MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich and the Brewers are heading down to Wrigley Field this weekend with a head of steam.
The Cubs will host a Milwaukee team coming off back-to-back three-game sweeps, after Yelich hit his Major League-leading 16th home run in a four-run first inning, and Brandon Woodruff continued a welcome run of solid starting pitching in a 7-3 win over the Nationals on Wednesday at Miller Park.
It pushed Milwaukee seven games over .500 for the first time this season and capped an 8-2 homestand that concluded with six consecutive victories over the Mets and Nationals, propelling the Brewers into their longest road trip on the schedule. It’s a 10-game jaunt that will take them to Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta, beginning Friday afternoon at the Cubs’ Friendly Confines, site of a Brewers' victory in the National League Central tiebreaker game last October.
“It doesn’t really have any bearing on this year. New guys on new teams,” said Yelich. “It might be cool when you get back in there, but after that, you’re back to playing baseball and worrying about the 2019 season.”
While the stakes aren’t quite as high this time, first place is up for grabs, with the Brewers and Cubs clustered with the Cardinals atop a competitive division.
Gio Gonzalez will be on the mound for Milwaukee on Friday opposite left-hander Jose Quintana, a career Brewer-killer who was knocked around in a Miller Park start last month. The Brewers won two of three games in that series, which featured Yelich’s 100th career home run and an eight-out save for Josh Hader in the finale.
“Going to Chicago, obviously we're feeling good,” said Mike Moustakas. “But that’s a great team over there, so we have to go and play some good baseball and see what happens.”
On getaway day of the homestand, Yelich, Moustakas and Manny Piña each homered, as the Brewers built a 7-0 lead for Woodruff, who threw a career-high nine strikeouts while allowing one run on four hits in six innings. The outing lowered Milwaukee's starting pitching ERA to 2.03 during the team’s winning streak, as Woodruff improved to 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his last three starts.
Woodruff has now struck out at least six batters in his last seven starts, the longest such streak for a Milwaukee arm since Zack Greinke’s seven-game streak in 2011.
“His slider was really good, but his fastball was electric today,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez.
Milwaukee has been seeing more of that from its previously-struggling pitching.
“We played two really good series,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “The story of the homestand, for me, is how our pitching really has come together. Starters doing a nice job. Bullpen guys getting some order down there, it feels like. The best thing to come out of the homestand is how we pitched.”
A late Nationals rally, aided by slumping Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw’s error in the ninth inning, made it a save situation for Hader, who converted for the 10th time in as many tries.
“I think we had gotten into an extreme that was going to change course,” said Counsell. “I think the biggest thing, bullpen wise, is Corbin [Burnes] down there and JJ [Jeremy Jeffress] throwing the ball well has changed a lot. From the starting perspective, the guys have flat-out thrown the ball better. The starters have kind of performed as we expected them. Some of that is that they had some bad luck in some early starts on some things that weren’t going to continue. I thought it was definitely going to get better.”
Off to face the Cubs
“I wish I could pitch against those guys,” said Woodruff. “I know it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a fun series. I’ll be there cheering on the guys, for sure.
“It was a great homestand. The pitching and hitting was great. We were able to get some wins. Now, we just have to take it on the road and keep it rolling.”