, when Davis blasted a one-out homer over the left-field bleachers and onto the street to cut Chicago's lead to 3-1. Gerardo Parra followed with a home run off reliever Blake Parker, but that was the extent of the offensive production for the Brewers, who finished with seven hits.
Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson suffered his fourth consecutive losing decision but made only one mistake that really hurt. With a runner on and two down in the fourth and the Cubs leading, 1-0, Nelson hung a 1-2 slider to Welington Castillo, who blasted it out to left for a two-run homer.
Castillo followed a one-out double by Jorge Soler in the second with an RBI single, but that was a shattered-bat, bloop hit into shallow left.
"It was a step in the right direction, but I made a few mistakes, got too much of the plate with a couple of sliders," Nelson said. "And they did what they were supposed to with them. I tried to battle out there and give us a chance.
"There's ups and downs in the season. We know how to deal with it and rebound. This is a good-enough group of guys that we know we'll rebound, mentally and physically, and go on a run. You never want to go through a bad stretch, but it's part of the game."
With Matt Garza returning from the disabled list to rejoin the rotation Wednesday, the Brewers are using six starting pitchers this week. After that, Nelson (2-6, 4.14 ERA) is not assured another start but said he wasn't worrying about that possibility.
"I haven't heard anything," he said. "I'm just going to go through my routine like I always do and stick to that."
After the Brewers closed to 3-2 on the homers by Davis and Parra, the Cubs picked up an insurance run in the eighth on Luis Valbuena's home run off reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who put a changeup in a bad place. Eight of the last nine Brewers hitters were retired by Chicago's bullpen.
With Jonathan Lucroy (.185), Ryan Braun (.222), Scooter Gennett (.150), Mark Reynolds (.083), Jean Segura (.200), Carlos Gomez (.200 before sitting out with a sore wrist) and Davis (.167) doing little at the plate on this trip, the Brewers' offense has covered few pitching mistakes. If that doesn't change soon, the number of days in first place will be capped at the franchise-record 150 days.
Asked what he made of the team's offensive slump, Roenicke said: "We've had them before. We're going through a bad week, and we need to change it. It certainly can change in a hurry. It could change tomorrow and we go on a good span.
"We have it in us, and these guys know it. We need to start it. Everybody is still good, still positive. We're just going through a bad spell."
At a very bad time.
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