By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Sep 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

It is Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. The Milwaukee Brewers have played 142 games, leaving only 20 before the conclusion of the regular season.

Following Tuesday night's 5-0 win over Atlanta at Miller Park, the Brewers sit at 71-71, .500 for the first time since Tuesday, April 24 when the team was 9-9.

Randy Wolf won that April game for the Brewers, Alex Gonzalez went 3-for-4, Rickie Weeks drove in three from the leadoff spot. The combination of Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford closed the door in the eighth and ninth innings.

That day, 142 days ago, seems much further away than that. The season was still young, a lot of baseball had yet to be played.

Now, very little baseball is left, but the Brewers find themselves within shouting distance of the second of two National League wild card spots. Twenty games isn't a lot to hop over three teams, but anything can happen.

"I don't think it's how you start," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "It's how you finish. Obviously, it works in your overall record how you start but if you finish up strong like the (St. Louis) Cardinals did last year you can hopefully get a playoff spot and go from there. That's what we're trying to do this year – just finish up strong, and keep fighting, keep battling and see what happens. You never know."

You never know.

It's a cousin of "What might have been."

The Brewers, fittingly, are sort of between both.

The Brewers had blown 27 saves while converting 37 for a save percentage of 58-percent. It is third worst in the National League. The National League conversion average is 67-percent. If the Brewers had done that, they would sit at 77-65 and be in second place in the division and in the second wild card spot.

The Major League Baseball average for save conversions is slightly higher, at 70-percent. Should the Brewers have just saved the average amount of chances, they would have 79 wins and the team could be thinking about chasing down Cincinnati.

What if.

"I know this year has been tough," Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez admitted. "We're not doing what we were supposed to and what we expected to do."

You never know.

The Brewers know there isn't much sense in looking backward, at least not now. A 19-7 stretch has the team believing what lies ahead.

"We all believed it weeks ago," Gomez said. "We know we have the team. We get closer, like two, three games behind, a lot of people will panic because they know we can play the game right. They know we are a good team. We had a bad start, struggling with the bullpen, struggling sometimes to make some runs, but now we're putting everything together."

Crazier things have happened in baseball in September and early October. Just ask the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves of last year, the 1993 San Francisco Giants or the 1969 Cubs. Collapses can happen.

Or ask the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who went 20-8 in September, which included a 13-1 finish, to force a 163rd game and earn a wildcard berth before advancing to the World Series. Unthinkable runs can happen.

"We know nobody's expecting us to win," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We can go out there and play loose. We know we have to win to be in it, but nobody expects us to do it so go out and play confident and loose."

The Brewers finish up their series with the Braves tonight, and then host the hapless New York Mets before hitting the road to face Pittsburgh – one of the teams ahead of them in the wildcard chase – before concluding the road trip with series against the National League East-leading Washington Nationals and the Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.

Should the Brewers sweep the rest of this home stand – which is completely plausible – talk would be eerily similar to the nine-game stretch after the All-Star break that many felt would be "make or break."

That stretch, which coincidentally began with Pittsburgh, was a disaster. The team went 4-5 and then lost six more games – including three straight 7-6 losses to Philadelphia – to end July with a 47-56 record.

"When you're struggling and you're starting the season struggling knowing the way that you want to be, you just keep battling, working, and when everything is going wrong, going bad, you knew something was going to come," reliever Jose Veras said.

"That's the way baseball, that's the way life is. Sometimes you're going to go through tough times in your life and you just keep battling and working and try to find the day that's going to be good. That's what we've been doing as a group."

The team has been focused on the .500 mark since August, but that was the only real "long term" goal they could set. Veras said at the very least, they could look back at the end of the season and know they didn't give up, and that they finished strong.

The best case scenario? You never know.

"With baseball, there's always enough season left unless you really get down to the last month and you're really out of it," Axford said.

"If you're keeping yourself around and keep kicking around and get hot at the right time, there's always enough games to build yourself back up and get yourself back into it. For us it was just taking each game at a time and winning each game at a time and really trying to get back to .500. that is the biggest thing. If we could scratch and claw and crawl and get back to .500 by the end of the year, that was a positive outlook.

"That was maybe the farthest you would want to think. You wouldn't want to go too far beyond that. That's why, really, the focus is one day at a time. As cliche as that sounds, that's the way it has to be. You can't just keep thinking so far ahead because otherwise you're not focusing on the task at hand."

With 20 games to go, the Brewers can easily ask 'What if?' But now, they are locked in on the possibility of "you never know."

"A lot of things can happen," Gomez said. "If we win most of the games, and those teams lose, we're in the playoffs."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.