Opposite dugout: June swoon changed Brewers' fortunes quickly

brewers-logo.jpgManager: Craig Counsell (2nd season)

Record: 35-46

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: LF Ryan Braun (.323/.383/.546 with 13 HR, 44 RBIs), SS Jonathan Villar (.296/.382/.422 with 30 RBIs, 26 SB), C Jonathan Lucroy (.300 with 10 HR, 39 RBIs), 1B Chris Carter 920 HR,49 RBIs), RHP Junior Guerra (5-1, 3.25 ERA), RHP Jeremy Jeffress (2.60 ERA, 21 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 2-1

Pitching probables:

July 4: RHP Junior Guerra vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 11:05 a.m., MASN
July 5: RHP Zach Davies vs. RHP LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m. MASN
July 6: RHP Matt Garza vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 4:05 p.m. MASN2

Inside the Brewers:

As recently as June 12, the Brewers were one of baseball's pleasant surprises, sitting at 30-33. No one thought they'd contend in the packed National League Central, but hovering around .500 was an unexpected development in the land where people adorn their noggins with wedges of cheese. Then Milwaukee dropped seven of eight games and the season kind of imploded. Now, with Milwaukee on a four-game skid after a weekend sweep at St. Louis, there are rumblings that the Brewers might be among the more active teams at the nonwaiver trading deadline, shipping off veteran players with big contracts to hasten a rebuilding effort. Stay tuned.

For now, the Brewers remain a pesky team, the kind that can surprise an unexpecting opponent - like taking two of three from the Nationals at Miller Park two weekends ago. One of the reasons they can be formidable is because they boast just enough speed and power to make things interesting. Shortstop Jonathan Villar leads the majors with 26 stolen bases and is slashing .296/.382/.422. Behind him in the lineup are some big bats. Left fielder Ryan Braun is enjoying a resurgence, batting .323 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy - remember all the rumors linking him to the Nats over the winter? - has 10 homers and 39 RBIs and it hitting .300. And first baseman Chris Carter has contributed 20 homers and 49 RBIs, both team-high marks. But once you get past, say, the sixth spot in the order, the production tails off drastically.

Right-hander Junior Guerra, who starts the Independence Day morning game, has been one of the nice surprises for the Brewers, posting at 5-1 record and 3.25 ERA in 11 starts. Since joining the rotation from Triple-A Colorado Springs in early May, he's worked at least six innings in all but two starts, and is coming off a stellar effort against the Dodgers on June 29,w hen he pitched eight shutout innings of two-hit ball. He's 2-0 in his last five outings and has never faced the Nationals. Tuesday starter Zach Davies got a no-decision in a 5-3 win over the Nats in Milwaukee on June 24, yielding three runs on seven hits over five innings. The right-hander gives up a lot of homers - 12 in 79 innings 14 starts and three in his last outing, a loss to the Dodgers on June 30 during which he was tagged for a season-worst six runs. Before that start, he had been 5-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his previous 10 outings. Since returning from a lat strain sustained in early April, veteran right-hander Matt Garza is 1-1 with a 3.74 ERA in four starts, though his 1.66 WHIP portends potential problems. His victory came against Washington on June 25, helping him improve to 1-4 with a 7.71 ERA in nine career starts versus the Nats. Garza has yet to allow a homer in 21 2/3 innings this season and has gone at least 5 2/3 innings in three of his four starts.

If they can turn over a late lead to the bullpen, the Brewers have some effective and live arms in the back end. Closer Jeremy Jeffress has saved 21 of 22 games, and he's backed up by two effective setup men, lefty Will Smith (1.98 ERA) and righty Tyler Thornburg (2.84 ERA).

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