MILWAUKEE -- For the Brewers' offense right now, it's boom or bust -- there isn't much of an in-between. Take the last six games: 1 run, 13, 1, 9, 0, 3.
Add Thursday night's series opener with the Cardinals to the boom category, as the Brewers teed off on two-time All-Star Carlos Martinez and Brent Suter delivered a strong outing in an 11-3 win at Miller Park. Milwaukee has sole possession again of first place in the NL Central with its National League-best 44th win.
"You take the 11-run nights. It's what you do," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "If you can take advantage of some mistakes, take advantage of pitches and put a big number up there on some nights, for sure that's good. But it's not really reflective of the next day."
And, early on, the Brewers definitely took advantage of Martinez, who entered the night with a 2.73 ERA. They grabbed the lead in the first on a bizarre play that saw Cards left fielder Marcell Ozuna climb the wall, seemingly prepared to rob Jesus Aguilar of a home run, but the ball actually bounced off the lower half of the wall and ended up being a two-run double. By the time there was one out in the fourth inning, every Brewer (except the scuffling Eric Sogard and the pitcher, Suter) had a base knock -- and catcher Manny Pina had two extra-base hits (six total in his last 10 games).
The Brewers forced Martinez out after four as his ERA ballooned to 3.24 with seven runs allowed (five earned). Milwaukee had five extra-base hits, including a leadoff homer in the fourth by Pina, but "boom" nights don't happen without being opportunistic of a few gift runs, and the Cardinals provided six of those.
Lorenzo Cain hit a grounder to Matt Carpenter at third with one out in the fourth. Carpenter couldn't make the backhanded stop and was charged with an error. Cain scored on Travis Shaw's double, and Shaw advanced home on a pair of wild pitches -- scoring on a ball that slipped out of Martinez's hand and ended up halfway up the third-base line.
"I don't know if his cleat got stuck. I'm not sure," Counsell said of the wild pitch. "It wasn't an injury or anything. I thought his cleat might have gotten stuck. That's as far as I saw."
Eric Thames extended the Brewers' lead with a bases-clearing triple -- his first of 2018 -- in the seventh inning, all unearned runs after an error by second baseman Jedd Gyorko earlier in the frame. Thames scored on another error by Gyorko, the sixth unearned run of the game charged to the Cardinals.
But Suter didn't need all of the insurance his offense provided him. After Carpenter drilled an 86.4-mph fastball down the middle of the plate to center for a home run on the first pitch of the game, Suter settled in by getting soft contact, and retired the next 12 Cardinals he faced.
"Not that I just laid it in there, but it kind of fired me up," Suter said. "It was like, 'OK, they're coming out swinging. I have to locate better and come out with that much more conviction on my early pitches.' After that, I was able to get some early outs and keep them off the bases."
Suter picked up his team-high eighth win of the season, exiting after seven innings of two-run, two-hit ball, while striking out five.
On matching a career high with seven innings pitched for the second straight start, Suter said: "The efficiency was there and just being able to fight through any kind of fatigue and being able to make pitches late. It's something I trained for in the offseason, so to see it be able to come to fruition the last couple starts feels good."
Taylor Williams and Dan Jennings both struggled finishing the game in relief of Suter. Williams stranded the bases loaded in the eighth, and Jennings allowed three hits and a run in the ninth.
Cain (right hamstring) was replaced by Domingo Santana after the fourth inning for precautionary reasons, but Counsell said he expects him to be in the lineup tomorrow. Cain was 2-for-3 with two runs and a RBI.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Aguilar's home run?: Aguilar nearly had a home run in the first inning -- or at least that's what Ozuna thought. Aguilar hit a fly ball to deep left-center, and Ozuna attempted to scale the wall as if to rob a home run, but the ball caromed off the base of the wall and went for a two-run double for the Brewers, pushing them ahead for good.
"I kind of hit it good, until I saw Ozuna jump," Aguilar said. "But I thought I got lucky on that play."
Probably more important, though, was the Brewers' success against Martinez in that first inning. Entering the game as a team with a .192 average (10-for-52) with one RBI over two games against Martinez this season, Milwaukee went 3-for-6 with two RBIs in the first frame alone.
"[Martinez is] a familiar foe, for sure," Counsell said. "We just took advantage of an off-night for him. It was good that we did. Some guys had good at-bats, we kept the pressure on him and were able to get him out after four innings."
Thames' triple: Like Aguilar's near home run in the first, Thames almost connected for his third home run in his last two games at Miller Park in the seventh, but instead settled for a bases-clearing triple after Tommy Pham kept the ball in the ballpark with a leaping effort at the center-field wall. Thames' three RBIs gave the Brewers at least nine runs for the third time in their last seven games.
After his first-inning double, Aguilar has multiple RBIs in each of his last four starts, one game shy of Jeromy Burnitz's club record in 1999. Aguilar is the 16th Brewer to accomplish the feat, and the first since Adam Lind in 2015.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Aguilar didn't just help the Brewers' effort on offense in the series opener against the Cardinals, but he made a slick diving play on Harrison Bader's liner to end the second inning. With the shift on, Aguilar dove to his right and made the catch, making it six Cardinals in a row retired for Suter.
"I felt like a really good player," Aguilar said. "I just try to go there and give 100 percent, especially with Suter pitching because he has a lot of energy."
HE SAID IT
"I hate that, it's really hard for a position player to hit off another position player. I saw 59 [mph], 60, 63, and I was like, 'No way.' It is what it is, that's baseball." -- Aguilar, after grounding into a double play against Cardinals infielder Greg Garcia, who made his first-career pitching appearance in the eighth inning
Video: [email protected]: Garcia induces double play on 63-mph pitch
Right-hander Junior Guerra (3-5, 2.89 ERA) will start for the Brewers on Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT in the second of their four-game set with the Cardinals at Miller Park. St. Louis has proved no challenge for Guerra this season, as he has thrown 11 1/3 innings of one-run ball over two starts against them, including six shutout innings on May 30. Right-hander Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.66 ERA) starts for St. Louis.