The Milwaukee Brewers didn’t exactly look like the best team in the National League in early June, but they closed the month as one of the hottest teams in baseball.
After losing their first game of July, the Brewers look to get back on track when they visit the suddenly surging Pittsburgh Pirates for the opener of a four-game series on Monday night.
Milwaukee (47-34) won four of its first 10 games in June, a stretch that was capped by Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against them on June 12. After that, however, the Brewers batted .304 and posted a 3.68 team ERA to win 13 of their next 16 games and pull 14 games over .500 at the end of the month.
The Brewers’ hot streak hit a snag at Wrigley Field over the weekend, where Milwaukee dropped two of three games for its first series loss since losing two of three at Texas June 8-10.
They opened the new month with a 5-1 defeat on Sunday, managing only five hits while recording their lowest run total since the no-hitter.
“They’re just playing a little better,” manager Ned Yost said of the Cubs.
Despite the lack of success against the second-place Cubs over the weekend, the Brewers still own the best record in the NL and lead the Central division by 6 1/2 games. Their 22-12 record against opponents within their division remains the best in the league.
They hope to improve on that mark when they visit the Pirates (35-46), who have won four of six games since matching a season high with five straight losses.
Pittsburgh failed to complete a sweep of Washington on Sunday, falling 3-2 in the finale of a three-game series. It was just the Pirates’ third loss in their last nine games at PNC Park, where they play seven straight before the All-Star break.
“This is a very big stretch for us having all these games at home,” outfielder Jason Bay told the team’s official Web site. “It’ll tell you where you stand. We’ve been good at times, and we’ve been bad. We’re trying to find some consistency.”
Pittsburgh has won 11 of its last 15 home games against Milwaukee, including seven of 10 last year. The Pirates, though, have been outscored 38-19 in losing five of six games against the Brewers this season - all in Milwaukee.
Jeff Suppan (8-7, 4.88 ERA) looks to continue Milwaukee’s dominance, hoping he has recaptured the form that made him one of the Brewers’ most successful starters early this season.
The right-hander delivered five quality starts in his first six games, but had only one in 10 starts since April before his outing against Houston on Wednesday. Suppan held the Astros to three runs in six innings while striking out a season-high seven in the Brewers’ 6-3, 11-inning win.
Suppan is 9-3 with a 3.90 ERA in 16 career starts against the Pirates, including a 2-0 record against them this season.
The Pirates counter with right-hander John Van Benschoten (0-2, 4.30), who is still looking for his first major league win since 2004. He spent all of the 2005 and 2006 seasons in the minors, and lost his first two starts after he was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on June 15.
He didn’t get a decision in his third start Wednesday, when he held Florida to two runs and three hits in four innings of the Pirates’ 7-5, 10-inning win.
Van Benschoten made his lone career start against Milwaukee in 2004, giving up four runs in five innings to suffer the loss.
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