MILWAUKEE -- Chase Anderson stopped a five-game losing streak with a near no-hitter, Jimmy Nelson followed with another pitching gem in Sunday's 9-5 win over the D-backs, and the allegedly rebuilding Brewers reached baseball's unofficial Memorial Day milestone as the surprise leaders of the National League Central.
On the heels of their longest skid of the season, Anderson and Nelson showed what quality starting pitching can do for a team.
"The energy's really good and honestly, as long as we keep this energy and attitude, we can surprise a lot of people," Nelson said.
The Brewers are 27-23 after the first 50 games of their second full season of rebuilding. They will play the Mets in New York on Monday with a 1 1/2-game lead on the runner-up Cubs and Cardinals.
Hitters have done most of the heavy lifting for Milwaukee, but pitching ruled the past two days. Anderson carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and set a career high with 11 strikeouts in Saturday's 6-1 win, before Nelson struck out 10 in seven quality innings Sunday as the Brewers built an 8-1 lead.
Anderson and Nelson became the first starters in franchise history to post starts of at least seven innings with 10 or more strikeouts and one or fewer earned runs in consecutive games. They are the first Brewers duo since Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers in September 2012 with back-to-back double-digit strikeout performances.
"I think starting pitching sets the tone of every game, and when you dominate like Jimmy did today, it makes the offense relax," Anderson said. "It's fun when you pitch well and then the other guy almost outpitches you the next day. That's what we want here."
Said Nelson: "It all starts with us. Getting the tempo set, filling [the strike zone] up, giving our offense a chance to get some runs, because you know they will."
Nelson threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 27 batters he faced, the second-highest percentage (81.5 percent) of his career. He threw 84.6 percent first-pitch strikes against the D-backs last July.
"I wish I could have done that yesterday. I might have been able to go all nine innings," Anderson said.
With three straight quality starts from Zach Davies, Anderson and Nelson, Brewers starters have started gaining some statistical ground. At the final out of Sunday's win, they ranked 19th of 30 teams with a 4.47 ERA. The Brewers still rank near the bottom of the Majors with 17 quality starts.
The Brewers also have some soft spots in the bullpen, evidenced Sunday when Oliver Drake's leadoff walk in the eighth with a seven-run lead sparked Arizona's four-run rally. Brewers relievers are bottom third of MLB in WHIP, OPS against and strikeout to walks ratio.
But Nelson pointed to some positives, including Monday starter Matt Garza's overall effectiveness, improved performances of late from Davies, and Opening Day starter Junior Guerra's return from the disabled list during the D-backs series.
"Last year, the last 3-4 months, we were one of the best starting rotations statistically, so we know what we're capable of," Nelson said. "I think we're sneaky. So that's good."
"I think we always knew we could do this," Anderson said. "I know we're young, and people outside were not expecting us to do much last year and this year. We set the standard last year, and we're trying to continue to build on that. Get this rebuilding process built faster than people were thinking. I'm just excited we're winning."