MILWAUKEE — After winning two of three against the Chicago Cubs to pull within a game in the NL Central race, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell shuffled his rotation a bit Thursday, flipping Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley’s spots.
Chacin will now pitch Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park while Miley will start Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds. The switch is due in part to Chacin’s success against the Pirates (2.28 ERA in two starts) and struggles against the Reds (4.82 in two starts). It also sets the framework for a potential postseason rotation, putting Chacin in line to start the NL wild card game on Oct. 2.
The Brewers are hoping to avoid that one-game, winner-take-all affair and overtake the Cubs — who won Thursday to increase their lead to 1½ games — for the division lead. To do that, they’ll need their pitching staff to continue its resurgence of the past few weeks.
Pitching was the team’s Achilles’ heel during the August swoon, but it’s been the pitching — especially the starting rotation — that’s done yeoman’s work as the team has surged back into contention in the division.
Going into their off-day Thursday, Brewers’ pitchers had a combined 2.69 ERA this month — a significant improvement from the whopping 5.33 mark they posted in August, which was the league’s second-worst for the month.
“We’re playing good baseball; getting contributions from a lot of guys,” Counsell said. “But, most importantly, we’re pitching well. And we’ve pitched well for a nice stretch here.”
August was a disaster for Milwaukee’s starters. The group ranked 13th in the NL with a 4.87 ERA. It has rebounded in September with a 2.87, good for third in the league behind the Pirates (2.75) and Braves (2.82).
Zach Davies’ return from a three-month battle with shoulder and back injuries provided a sorely-needed boost to the rotation. In two starts, he’s allowed three runs over 10 innings with nine strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Gio Gonzalez dazzled last week in his Brewers debut. He held the Giants to a run while striking out seven over 5⅔ innings. It was by far one of the best outings of the season by Gonzalez, who went 7-11 with a 4.57 ERA for the Nationals before Milwaukee acquired him on Aug. 31.
“He’s got more starts ahead of him,” Counsell said. “He’s going to get the ball more. Going over and watching that (Saturday) game, there were some really good things that he did. He executed a whole bunch of pitches, so that was really good to see.”
The relief corps has bounced back from a nightmare month for a league-leading 2.47 ERA in September after bottoming out with a 5.99 mark in August.
Getting Corey Knebel back on track has undoubtedly helped. The Brewers demoted him to Class AAA Colorado Springs last month for a mental break after going 2-3 with a 5.08 ERA in 41 appearances. He’s held batters to a .048 average with 12 strikeouts in 6⅔ innings and came up big Wednesday against the Cubs, allowing a run over 1⅔ innings that bridged the gap to Milwaukee’s late-inning, high-leverage options.
“Without that, we’d have to wiggle through some other spots,” Counsell said. “His five outs were a big key.”
They set the stage for another dominant performance by Josh Hader.
The left-hander struck out three more Chicago batters Wednesday night, giving him nine in 10 at-bats over his two appearances during the series. He has a 2.35 ERA for the month.
His only blemish came on Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer on Sept. 3. Since then, Hader has allowed just one hit over five innings with 18 strikeouts.
“He’s doing alright,” Counsell joked. “(That) was a series where his talents and what he’s capable of were on display. It’s fun to watch In the biggest moments of games, just go after the other dudes.”
For the season, the Brewers are sixth in the NL with a 3.84 team ERA. The starters’ 3.93 mark is good for seventh in the league while the relievers are fifth at 3.72.