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Brewers breakdown: What went wrong in Crew’s ugly NLCS exit

The reaction of Milwaukee's famous racing sausages says it all. Things went south for their beloved Milwaukee Brewers — and they went south quickly and decisively.

When you hear the terms "collapse" and "meltdown" used in sports, you might think more along the lines of what we witnessed in the regular season with the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves blowing significant leads in their respective wild-card races. While that's absolutely true, I think we should also apply those terms to describe the Brewers' exit from the 2011 postseason at the hands of the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

It was not pretty. At all.

As we mentioned coming out of their lackluster performance in Game 5, the Brewers weren't playing particularly good baseball as far back as Game 2. But they really ramped up the stink on Friday night at Busch Stadium, and then went out with a resounding thud on Sunday night in front of nearly 40,000 disappointed fans (there were a few Redbirds fans there, too) at Miller Park.

How did things go from bad to worse so completely? Well, obviously we give credit to the Cardinals for forcing the issue and being the better team on the field. But they absolutely received help from the Brewers. A lot of it, in fact, and it's necessary to look at what they did to lose the series.

Ryan Braun(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes) disappear: Milwaukee's two All-Stars, difference makers and most dangerous beasts didn't utter so much as one small peep over the final two games, combining to go 1 for 16 with five strikeouts and a lone RBI. Given some of the other issues that will be mentioned shortly, their not playing well may not have made a difference in the result of either game individually, but when the heart of the order is shut down, you have no fighting chance.

Brewers breakdown: What went wrong in Crew’s ugly NLCS exit• Faulty starting pitching: The Cardinals became the first team in postseason history to score first in the first six games of an LCS. That included a three-run second inning against Zack Greinke(notes) on Friday, and a four-run first off Shaun Marcum(notes) on Sunday. Those types of early deficits can lead to several aspects of a game tail-spinning quickly, and boy did they ever for Milwaukee.

The end to the season had to be especially discouraging to Shaun Marcum, who said going into Game 6 in was the most important outing of his career. He only lasted that one inning. Now he carries this stat with him into offseason workouts: Of Milwaukee's 26 losses at Miller Park this season, Marcum started 13 of those games. That's not just a now concern, that's a concern going forward.

• Inability to finish innings: That starters weren't starting strong, and no Brewers hurlers were finishing strong. In particular, not finishing innings strong. Because of Milwaukee's struggles to record three outs quietly, of the 19 runs St. Louis scored in Games 5 and 6, 12 were scored with two outs in the inning. That number grows to 19 two-out runs for the series.

What that does is lead to several back-breaking, multiple-run innings. St. Louis had 11 of those in the series, and five over the last two games. With such margin room for error in the postseason, any multiple-run inning is difficult to physically and mentally overcome. Now you just keep compounding those and digging an insurmountable hole.

• Defensive ineptitude: We knew coming in that defense was not Milwaukee's strong suit. In fact, it was quite the Achilles' heel. But seven errors over the final two games? When the pitching is struggling to get three outs it's a problem. When you force them to four, sometimes even five or six, you're headed for disastrous results.

That's where Milwaukee found themselves too often. Too many physical errors defensively (LCS record nine in the series), and even a few fundamental errors — i.e., throwing to the wrong base — that won't show up in the boxscore. It led to a baseball product that was excruciating to watch, even for fans with no rooting interest in the Brew Crew.

But as bad as it was for the loyal fans of the Milwaukee Brewers to endure, once the sting of losing this series wears off they will hopefully quickly forget how it ended and remember a fun and largely successful season that saw their team go further than they have in nearly 30 years. They fell short of the ultimate goal, but the good should outweigh the bad and the ugly.

Follow Mark on Twitter — @Townie813 — and engage the Stew on Facebook

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