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Yelich keys offense as Brewers lean on 'pen

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

SAN FRANCISCO -- Everywhere you look these days, you see a juicy trade rumor connecting the Brewers to a starting pitcher. Toronto's J.A. Happ before he went to the Yankees. Cincinnati's resurgent righty Matt Harvey. The Mets' Zack Wheeler, who has been a Brewers target before. The Orioles' Kevin Gausman. The Rays' Chris Archer.

But then you watched Brewers manager Craig Counsell ride his favorite high-leverage relievers and some well-timed insurance runs to a 7-5 win over the Giants on Thursday and wondered about a different scenario. What if the Brewers resisted paying the high prospect price for this year's crop of middling starting pitchers and focused their efforts elsewhere?

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Everywhere you look these days, you see a juicy trade rumor connecting the Brewers to a starting pitcher. Toronto's J.A. Happ before he went to the Yankees. Cincinnati's resurgent righty Matt Harvey. The Mets' Zack Wheeler, who has been a Brewers target before. The Orioles' Kevin Gausman. The Rays' Chris Archer.

But then you watched Brewers manager Craig Counsell ride his favorite high-leverage relievers and some well-timed insurance runs to a 7-5 win over the Giants on Thursday and wondered about a different scenario. What if the Brewers resisted paying the high prospect price for this year's crop of middling starting pitchers and focused their efforts elsewhere?

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Until a late-inning surge, it looked like they still need a bat. Scorching-hot Christian Yelich carried the offensive load once again Thursday with two RBIs, three runs scored and three hits, including a tying home run in the sixth inning and a single in the eighth that sparked Milwaukee's tiebreaking rally.

Video: MIL@SF: Counsell, Miley, Shaw, Knebel on Brewers' win

Perhaps another reliever, too, though GM David Stearns added one notable arm earlier Thursday in a swap for White Sox closer Joakim Soria. He will be active for the Brewers on Friday night along with Matt Albers, who is ready to return from the disabled list and join what is shaping into one of the National League's most talented bullpens.

Maybe the Brewers can bullpen their way to the postseason.

"That's part of the plan with the acquisition and with Matty Albers coming back, is that we can be a little bit more aggressive in certain games," Counsell said. "There's still a lot of factors that go into it. I want to caution everybody and say it's not going to happen every night, but tonight was nice we were able to do it."

Video: MIL@SF: Knebel gets Hundley looking to record save

Counsell didn't wait for Soria and Albers to join the active roster before leaning on that relief corps Thursday behind left-hander Wade Miley's five effective innings. Miley, who has limited opponents to four earned runs in 16 innings over three starts off the DL, was burned only by a two-run Giants flurry in the second inning in which four of five batters reached safely. He otherwise made two passes through the San Francisco batting order with the Brewers in a manageable 2-1 deficit.

Video: MIL@SF: Miley strikes out Slater swinging in the 3rd

The bullpen sprung into action in the sixth with Corbin Burnes. He recorded two outs and left a runner aboard for Josh Hader, who was booed in his first appearance on the road since his offensive teenage tweets emerged during the All-Star Game. Hader needed one pitch to get a broken-bat groundout from fellow All-Star Brandon Crawford in the sixth inning, then worked around an error with a pair of strikeouts in the seventh.

Video: MIL@SF: Hader gets Pence swinging in the 7th

After the Brewers pushed ahead with two runs in the eighth against Mark Melancon, Jeremy Jeffress walked a pair in the bottom of the inning but limited the damage to one run with help from closer Corey Knebel, who logged his first multi-inning save this season despite allowing two runs in the ninth.

The Brewers "made it a little hard on ourselves," Counsell said. But one could see the framework for bullpen-heavy games ahead.

"Late in the year, playoff baseball, that's kind of the way it's run now," said third baseman Travis Shaw, whose two-run homer in a three-run ninth inning gave the Brewers their winning margin. "It looks like that's what they're trying to do -- create that super bullpen."

Those three insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning helped. Yelich scored the first on Jesus Aguilar's single and Shaw followed with a two-run homer over the high wall in right field.

Video: MIL@SF: Shaw drills a 2-run home run to right field

The Brewers kept pace with the NL Central-leading Cubs, who beat the D-backs with back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field on Thursday to remain 2 1/2 games atop the division.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hit and run: The Brewers caught a critical break in their go-ahead eighth when Yelich, with one out, took off for second base on a full-count pitch to Shaw. That drew Giants shortstop Crawford toward the bag and opened a hole for Shaw's ground-ball single right through it. Instead of a potential inning-ending double play, the Brewers had runners at the corners for Braun's single and a 3-2 lead. Erik Kratz followed with another RBI single for a critical insurance run.

Video: MIL@SF: Kratz singles up middle to extend lead in 8th

"It ended up being a play that kind of set that inning up," Counsell said. "Then Brauny comes through with the hit. Sometimes you put a guy in motion, and that's the reason why you do it."

Knebel vs. Pence: With a 4-2 lead in the eighth, the Brewers didn't exactly cruise to the finish. Jeffress walked Austin Slater and Andrew McCutchen to start the inning, then saw Slater take third on a wild pitch. Shaw made a nice play to pick Buster Posey's run-scoring fielder's choice but second baseman Tyler Saladino -- who already had an error in the game -- bobbled the transfer and cost the Brewers a double play. That extended the inning for a two-out showdown between Knebel and Hunter Pence with the tying run at third base. Knebel won it by inducing an off-balance swinging strike 3 with a curveball.

Video: MIL@SF: Knebel fans Pence to preserve lead in the 8th

"That's a good hitter up at the plate. I've faced him numerous times," said Knebel. "First and third, you can't really give him anything to hit. Getting ahead in the count, I was able to work with anything."

The ninth inning was not nearly as clean, as the Giants scored twice and brought the tying run to the plate. But asked about those troubles, Counsell said, "I think we got a huge strikeout in the eighth. For whatever happened in the ninth, that strikeout in the eighth was enormous."

Video: MIL@SF: Cutch plates Slater with an RBI double in 9th

SOUND SMART
It's not easy to power one out to the big part of AT&T Park, particularly in a night game. According to Inside Edge, Yelich was just the fifth visiting player to homer to center field here this season, joining the Cubs' Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt and Cardinals rookie Harrison Bader.

"I think we're all thinking 'extra-base hit' and then it gets out of here," said Counsell. "You have to really get a ball like that to get it out of here at night."

Video: MIL@SF: Yelich drills a solo homer to center field

Said Shaw: "Every single day, it's something else. He just continues to get hits, continues to get on base. That's what he does."

With his three hits, Yelich is 22-for-42 during his 10-game hitting streak, and that doesn't include his home run in the All-Star Game.

CAIN EXITS IN NINTH
It was a painful night for Lorenzo Cain, who appeared to jam his right wrist or hand sliding into second on a stolen base in the third inning, then grabbed his right knee after a swing in the fifth. Counsell and an athletic trainer went to home plate to visit Cain, who stayed in the game until Keon Broxton took over in center field in the bottom of the ninth.

"It just started to get a little bit sore," Counsell said. "Being a four-run lead, I was trying to be a little precautionary there. We'll check him out and see where we're at."

UP NEXT
Chase Anderson, more important than ever to a Brewers rotation thinned by injuries of late, will be on the mound for Milwaukee when the series continues Friday at 9:15 p.m. CT. It's a tough matchup opposite Madison Bumgarner, the left-hander who is 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 10 starts against Milwaukee, including eight quality starts.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Christian Yelich