MILWAUKEE — After four days of relaxing during the All-Star break, the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers return to action Friday night, looking to build on a 5 1/2-game lead over the Chicago Cubs when they take on the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park.
Milwaukee’s first-half success has been one of the more surprising storylines of the season and while manager Craig Counsell admitted that being 5 1/2 games ahead of the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs is somewhat unexpected, how the Brewers got to that point isn’t a shocker.
“Our lead in the division, that surprises me. It certainly does,” Counsell said Thursday during a voluntary workout at Miller Park. “How we’ve played, I’m not really that surprised. I’m really not. We’ve earned our record. It’s something we’ve fought for and had to earn it.”
Milwaukee managed to maintain its command of the division despite losing Ryan Braun to a calf injury for nearly a month. The balky muscle flared up again during the Brewers’ series last weekend at New York, but Counsell said he expected Braun to be available against the Phillies Friday.
“I anticipate him being OK,” Counsell said.
The Brewers placed right-hander Junior Guerra on the disabled list just before the break and plan to recall outfielder Brett Phillips from Triple-A Colorado Springs to fill his place on the roster. Milwaukee will also option right-hander Michael Blazek to Colorado Springs, clearing a spot on the roster for newly-acquired left-hander Tyler Webb who was traded to the Brewers by the Yankees Thursday.
Webb pitched in six games for New York this season, including twice against the Brewers last weekend, posting a 4.50 ERA, and was 3-1 with a 3.24 ERA over 33 1/3 innings for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre.
“He’s a guy who had a pretty good track record in the minor leagues,” Counsell said. “He throws strikes and misses bats, and he’s left-handed. That’s something that’s appealing. You feel like he’s ready to pitch in the big leagues, and that’s hard to come by and acquire.
“We’ve changed the makeup of the bullpen a little bit. I think it will allow us some options earlier in the game, and that’s how we’ll do it.”
Zach Davies will start for Milwaukee against Philadelphia after finishing the first half with victories in three straight decisions. Davies has pitched against the Phillies once, losing after going six innings and allowing four runs, nine hits and three walks. He also had five strikeouts in the April 21, 2016, game won by Philadelphia 5-2.
The Phillies counter with rookie right-hander Nick Pivetta, who’s allowed four runs over his last two starts, going seven innings in each of those outings.
Pivetta’s recent success comes after he slumped his previous four outings, going 0-2 with a 5.66 ERA, allowing 13 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings of work.
“It’s just settling in. I have more innings underneath my belt. I’ve seen a little bit more. I still have a lot to learn, a lot to work on,” Pivetta said. “I think this is a good basis for where I’m at right now and I just want to keep moving forward with that.”
Acquired from the Nationals in a 2015 deadline deal that sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to Washington, Pivetta has started to show flashes of a rotation anchor.
“He still needs work on his secondary pitches, but once he hones those, he’s got a chance to be really good,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “I really like him.”