By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Aug 19, 2007 at 5:26 AM
Ned Yost wishes he had the answers; some easy way to decipher just what has gone wrong as the Brewers try to win their first divisional championship in a quarter-century.

Just like every fan in town, the manager has no way to explain how his team -- which once looked like a runaway winner in the National League Central Division -- gave up an eight-game lead and entered Sunday's contest one-half-game behind the first-place Chicago Cubs.

It's easy to cite an underperforming starting rotation and an overly aggressive approach at the plate. Defensive errors and an unreliable bullpen have done little to ease the problem. But there has to be some way to explain how these Brewers have gone just 14-26 since July 3, when they were 48-34 and life was good.

"It just boils down to we're not getting the job done," Yost says. "There's nothing you can say, you just have to go out and do it. These guys have all had a real successful period in their major league career that they can fall back on. They can be highly successful at this level; each and every one of them."

It has been frustrating for fans, as well as players, coaches and management. While much of the blame has been directed at Yost, there's only so much a manager can do. He admits that the excuse of youth and inexperience can only go so far.

"It's hard," Yost says. "I'm tired of making excuses for it -- I really am -- because we are not playing well. Realistically, we've played .500 baseball one time in 15 years and now our focus is on winning the championship and that's a pretty big jump."

"(There are) a lot of expectations and these kids are in uncharted waters for them at this time of year. With all the expectations and the extra eyes on them, they're going to have to learn how to embrace and accept that and start producing."

While he doesn't have the cure for what ails his team, Yost does offer a simple piece of advice; such swoons have happened before.

Two years ago, it seemed as if nobody could beat the Chicago White Sox. Ozzie Guillen's team steamrolled the American League during the 2005 season, but what was once a 15-game lead had dwindled to just 1½ in August and the deal wasn't sealed until a three-game sweep of Cleveland during the final weekend.

Last year's World Series contestants also suffered late-season swoons before winning their respective leagues. The St. Louis Cardinals took the division with just 83 victories, while the Detroit Tigers were 40 games over .500 on August 7 but went just 19-31 during the final weeks of the season and eventually lost the AL Central to Minnesota by one game.

Yost sees similarities in the 2006 Tigers, who like these Brewers, were ending a long stretch of futility thanks to a crop of home-grown players.

"Detroit, as good as they were, didn't even win their division last year," Yost says. "You can't explain to people what these kids are going through right now."

Even the beloved 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, the team nobody around here can ever seem to stop talking about, failed to run away with the division. They entered the final weekend of the season needing to win just one of four games against Baltimore, but couldn't wrap things up until the final day of the season.

None of this serves as any consolation for Brewers fans, who have had but one .500 season to cheer about in the last 15 years. For every story about a team that survives late-season slides, there are always the 1964 Phillies and 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers to remind you of how bad things can get.

The Central Division, though, is still bad enough that the Brewers could still win the thing. This is the team that went 10-20 at one point and only lost a half-game of its lead. The Cardinals and Cubs have been hot as of late, but the Brewers -- should they snap out of this funk -- still have a group talented enough to end the post-season drought.

"I think they're going to be fine," Yost says. "Every day is another day that they've dealt with this. They're going to be fine."