MILWAUKEE -- Sometimes a victory takes twists and turns you’d never expect, and sometimes it unfolds just the way you drew it up.
For a Brewers team aiming to play deep into October, Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Marlins at American Family Field was decidedly one of the latter.
Freddy Peralta followed the lead of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff by putting on a third consecutive pitching clinic for a club built around its starting rotation. Josh Donaldson, brought aboard to hit homers, smashed his first Brewers home run for the go-ahead blow in a victory that padded Milwaukee’s now four-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central.
- Games remaining: vs. MIA (2), vs. WAS (3), at STL (4), at MIA (3), vs. STL (3), vs. CHC (3)
- Standings update: The Brewers (81-63) hold a four-game lead in the National League Central over the Cubs (78-68), who lost to the Rockies at Coors Field on Tuesday night. Milwaukee is the third-best division leader, meaning it would host a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series against the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
- Magic number: The Brewers' magic number over the Cubs is 14 to clinch the NL Central.
Peralta struck out nine over 6 1/3 innings to reach the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time in his career, a significant achievement for a right-hander who was limited to 78 innings last season because of a shoulder injury. This year, Peralta is healthy and part of a trio of aces with Burnes and Woodruff, who combined to allow only one run in 23 1/3 innings over the past three days against the Yankees and Marlins. Between them, they surrendered eight hits and three walks with 23 strikeouts.
“I’ve been on the other side before, and I know how difficult it is to hit these guys,” Donaldson said. “They’re really good.”
Said Mark Canha, another in-season pickup who has faced the Brewers’ Big Three: “We’ve been getting some great outings from our starters. That’s what you need to do to win this time of the year. That’s the common theme for teams that make it to the postseason and make it deep into the postseason.”
The only damage against Peralta came on a leadoff home run from NL batting title frontrunner Luis Arraez, and Peralta cruised from there. The only other Marlins hit was a two-out single in the second inning as Peralta improved to 6-0 with a 2.01 ERA over his past nine starts. In that span he’s piled up 82 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings with a 0.75 WHIP and a .154 average against.
The way manager Craig Counsell saw it, the leadoff homer might have produced a net positive effect. Peralta agreed with that.
“I knew who I was facing,” said Peralta in a nod of respect to the All-Star Arraez, "and he got me a little bit mad in the moment.”
Peralta was intent on stopping Miami there and following the lead set by Burnes, who threw eight no-hit innings on Sunday in New York, and Woodruff, who opened this homestand Monday by throwing the Brewers’ first complete game and first shutout in two years.
“We help each other all the time,” Peralta said. “We support everybody in here, especially talking about the starting pitchers. We’re always trying to give advice and ideas. Like Woody last night, after the game he told me what I can do with [the Marlins] today. Out there, I was competing and trying to make quick outs.”
The Brewers tied the game at 1-1 when Marlins right-hander Edward Cabrera walked four batters in the second inning, and Donaldson snapped the tie in the fourth with a show of the power that brought him to Milwaukee in the first place.
Donaldson’s solo homer off Cabrera in the fourth left the bat at 107.2 mph and sailed a Statcast-projected 426 feet, making it the hardest and farthest batted ball of the night for either team. That’s exactly what drew the Brewers’ interest after Donaldson was released by the Yankees late last month, before he joined Milwaukee on a Minor League deal and was promoted to the Majors on Monday.
“I mean, that’s something I have the capability of doing. At the end of the day, it’s ‘Try not to force that,’” Donaldson said. “Maybe the team wants that; to me, I just have to come out and trust in that process and try to get pitches I can handle.”
After going 1-for-4 with a single and a walk in Monday’s blowout win behind Woodruff, Donaldson was 2-for-2 with a home run, a single (though he was thrown out trying to stretch that hit to a double in the eighth) and two more walks on Tuesday night. Add it up, and he’s reached safely in six of his first nine plate appearances with Milwaukee.
“It’s highlighted in a tight schedule: Getting off to a good start matters,” Counsell said. “You trust a player that’s been around to do it. We’re getting good performance and he’s making contributions.”