Stretching the Field: Brewers feeling good at the break

Philadelphia, PA ( - Do you remember Keystone Light's "bitter beer face" ads from years ago?

If not, just go to the preeminent video website YouTube.

Once a poorly brewed beer hit the lips of the actor in the said promotion, their face would pucker in an unsightly manner and Keystone Light came to the rescue.

The Milwaukee Brewers gave themselves and their fans a dose of bitterness from June 29 - July 12 with 11 losses in 12 games, including seven in a row. After Sunday's thirst-quenching rout of the rival St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee's hangover receded.

The bats effervesced in an 11-2 victory and enabled the Brewers to take back sole possession of first place in the National League Central, a position they have either held by themselves or shared for over three months. They claimed first in the division on April 9 and remained alone in that spot until Saturday's 10-2 loss.

At one point the Brewers had a 6 1/2-game lead atop the division.

Milwaukee reverted back to its early season form and avoided a second straight sweep with 19-hit attack. Elian Herrera came out of nowhere to finish 5-for-5 with three runs scored, while Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez and Scooter Gennett had three hits apiece. Wily Peralta allowed one unearned run in seven innings to pick up the win.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was pleased his club was able to head into the All-Star break on a positive note and regain first place in the Central.

"It makes the break a lot funner. It does. You wouldn't think one game does, but it does," Roenicke said. "You're on a losing streak and if you lose today you're not sure when the streak is going to end. So you go into the break not feeling good, you come out of the break not feeling good. Now we go into it feeling good and coming out of it good. It does a lot for the feeling where we are now and coming out of it (break)."

All was certainly not good during the 12-game stretch heading into Sunday. The Brewers scored two runs or less eight times and amassed just 10 runs in the previous four contests.

Khris Davis leads the Brewers with 15 home runs and went deep in the win over the Cardinals. It was his first home run since June 25. Gomez is second on the club with 14 home runs and has just two longballs since June 6. Despite his recent power outage at the plate, Gomez said it was good to produce a lot of runs versus St. Louis after coming up short in the previous two meetings.

The Brewers hold a one-game lead over St. Louis with the Cincinnati Reds just 1 1/2 games off the pace and the Pittsburgh Pirates 3 1/2 games behind.

"It's not comfortable, because they're (Cardinals) a great ballclub and they're going to be there until the end," Davis said. "Just take it day by day and glad to be in the spot we are."

If the Brewers open the second half the way they closed the first, save Sunday's outburst, it will be a long and uncomfortable summer.

Ramirez, the first player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game at third base, understands how hard it is to stay on top in a competitive division.

"We know it's only one game, but it's better than being one game behind," Ramirez said of the Central lead. "We're a first-place club in the first half. Hopefully, we come back ready to play (in the second half)."

The Brewers ended the first half first in the National League in doubles (184), second in homers (94) and RBI (401) and third in hitting (.257). While Ramirez, Gomez, Davis and Ryan Braun carried the offensive load, others such as Gennett and Jonathan Lucroy played a part, too. Lucroy will join Ramirez, Gomez and closer Francisco Rodriguez at the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

The Brewers need their bats to stay hot when play resumes Friday in the opener of a three-game road series against the Washington Nationals.

After a quick trip to the nation's capital, the Brewers, who had lost seven in a row at home prior to Sunday's triumph, will play seven straight at Miller Park versus Cincinnati and the New York Mets. A six-game road trip against Tampa Bay and St. Louis will carry into August.

While it's vital Milwaukee keeps an eye on the ball at the plate, pitching is just as meaningful. Wily Peralta leads the staff with 10 wins and Kyle Lohse is right behind with nine and a club-best 3.26 earned run average and 95 strikeouts. Peralta dazzled the Cardinals on Sunday, one start after giving up nine runs in 4 1/3 innings versus Philadelphia.

Peralta had allowed at least three runs in each of his previous five starts.

"It feels great. We needed it today," Peralta said. "Somebody had to step up the way we were playing. It was my turn today to do it and I was able to do it."

Speaking of stepping up, the Brewers need that to happen with starters Marco Estrada, Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo. Estrada is winless (0-2) in his last three starts and 2-4 in his past six decisions. Garza has a two-hit shutout over his past four outings (2-2) and Gallardo hasn't won since June 19, going 0-1 in four starts since. He has allowed 12 runs in the past three.

Roenicke said the rotation will stay the same in the second half with Lohse starting it off against the Nationals, who are tied with Atlanta for first in the NL East and took two of three meetings at Milwaukee from June 23-25.

"We'll probably stay pretty much on line with it," Roenicke said. "That puts Kyle into starting it off and that's probably what we'll do."

Roenicke doesn't have to do much tinkering over this timely break because the Brewers have proven they're one of the best in the major leagues. Don't let that recent lull for you.

The race in the NL Central will be a heated one when play continues this weekend and right now it's Milwaukee's to lose.

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