WASHINGTON -- The Brewers picked up help Friday for the stretch drive. Then they picked up another victory.
As a result of one of Milwaukee's trio of trades, Giovany Gonzalez found himself in the odd position of sitting in the Nationals' dugout watching his soon-to-be former team lose to his soon-to-be new one. The Brewers got a home run apiece from Travis Shaw, Erik Kratz and Jesus Aguilar in the first three innings, and Jeremy Jeffress worked out of a bases-loaded jam in a rainy ninth to beat the Nationals, 4-1, in the opener of a three-game series at Nationals Park.
An eighth win in 11 games moved Milwaukee within four games of the National League Central-leading Cubs, with a big series between the teams on deck at Miller Park. In the NL Wild Card standings, the Brewers stayed within one-half game of the pace-setting Cardinals, with the Dodgers next at 2 1/2 games behind Milwaukee and the Phillies and Rockies each three games back.
"We survived the tough [part of the] schedule a few weeks ago, and now we're doing what we're supposed to do," Shaw said. "We've won all the series that we talked about that we needed to win, and we're off to a good start here, too."
Boosted by those early homers against Nationals starter Tanner Roark -- Shaw's with a runner on base in the first inning, then Kratz in the second and Aguilar in the third with the bases empty -- the Brewers improved to 20-9 when Jhoulys Chacin takes the mound after the right-hander allowed a run on six hits in 6 1/3 innings, with two walks and six strikeouts.
The Brewers' starting pitching struggles in August are what led them to trade for Gonzalez, but Chacin was not to blame. Since allowing nine runs (eight earned) in a nightmare of a start at Dodger Stadium to begin August, he closed the month by going 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in his next five outings.
After Shaw's homer gave the Brewers a quick 2-0 lead, the Nationals answered with a run against Chacin in a bottom of the first inning that could have been much worse. Washington loaded the bases before Chacin recorded his first out on Anthony Rendon's RBI fielder's choice. Chacin then struck out dangerous rookie Juan Soto and induced an inning-ending grounder from Ryan Zimmerman to preserve the lead.
"I think that was huge there," Chacin said. "After we scored two runs, the last thing you want is to have bases loaded, no outs. You don't want to give the lead back. I was just trying to throw strikes."
Added Shaw: "He squeaks out of trouble all the time. And then once he settles in in the second and third, he's on cruise control the rest of the game. He gives us a chance to win every time."
The Brewers will try to keep winning with some new players in the clubhouse on Saturday. Gonzalez, outfielder Curtis Granderson and lefty reliever Xavier Cedeno, acquired in those trades before midnight ET, are all expected to be on hand as rosters expand for September.
"In this part of the season, every game matters and there's more pressure," Chacin said. "St. Louis is playing well, the Cubs are going well, they're all playing well. We need as many wins as we can."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Harper vs. Jeffress: Relievers Dan Jennings, Jacob Barnes and Jeffress (eighth save) closed out a win in which Brewers pitchers held the Nationals scoreless over the final eight innings and 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. It was especially trying work for Jeffress, who took the mound just as a hard rain began to fall.
Jeffress encountered trouble when shortstop Orlando Arcia booted a ground ball up the middle for an error. Adam Eaton singled and Trea Turner walked to load the bases with one out for Bryce Harper, who'd battled Jennings for a 12-pitch lineout in the seventh inning and proved just as tough on Jeffress in a matchup of players who were All-Star teammates six weeks ago at this stadium. Jeffress won this battle on the eighth pitch, a splitter for a swinging strike three, before retiring Rendon to end the game as the rain intensified.
"It was coming down good," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "If the game goes one more hitter, I'm not sure what happens. I'm not sure if the game could have kept going. We were fortunate to get out of there."
Sleight of hand: Kratz practiced some trickery to keep the Nationals off the scoreboard in the fourth inning. With runners at the corners, Wilmer Difo hit a grounder to first baseman Aguilar, who threw home to Kratz as the runner from third, Soto, tried to slide around the tag. There was a question as to whether Soto ever touched home plate, but there was no question that Kratz didn't have the baseball in his glove as he applied the tag. Instead, replays showed it was in his right hand, which Kratz then raised to show home-plate umpire Chad Whitson. The call was out, and the Nationals opted not to challenge.
"[Soto] didn't touch the plate, though. If he didn't touch the plate, it doesn't really matter that he missed the tag," Counsell said. "It was certainly [a big out]. Kratz made a great play. It was a tough throw to dig out."
HE SAID IT
"Word spreads fast. I knew what was going on and I heard talking here and there, but it wasn't official until you start getting text messages from a lot of family and from people you haven't talked to in a while. So for me it was a reality check, it was kind of a point to move on and now I'm in a place where I can lift myself up and try to help out as much as I can with the Milwaukee Brewers." -- Gonzalez, on getting word right around game time that he'd been traded
Chase Anderson will try to keep the baseball in the yard when he starts at 6:05 p.m. CT on Saturday against the Nationals, who will counter with right-hander Stephen Strasburg. Anderson has allowed an NL-high 28 home runs this season, and while 21 have been solo shots and the other seven have come with only one runner aboard, Anderson has been working hard to find a fix. He believes it may be a matter of tempo, leading to an inconsistent arm slot and erratic command, so he'll aim to take his time against the Nats.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.