The Milwaukee Brewers have squandered a lot of scoring opportunities lately. By coming through when it really counts, however, they have a share of the NL Central lead for the first time since the season’s opening week.
After pulling into a first-place tie with another late rally, the Brewers look to continue their surge with their 10th win in 11 games in the finale of a three-game series against the Houston Astros on Sunday at Miller Park.
Milwaukee (60-44) has gone 2-for-39 with runners in scoring position in its last four games, but clutch hitting in the late innings has helped the Brewers go 3-1 in that stretch and 8-1 since the All-Star break. They’ve won nine of 10 overall.
Third baseman Bill Hall and left fielder Ryan Braun have keyed the Brewers’ late-inning success. Hall hit a tiebreaking home run in the 10th inning of a 6-3 win over St. Louis on Monday, and delivered a game-winning solo shot in the ninth inning of a 4-3 victory the following day. Braun hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Cardinals.
Both players came up big Saturday, when Milwaukee rallied from a two-run deficit with four runs in the final three innings to steal a 6-4 win over Houston (47-56).
Braun - batting .432 (16-for-37) with four homers and 12 RBIs since the All-Star break - hit a game-tying two-run homer in the seventh, and Hall delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth. Milwaukee improved to a major league-best 11-29 when trailing after six innings.
“We have a lot of confidence going into the seventh and eighth inning, down a couple runs,” Hall said. “We’re just a couple of bloops and a blast away from being in a tie ballgame, and that’s what happened.”
With Saturday’s win, the Brewers pulled into a first-place tie with the Chicago Cubs, who they trailed by five games at the All-Star break. The Brewers hadn’t owned a share of the division lead since they were alone in first place with a 6-1 record on April 8.
Next up is a four-game home series against the Cubs on Monday, but manager Ned Yost says his team isn’t looking beyond the series finale against the Astros.
“Our focus was to be within striking distance of the Cubs when they come to town, somehow find a way to get within a couple games, and we’ve accomplished that right now,” Yost told the Brewers’ official Web site. “We’re going to be that when the next series opens up, but we still have a tough game (Sunday), and that’s where our focus is at.”
Milwaukee faces Randy Wolf (6-10, 4.74 ERA) in his Astros debut. The left-hander was acquired from San Diego on Tuesday in a move that may indicate the last-place Astros aren’t giving up on their season yet.
“He still believes in the Astros. I think he still thinks there’s a shot,” Wolf told the team’s official Web site regarding Astros general manager Ed Wade. “With a little more than two months left in the season, there’s an opportunity there he’s trying to take advantage of.”
Wolf posted a 6.94 ERA while losing six of his last seven starts with the Padres, including a 6-5 defeat at St. Louis on July 19. The left-hander is 5-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 14 career starts against the Brewers.
Milwaukee will hand the ball to Jeff Suppan (5-6, 4.65), who allowed three runs in seven innings against the Cardinals on Tuesday before Hall’s game-winner. The right-hander is 2-6 with a 4.83 ERA in 13 career games versus Houston.
Astros first baseman Lance Berkman is 13-for-29 (.448) with three homers and four doubles in his career against Suppan.