MILWAUKEE -- Jesus Aguilar had his run in June. Now it looks like Eric Thames' turn to power the Brewers' offense.
Thames connected on Tuesday for his third home run in six games, a laser beam to Miller Park's short porch in right field that gave Milwaukee the only runs of a 2-0 win over the Twins in which Junior Guerra, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel combined on a two-hit shutout.
Thanks to that combination of power hitting and power pitching, the Brewers (50-35) became the first National League team to reach the 50-win plateau, and remained one game ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central.
"Right before the break, 50 is a great number," Thames said. "I know the goal number is 90 for every playoff-bound team, so we just have to keep going."
The Twins were one swing away from making it a very different kind of game in the top of the first inning, when Guerra loaded the bases with one out and was in danger of becoming the fourth Brewers pitcher to surrender a grand slam in as many days. But Guerra escaped, then combined with Hader and Knebel to hold Minnesota scoreless on one more hit -- Eddie Rosario's one-out single in the fifth -- the rest of the day.
Hader followed Guerra with three hitless innings and Knebel struck out the side in a perfect ninth for his ninth save.
"It was definitely big, especially after two walks, being able to put a zero up there," said Guerra. "Walks are very lethal, especially for a starter, and I was able to get some outs."
Of handing it over to Hader and Knebel from there, Guerra said, "I don't know what the numbers say, but I think it's the best bullpen out there. You feel very confident that you can give them the ball and they're going to put zeros on the board."
All the Brewers needed was a run-scoring hit of their own. It came from Thames, whose 12th home run came off former Brewers pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi with one out in the fifth inning and represented the third of Milwaukee's four hits.
Recent callup Nate Orf started the inning with a pinch-hit walk and logged his first career stolen base before scoring his first MLB run on Thames' homer.
After taking a few weeks to find his footing in the wake of a long stint on the disabled list for surgery on his left thumb, Thames is hitting .295/.392/.568 with three homers and nine RBIs over his last dozen games.
Only Aguilar (five homers and 10 RBIs) has been a bigger threat for the Brewers in that stretch.
"The pain of watching everybody go deep when I was hurt and then coming back and thinking, 'I'm going to hit,' and guys are nibbling and pitching around me or fishing me with some stuff -- it's just one of those things," said Thames. "You've got to get a good pitch to hit and drive it, get on base if you can. Hitting in front of [Aguilar], that's always what you want to do, get on base."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
When Twins second baseman Willians Astudillo connected with Guerra's two-out pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning, Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton wasn't worried about a grand slam. But he did think the baseball had a chance to find the gap for a run-scoring extra-base hit.
Broxton had a 36-percent catch probability on the play, according to Statcast™, but Broxton covered 98 feet in 5.1 seconds for his third four-star catch in his past five games.
"Balls in the gap like that, I never know if I'm going to get there until I get there," Broxton said. "I just put my head down -- I knew he got it pretty well -- and took off running. I got close to it and knew I had a chance."
Joe Mauer wore his first baseman's mitt, of course, though he didn't need it. Mauer did not record a single putout or assist in Tuesday's game, making him the first MLB first baseman to go unused since Edwin Encarnacion for the Blue Jays in Baltimore in August 2012. It marked the first time in Twins history that a first baseman went empty-handed.
"Jake Odorizzi. Strikeouts and a bunch of fly balls," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "There are pitchers in the game right now who have changed where the batted ball is going by where they're pitching in the strike zone."
HE SAID IT
"You can ask every team in the league. He's dominating, primarily with one pitch. I think he's just kind of a combination of being able to hide the ball and good carry on his fastball. Doesn't seem to get many down in the zone, pretty much plays the top and you either miss it or you foul it or you pop it up. It's just tough to square up." -- Twins manager Paul Molitor, on Hader
Texan Chase Anderson gets the ball on Independence Day for the Brewers as they finish a three-game series against the Twins at Miller Park. It will be Milwaukee's first look at terrific Twins right-hander Jose Berrios, who is making his second straight start against an NL Central opponent after allowing six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Cubs on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. CT.