MILWAUKEE -- Thanks to one big inning on Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers are off to the best 50-game start in franchise history.Now, can they sustain it this time?"It's different this year, for sure," said third baseman Travis Shaw, whose three-run home run was the biggest blow of a seven-run fourth
MILWAUKEE -- Thanks to one big inning on Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers are off to the best 50-game start in franchise history.
Now, can they sustain it this time?
"It's different this year, for sure," said third baseman Travis Shaw, whose three-run home run was the biggest blow of a seven-run fourth inning and a 9-2 win over the D-backs at Miller Park. "Last year, I don't think anybody expected it. This year, this isn't uncharted territory, and I think this is where we want to be.
"We're playing good right now, but the whole, 'We're not expected to be here' -- that's not going to be a story this year."
Shaw, Jesus Aguilar and Tyler Saladino each drove in runs in Milwaukee's big inning, and they combined for eight RBIs to clinch a three-game series sweep. At 31-19, and with wins in 10 of their past 13 games, the Brewers have the best winning percentage (.620) after 50 games in 50 seasons as a franchise.
The 1981 and 2014 clubs shared the previous mark after starting 29-21.
The D-backs are going in a different direction, with seven straight losses and 13 losses in their past 14 games. The Brewers took the season series between the teams, 5-1, while outscoring the D-backs by 19 runs (29-10) and holding them to two or fewer runs on five or fewer hits in each game.
"It's a cool thing to think about, maybe [worth] a nice pat on the back," said winning pitcher Brent Suter. "But there's a long way to go. It's a good start, but we have a lot of games left and a lot of work to do."
Suter's contributions were not limited to the pitcher's mound. The decisive fourth inning started small against D-backs right-hander Zack Godley, with slumping backup catcher Jett Bandy dumping a leadoff single into left field, and Suter coaxing an error by hustling out of the batter's box on a sacrifice bunt. It turned into something big, with Aguilar hitting a go-ahead two-run single, Shaw following with a three-run home run and Saladino adding insurance with an RBI single against reliever Noel Salas that produced two runs thanks to another Arizona error.
The outburst transformed a 2-1 deficit into an 8-2 lead, and it tied a seven-run sixth against the Marlins on April 19 for Milwaukee's biggest inning all season. The Brewers scored those runs Wednesday on five hits, two walks, a sacrifice bunt and two D-backs errors.
The Brewers' once-anemic offense now looks dangerous.
On April 29, the date the Cubs finished a four-game sweep of Milwaukee at Wrigley Field that included three shutouts, Shaw took to Twitter and borrowed a sentiment from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, urging fans to "C-H-I-L-L." The Brewers were averaging 3.7 runs per game at the time, 25th of 30 Major League teams.
Since then, they are 15-6 while averaging 4.6 runs per game, ninth best in the Majors in that span. While winning 10 of their past 13, the Brewers have been even better, scoring 5.2 runs per game, sixth best in the Majors.
"It does seem a long time ago," said Shaw of that visit to Wrigley Field. "It's the Cubs' division until someone else says otherwise, but I feel like we're in a good spot right now. We're playing good, and we'll just try to keep it going this weekend [against the Mets]."
Asked whether his tweet was the turning point, Shaw laughed.
"We were fine in here," he said. "It was more just for the outside. We knew it was going to turn eventually."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Aguilar's go-ahead knock: Aguilar and Shaw delivered the biggest hits in back-to-back at-bats against Godley. Aguilar's provided the lead. With the bases loaded and one out, Aguilar fanned badly at one of Godley's good curveballs way outside, but he recovered two pitches later to connect with another and punched it into center field for two runs and a 3-2 Brewers lead. With Ryan Braun coming off the disabled list on Thursday, manager Craig Counsell was asked whether Aguilar, with 12 RBIs in his past nine games, had done enough to earn the three-hole going forward.
"He's earned playing time, yeah. He's going to be in there," Counsell said. "Where the guys hit, you guys know I don't think that's the most vital thing. But he's certainly going to be in the middle of the lineup."
Saladino earning at-bats: Speaking of earning playing time, Saladino's 2-for-4, two-RBI afternoon included his third Brewers home run in four starts. With regular shortstop Orlando Arcia slumping -- his 37 wRC+ is the fifth worst among Major Leaguers with 100 plate appearances -- it could mean more opportunity for in-season acquisition Saladino.
"He's done everything right since he's been here," Counsell said. "He's certainly pushing for more playing time, he really is. He's played really well in all facets of the game. He's driven in big runs, he's hit home runs, he's made plays at shortstop. You can't ask anything more of a player."
Including 3 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday from Taylor Williams, Boone Logan and Brandon Woodruff, Brewers relievers pitched 10 1/3 scoreless innings in the series while allowing one hit -- David Peralta's single off Josh Hader on Tuesday night. With that, Milwaukee took over as Major League Baseball's top bullpen, at least in terms of ERA, at 2.48.
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Suter fell into a 2-1 deficit when slumping D-backs star Paul Goldschmidt and catcher John Ryan Murphy hit solo home runs in the second inning but he was otherwise solid, including making the defensive play of the day in the fourth. Nicknamed "The Raptor" for his running style, Suter showed his quickness when he chased Socrates Brito's quality bunt along the first-base line, scooped it up with his left hand and shoveled it to first base while falling down. Brito was out, and it was on to the Brewers' big rally in the bottom of the inning.
"I love getting my uniform dirty and feeling like a baseball player," Suter said. "People like to joke that pitchers aren't athletes or whatever, but I'm trying to show some athleticism on plays and little things like busting it down the line and trying to make them make errors can be the difference in the game sometimes. If you're healthy, if your hamstrings aren't tight ... I definitely suggest running hard and getting dirty."
The Brewers will activate Zach Davies from the 10-day disabled list to start Thursday's 7:10 p.m. CT series opener against the Mets. The right-hander hasn't pitched a Major League game since April 29, but he said he felt sharp while striking out nine batters on 56 pitches in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Wisconsin last weekend. Lefty Steven Matz starts for the Mets in the first of four games between the teams.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.