MILWAUKEE -- It's tricky coming up with an apt description for Brewers slugger Jesus Aguilar's second half. He was so productive on the way to winning the National League Final Vote and swinging for the fences in the Home Run Derby and playing in the All-Star Game that his post-break performance feels flat, even when the numbers say it isn't. Most hitters would gladly take Aguilar's .877 OPS in August.
Still, it hasn't been quite the same. And just when you resign yourself to failing to find the right words after Aguilar delivered a tirebreaking double in Friday's 4-2 win over the Giants, Chase Anderson comes along and delivers.
"He's not a bonfire anymore. I would say he's more like a campfire," Anderson said. "He's still hot, though."
That was perfect, especially on the first fall night at Miller Park cool enough to require a sweatshirt. Aguilar turned back the clock to a first half filled with big moment after big moment, connecting against Giants reliever Tony Watson with two on and two outs in the seventh inning to push the Brewers a bit closer to October baseball.
The Brewers tallied only three hits -- matching their season low in a victory -- in their 12th win in their last 17 games. They extended their lead atop the National League Wild Card standings to 1 1/2 games over the Cardinals, who lost on a walk-off home run at Detroit.
In the NL Central race, Milwaukee moved back to within four games of the Cubs after Chicago's game at Washington was postponed in the second inning and will be replayed on Saturday as part of a doubleheader.
"We're feeling pretty good as a team," said Anderson, who allowed two runs in five innings of a no-decision.
Aguilar's double off Watson was the Brewers' first hit since Ryan Braun's two-run home run off San Francisco starter Derek Holland in the first inning.
Relievers Josh Hader (two scoreless innings, five strikeouts), Joakim Soria and Jeremy Jeffress (ninth save) supplied four hitless innings behind Anderson to give Milwaukee a series-opening win. The Giants mustered only one baserunner after Alen Hanson's tying solo home run off Anderson leading off the fifth inning through a Brandon Belt walk against Hader in the sixth.
Brewers pinch-hitters Curtis Granderson and Eric Thames started the winning rally with walks to open the seventh inning against Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, who got a big out when he retired Lorenzo Cain on a flyout to center field that was too shallow to advance the lead runner. Watson took over and caught Christian Yelich looking at a called strike three before Aguilar delivered his decisive double on an 0-1 changeup.
Asked for his own description of Aguilar's otherworldly first half (his 159 weighted runs created plus led the NL) compared to his more average second half (95 wRC+ entering Friday, which ranked 55th of 81 qualifying NL players), Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell put it like this:
"I think he spoiled you a little bit, which is good," Counsell said. "He's had some good moments, and he did have a good August, for sure. He was in the right spot there. He did a nice job there. It looked like it was a pretty good changeup down and away from him, and he went with it. Beautiful swing."
That swing left Aguilar with 97 RBIs to go with his 31 home runs. Aguilar is tied for third in the NL in both categories. Last year, he hit 16 home runs with 52 RBIs in part-time duty for the Brewers, who claimed him off waivers from Cleveland just before the start of 2017 Spring Training.
"I mean, those are big numbers," Aguilar said. "It's going to be something big for me, to prove I can play at this level. It's going to be fun, too. So let's see what happens. I hope to get those 100 RBIs."
Anderson reclaimed sole possession of the dubious NL lead for home runs allowed when Hanson went deep in the fifth -- the 29th homer Anderson has yielded this season. But once again, it was a solo shot. Twenty-two of those home runs have come with the bases empty.
"For Chase, that's the key," Counsell said. "If it's solo home runs, he's still going to have good outings. One solo home run, that's never going to beat you on a night. Chase is good at suppressing hits. He's got far less hits than innings pitched. It's something he's very good at. He had some runners on base today in situations, and he pitched out of those jams because he doesn't give up many hits."
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San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy and catcher Nick Hundley beat the rest of the Giants back to the clubhouse. Both were ejected with two outs in the ninth inning after a disputed called third strike by home-plate umpire Adam Hamari. Hundley was upset about an earlier strike call against Anderson on a pitch outside.
"That was probably one of the worst strike calls I've had happen to me in my career," Hundley said. "Probably the most inconsistent strike zone that I've seen all year. It just built up, the frustration when at-bats get taken out of your hands. Especially in a close game. Both sides were upset, so it wasn't like it was one-sided."
Eight days after the Brewers acquired him in a trade with the Nationals, Giovany Gonzalez will make his debut with a start against the Giants at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday. Milwaukee is hoping a change of scenery and a long break will refresh Gonzalez, a former All-Star who has struggled to a 6.55 ERA since the All-Star break. Right-hander Chris Stratton starts for San Francisco.