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Brewers out to make statement in St. Louis

Biggest surprise of early season hopes to take down NL Central kings

The best record in the Major Leagues still belongs to the Brewers. A .720 winning percentage through 25 games can be admired, even if it isn't particularly likely to be sustained over the long haul.

The Brewers' strong early showing has been built on the sturdiest possible stuff: exceptional pitching. Milwaukee has the second best team ERA in the Majors, behind only that of the Braves. Atlanta, not at all surprisingly, has the second best overall record.

Four out of five Milwaukee starters have ERAs under 3.00. And the bullpen has been even better than the rotation. Among three late-inning relievers -- Tyler Thornburg, lefty Will Smith and closer Francisco Rodriguez -- there have been 39 appearances, with one earned run allowed.

Rodriguez is 11-for-11 in save opportunities. In 14 innings pitched he has given up five hits, three walks and no runs, while striking out 21.

Yes, life has been good for the 2014 Brewers. They have so far beaten both expectations and opponents with real regularity.

But now come the hard part: The Brewers will be in St. Louis for a three-game series starting Monday night. This sort of arrangement has generally led to something other than good news for the Brewers.

Milwaukee has lost just two series so far this season. One was to the Braves, opening the season. The other was to the Redbirds. Both were at home.

The Brewers' starter in the series opener against the Cardinals will be Yovani Gallardo; nominally, at least, the ace of Milwaukee's rotation. He has been splendid this season, with a 1.42 ERA in five starts.

But against St. Louis, Gallardo has a lifetime record of 1-11 with a 6.46 ERA. Gallardo did not pitch against the Cards in the first series of this season.

The Brewers were 5-14 against the Cardinals last season. This is a completely different year, but even in 2011, when the Crew set a franchise record with their best regular season and won the NL Central, the Wild Card-winning Cards bounced them out of the NL Championship Series in six games.

This time around, the Brewers may be without two very important players. Right fielder Ryan Braun has a ribcage strain. And shortstop Jean Segura is recovering from a gash on his face, which he suffered when Braun inadvertently hit him with a bat.

Braun has a habit of warming up for his first at-bat by taking swings on the top step of the dugout. The other Brewers are generally aware of this and keep their distance. Segura was walking by innocently in the dugout and was bashed by a backswing. Fortunately, Segura suffered neither a concussion nor a fracture, but he did receive a cut that was serious enough to require stitches. In the future, it might be time to ask Braun to take his warmup to a less populated locale, safely outside the dugout.

On the other side, the Cardinals have been underachieving offensively. Before a seven-run outburst against Pittsburgh on Sunday, they had scored just 15 runs in the previous nine games.

When a club with as much scoring potential as St. Louis has slumped in this manner, what generally follows is not more slumping, but more runs.

All things taken together, if there is a good time for the Brewers to play the Cards, this might not be it.

During the first series against the Cardinals, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke suggested the media was overly concerned with his team's outcomes against their chief rival.

"We have to win more games than they [the Cards] do," Roenicke said. "It's not head-to-head. We have to win more games than they do, and that's what we're playing for."

In that sense, the Brewers' season to date has been a success. They have won 18 games; St. Louis has won just 14.

But there are times, such as this week, when the Cardinals get the opportunity to make some head-to-head headway in the standings.

The Brewers have supplied their own sunshine in the first 25 games of the new season, with winning performances, keyed by outstanding pitching. The one shadow on this happy situation is, as usual, the one cast by the Cardinals.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Francisco Rodriguez, Jean Segura, Will Smith, Tyler Thornburg