Brewers, Nationals focus on fine-tuning
WASHINGTON -- Division leaders with two different approaches meet again Wednesday as the Milwaukee Brewers battle the Washington Nationals with a pair of eight-game winners on the hill.
The surprising Brewers were not supposed to be atop the National League Central, and their recent struggles have raised the question of whether Milwaukee should be active with the July 31 trade deadline looming. The Brewers were rumored to get a head start Tuesday as multiple media outlets reported they acquired reliever Anthony Swarzak from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor league outfielder Ryan Cordell.
Overall, though, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell is happy with the players that got him this far, and wants to keep fighting with them during the stretch run.
"The focus for me is on these 25 guys," Counsell said. "What we're trying to do is get these guys playing as good as they possibly can. It's been a formula for success for us. We've played really well at times with these guys, and that's my focus. It will continue to be, really."
The Nationals have done what's been expected of them, which is take control of a subpar division. And while Washington has been a strong road team, compiling a 33-19 mark away from home, manager Dusty Baker would like to see his charges play better in familiar surroundings.
Washington is just 26-20 at home, and it finishes the season with 36 of its final 63 contests at Nationals Park.
"Part of our home record, I feel, is coming back late (from the road)," Baker said. "We didn't get in until 6 a.m. the other morning. It really hasn't been advantageous the first couple of days. Now we have to concentrate on a couple of things -- our home record and our daytime record. We can't dwell on how well we've done on the road because we're home now. We have to increase our home superiority."
Gio Gonzalez (8-5) starts for the Nationals, looking to build on a solid campaign that has seen him post a 2.83 ERA, his lowest through 20 starts since 2011, when he sported a 2.67 ERA while pitching for the Oakland Athletics.
Gonzalez holds a career 2-3 mark with a 4.95 ERA against Milwaukee in seven starts, including an 0-2 record in 2016.
"They always pose a problem," Baker said of the Brewers. "Right now, these guys are trying to stay on top. It's going to be very tough. They're not where they are this late because they're not a good team. They are indeed a good team."
One of the players that has stepped up for Milwaukee this season is Jimmy Nelson (8-5, 3.43 ERA). He has given the Brewers a team-high 11 quality starts.
Nelson is 1-1 with a 5.28 ERA in three career starts against Washington.
The Brewers know that they have to support Nelson and their teammates if they want to keep this unit intact for the stretch run.
"We know the standings, but if we're looking at the Cubs in July, that's just wishful thinking and begging for something good to happen, and that's not a good thing to fall into as a team," third baseman Travis Shaw said. "I think we'll get back on the right track, and the rest will take care of itself."
Updated July 26, 2017