PHILADELPHIA — The Milwaukee Brewers entered the All-Star break winners in nine of their past 11 games. They were 5 1/2 games clear of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs atop the National League Central.
After taking their first two games following the break at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Brewers were out to show they weren’t going to be caught easily.
Five consecutive losses later, Milwaukee (52-46) limps into Philadelphia (32-61) hoping to right the ship against the worst team in baseball.
The Brewers, whose NL Central lead is down to one game, were swept away by the surging Pirates in four games, completed by a 4-2 defeat Thursday afternoon. Milwaukee scored just nine runs total at Pittsburgh.
“We didn’t score enough runs this series,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell told Fox Sports Wisconsin. “That’s evident for sure. I’m confident in our offense. We’re going to score runs. I think that’s a place we’ve been very consistent all year, and I think that’ll pick up for sure.”
On the mound for Milwaukee on Friday night will be right-hander Matt Garza (4-4, 3.84 ERA). He will face Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (6-6, 3.54).
If Counsell is looking for a quick turnaround, it won’t be easy against Nola, who has been pitching lights out of late. Nola, who missed time between April and May with an arm strain, looks like the ace Philadelphia hopes he turns out to be. He is 3-1 in his past five starts, compiling a 1.78 ERA in those starts (35 1/3 innings) with 51 strikeouts.
“I’m trying to command the ball and not throw every pitch hard,” Nola told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The beginning of the year, I was trying to throw hard more than I am now. So that’s why I was a little more spotty.”
Nola opened the second half in Milwaukee and got a no-decision after throwing six innings of two-run ball in an eventual 3-2 Phillies loss on Saturday. He allowed seven hits and struck out seven.
For his short career, Nola has dominated Milwaukee. He is 2-0 lifetime against the Brewers in three starts (19 innings) with a 1.42 ERA.
Garza will be tasked with turning around a rough week for the Brewers. He will need to keep an impotent offense — one that did compile 20 hits in a 10-3 win at Miami on Wednesday, though — at bay to keep up with the streaking Nola.
Garza, too, had a no-decision against the Phillies his last time out. He allowed one run in five innings Sunday in a game Philadelphia won 5-2.
The 33-year-old has made nine starts against the Phillies over his 12-year career, producing a 2-2 record to go with a tidy 2.28 ERA. Four of those starts have come at Citizens Bank Park, where he has a 1-1 record and a 2.88 ERA.
The Brewers will need to take advantage of their three-game set in Philadelphia. After the Phillies, who may have a busy few weeks with the trade deadline approaching, Milwaukee travels to D.C. to face the first-place Washington Nationals before a showdown with the Cubs back in Milwaukee next weekend.