Craig Counsell knows how far one player’s hot bat can carry a team.
Milwaukee’s manager had a front-row seat as Jesus Aguilar punished opposing pitchers in the first half, pushing the Milwaukee Brewers into first place in the NL Central Division and himself into an All-Star selection.
So Counsell isn’t surprised to see the St. Louis Cardinals have stormed their way back into the playoff picture on the strength of an amazing stretch by infielder Matt Carpenter.
Carpenter was hitting .237 when the Cardinals arrived in Milwaukee for a four-game series on June 21. Since collecting a pair of hits in the series finale, he has hit .330 with a 1.224 OPS along with 21 home runs and 38 RBIs.
“He’s on a great run,” Counsell said. “You always take notice of guys who go on runs like that. He’s done it before. He’s been on some great runs before and he’s a really good player. He’s led the charge for them.”
As Carpenter has heated up, so have the Cardinals, who have won 15 of their past 20 games despite a loss Thursday night to Washington. The Cardinals are 1½ games out of a wild card spot as they open a three-game series against the Brewers Friday night at Busch Stadium.
That’s pretty impressive considering the Cardinals were all but written off just a month ago, when manager Mike Matheny was fired and bench coach Mike Shildt took over as interim manager.
The Cardinals went into the break two games over .500. After dropping three of five to the Cubs and two of three to the Reds, they have won six consecutive series to put them in the mix for not only a wild card spot but also the division title.
“That’s just the division,” Counsell said. “The Pirates were the team a couple of weeks ago and now the Cardinals are making a run.
“It doesn’t surprise me. You expected one of those teams to make a serious challenge at it and right now the Cardinals are doing it. We knew there would be teams there at the end that we’d have to beat in addition to the Cubs.”
Cardinals fans got a scare Wednesday night when Carpenter was hit in the right hand by a pitch, forcing him to leave the game against the Nationals in the fifth inning. But X-rays were negative and Carpenter was back in the lineup Thursday night.
“I definitely dodged a bullet,” Carpenter said.
The Brewers might wish he hadn’t. Carpenter is a career .294 hitter against Milwaukee, with 15 home runs, 60 RBIs and a .919 OPS — including four homers and 10 RBIs in 13 meetings this season.
Ryan Braun is day-to-day after injuring his rib cage on a failed attempt at a sliding catch in the third inning of Wednesday afternoon’s 8-4 loss to the Cubs.
Losing Braun would be a big blow to the Brewers. He’s flipped the script on a disappointing first half over the past few weeks, batting .323 with a .970 OPS, four home runs and 12 RBIs since returning July 21 from his second DL stint of the season.
- Manny Pina spent his off-day back in Milwaukee undergoing testing and evaluation after he jammed his shoulder.
Counsell shuffled his rotation for the weekend series, with Chase Anderson being bumped out of his scheduled Sunday start in favor of Jhoulys Chacin, giving Anderson an extra day of rest before he faces the Reds on Monday in Milwaukee.
Freddy Peralta will take the mound as scheduled for the series opener, with left-hander Wade Miley going Saturday.
Peralta has looked little like the rookie phenom who took a 4-1 record and 2.14 ERA into the break. He has an 8.05 ERA over his past four outings and has been plagued by command issues.
Miley has been impressive in his limited action this year, going 2-1 with a 2.23 ERA in eight starts.
“He’s a guy pitching with some confidence,” Counsell said. “He’s comfortable. His cutter has been a big pitch for him and his strike-throwing is improving as he gets starts under his belt. There’s a lot of good signs there.”
Chacin is 0-2 with an 8.59 ERA in three starts against the Cardinals this season but is 6-1 with a 3.58 ERA over his past nine starts. Anderson has failed to get through the fifth in his past two starts, allowing eight earned runs on 10 hits and six walks.