The Milwaukee Brewers picked a good time to solve the Pittsburgh Pirates, and more of the same could make the upper reaches of the National League Central interesting over the final week-plus of the season.
The Brewers (88-66) moved to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Chicago Cubs Friday with an 8-3 win in the opener of a weekend series at PNC Park. The game was a disaster in a few ways for the Pirates (77-75), who had won 11 of the first 16 meetings between the clubs.
Milwaukee got homers from Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas, Erik Kratz and Keon Braxton Friday and used a six-run sixth to squash Pittsburgh's five-game winning streak.
"They've hit a bunch of homers," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of the Brewers. "They've got a high-octane offense. They can do it a lot of different ways. They shrunk our ballpark, which doesn't happen very often."
The only bad news for the Brewers was that center fielder Lorenzo Cain missed his second straight game because of an intercostal injury.
"We're just giving him rest," Milwaukee manager Craig Cousell said of Cain. "Rest is going to help him. I know he's champing at the bit. We're also trying to be cautious and plan for a possible six weeks here."
Counsell meant a possible run through the playoffs. The Brewers, if they can't catch the Cubs, hold the first NL wild-card spot by three games over the Cardinals and have a series against St. Louis up next.
First are two more games against Pittsburgh, which had a disastrous game in the opener.
Not only did the Pirates blow a 3-1 lead they held before a 2-hour, 14-minute rain delay in the fifth inning, but they also lost catcher Francisco Cervelli (gastrointestinal distress) and promising reliever Edgar Santana (right forearm and elbow discomfort) during that six-run sixth.
Saturday, Milwaukee right-hander Zach Davies (2-6, 4.66 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh righty Trevor Williams (13-9, 3.16 ERA).
Davies is 2-4 with a 6.13 ERA in eight career starts against Pittsburgh. That includes a 3-1 loss last Saturday, when he gave up two runs in five innings.
Davies doesn't associate any weakness in Milwaukee's record against the Pirates.
"We've put ourselves in a good position," he said. "It doesn't really matter who we play. Our attitude is going to be the same and our mindset to winning ball games is going to be the same."
Williams will be making his 30th start of the season, and the past 11 have been stellar. He has given up eight runs over that stretch. That includes six scoreless innings Sunday when he struck out seven in a 3-2 win at Milwaukee.
In nine of his starts this year, Williams has pitched at least six innings without giving up a run. According to the Pirates, that is the most in their history since at least 1908.
"It's fastball location," Williams said. "It's not giving in to hitters, and it's using my changeup and slider in hitters' counts. I'm moving the four-seamer around the plate."
Williams has been tough on opponents at home recently, with a 1.01 ERA over his past six starts at PNC Park.
Overall against the Brewers, he is 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA in five career appearances, four of them starts.