MILWAUKEE -- This may have been a low point in the Milwaukee Brewers season. But it still shouldn't be confused with Death Valley.

It is true that the Brewers played 16 innings, not to mention 5 hours, 22 minutes, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, only to lose to the Washington Nationals, 4-2.

But when the Brewers awaken -- and they'll have to do so shortly for Wednesday's day game -- their world won't exactly be in ruins.

They will still have the best record in the National League. They will still have a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL Central. These are solid consolation prizes.

The Brewers are in a bit of a downturn against the Nationals after rocketing through Arizona and Colorado with a 6-1 road trip. They were shut out Monday night by Gio Gonzalez and three relievers, and the pitching matchup for the final game of the series, Marco Estrada vs. Stephen Strasburg, does not look particularly promising.

Tuesday night the Brewers had serious problems early with Washington starter and Wisconsin-native Jordan Zimmermann. But then they always do. Zimmermann has had five career starts against Milwaukee and he is 4-0 with a 2.35 earned run average.

"Zimmermann is a great pitcher," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "But we had some chances today and we just had some bad at-bats.

"We lost the game because we didn't get good at-bats when we needed a hit. That's why we lost the game."

The Brewers scored two runs in the fifth, nothing before and nothing after, and there were 11 innings of after in this game. But they have set a high bar for themselves when it comes to production this season.

The Brewers are the second-highest-scoring team in the NL. They had just swept the highest-scoring team, the Rockies, in Denver over the weekend. It is not hard to grasp their run-production success. They are second in the league in home runs and second in slugging percentage. But they are also fourth in stolen bases. They are far from one-dimensional.

So on a night when their hitters appeared to be over-eager, impatient and routinely unsuccessful, the difference was notable. To the opposition, they generally appear much more difficult than that.

"They're a free-swinging bunch," said Nationals manager Matt Williams. "It's an example of if in fact you can do as Gio did [Monday night] and establish early, then maybe you can expand [the strike zone] a little bit and keep them off-balance.

"But if you throw balls in the middle of the plate, they can get big in a hurry. That's been a part of their success -- the home run ball, power numbers and they've got some speed to go along with it. They've got a couple of guys in the middle of their lineup that are hitting over .300. Along with all their guys who can hit it over the fence, it's pretty potent. That's the key for them. The key for the opposition is establishing early, then maybe expanding a little bit, and getting them off-balance."

And what both of these two teams conclusively demonstrated in this marathon was that they had pitching in quality and quantity. In addition to allowing only six runs while recording 96 outs, the pitchers limited the hitters to a batting average of .189 for the night/early morning.

The Nationals came into this game leading the Major Leagues in team earned run average. The Brewers' pitching numbers aren't that lofty but their pitching has been good enough to keep them in first place every day since Apr. 5.

This one stung, no question. Defeat is never a suitable outcome, but it's especially hard to take after putting in five-plus hours.

"It's just tough, you play 16 innings and you lose, it's just tough overall," said Yovani Gallardo who many hours ago, started this game for the Brewers. "For a game to go that long you obviously want to be on the winning side, just to make everything worth it. It's definitely tough when you lose a long game like that, but you've just got to forget about it and get ready to go."

And even here, Gallardo's performance was a plus. He allowed only one run over six innings. In his last four starts, he has given up only three earned runs.

There was an eerie quality about the surroundings for this game, quite apart from who won and who lost. Miller Park is typically a hitter-friendly venue, but it went through two different seasons while this game was being played.

The daytime high in Milwaukee had been 83 degrees. But as the game and the evening wore on, the temperature dropped considerably, falling to 56 degrees by midnight. And so, as Tuesday night turned to Wednesday morning, the Miller Park roof closed.

It felt like summer had come and gone in southeastern Wisconsin. Then again, this defeat could have appeared to be a calamity for the Brewers. In truth, it was a difficult night and early morning at Miller Park, but chances are that both the season and the ballclub will be able to come back.