Braun, Brewers Return Home on Hot Streak

Milwaukee seeking to stay hot on home cooking against divisional rivals. Meanwhile, Astros happy not to be facing Sheets, Sabathia but hoping they can add one or both next year through free agency.

Inside pitch

These are heady times for the Brewers. They had never swept a four-game series in St. Louis until Thursday night, when they capped the sweep with a 4-3 win. And they had never gone unbeaten on a road trip of at least seven games until going 7-0 in San Francisco and St. Louis.

The Brewers have been brimming with confidence since the acquisition of left-hander CC Sabathia in a trade with Cleveland. Sabathia is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in four starts.

"You can sense it in the clubhouse," general manager Doug Melvin said. "You've still got to be guarded because there's a lot of games left. To win games the way we've been winning them, it has to help your confidence. You have to realize it's a long season. We still have more than two months left, and anything can happen. Things can change. Just look at the last week for us, how much has changed."

The Brewers have 33 of their remaining 60 games at home. Over that stretch, they play 10 games against the first-place Cubs, including seven at Miller Park.

With a 31-17 record, the Brewers have been a strong team at home. With capacity or near-capacity crowds expected the rest of the way, there is certain to be an electric atmosphere for most games.

"I think the players do feed off that, to a certain extent," Melvin said. "It's fun to see the fans enjoying it, and we're excited, too."

Brewers 4, Cardinals 3

Milwaukee took all four games against the stunned Cardinals by scoring late against the St. Louis bullpen. Ryan Braun did the honors Thursday night with a two-run homer in the ninth off Ryan Franklin, erasing a one-run deficit.

The Brewers trailed the Cardinals by one game in the wild-card race when they hit town and left with a three-game lead. Milwaukee's pitching was fabulous in the series, holding the Cardinals to nine runs in the four games.

Notes and quotes

--Braun's two-run homer in the ninth inning not only gave the Brewers a 4-3 victory, it extended to 20 the number of consecutive games in which they have hit at least one homer, a club record. Braun boosted his batting average to .301 with his second consecutive four-hit game. At the start of the seven-game trip to San Francisco and St. Louis, Braun was batting .286. He collected 15 hits in 32 at-bats on the trip.

--Right-hander Salomon Torres converted his 18th save in 20 chances Thursday night since becoming the closer. Righty Eric Gagne, who had been the closer, was the winner after pitching a scoreless eighth inning.

--Second baseman Ray Durham made his first start since being acquired in a trade Sunday with San Francisco. Durham's Brewers debut was forgettable; he went 0-for-5 in the leadoff spot. Manager Ned Yost gave Durham the start in place of Rickie Weeks, who was batting .348 with eight RBIs in the first six games of the two-city trip.

--Righty Derrick Turnbow, demoted to Class AAA Nashville at the start of May when he lost command of his pitches, has been shut down to undergo tests on his ailing arm. Turnbow was unable to find his control in Nashville, issuing 41 walks in 18 innings.

Houston Astros

Inside pitch

The Astros will catch a break against the Brewers by missing Ben Sheets and Sabathia during the three-game series. Sheets pitched Thursday against the Cardinals, a night after Sabathia threw a shutout for his third consecutive complete game to improve to 4-0 since he was acquired from the Indians.

But that's not to say Sabathia and Sheets won't be on the Astros' mind. Houston fans and players are hoping the team will make a run at Sheets and Sabathia this winter through free agency.

With Sabathia, Sheets and Manny Parra, the Brewers remind Roy Oswalt of the 2005 Astros, who went to the World Series with Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte leading the rotation.

"I think they've got a good team," Oswalt said. "Adding CC, that's another guy with Sheets that if you get in a five-game playoff series, you have a good chance to win. Anytime you get two front-line starters like that, if they're both healthy, they give you a chance to win."

Carlos Lee and Co. would love to pair Sheets or Sabathia with Oswalt next season.

"Imagine Oswalt, Sheets and (Wandy) Rodriguez," says Lee, who played in Milwaukee with Sheets and would definitely put a lobbying effort together if Ed Wade or Drayton McLane asks.

Oswalt and Sheets were teammates together on the 2000 Olympic team that won a gold medal.

"It would be good for both of them to join us," Oswalt said of Sheets and Sabathia. "For sure it takes a lot of pressure off one guy when you have two guys like that. You don't have to be so perfect every time out. You have guys pick each other up. You feed off each other the whole year instead of just relying on one."

Notes and quotes

--The Astros start a three-game series against the Brewers tonight, playing the only road games amid a span of 15 contests.

--Lee, who has driven in 80 runs, remains the top RBI producer among NL outfielders this season.

--Losers of four in a row, the Astros took Thursday off after suffering a three-game home sweep against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are in fifth place in the NL Central.

--Despite the error first baseman Lance Berkman committed Wednesday, the Astros still only have 49 errors this season. No team in the NL has fewer errors.

--Oswalt, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hip flexor tendon, will throw a bullpen session today at Miller Park. Barring a setback, he will come off the disabled list and start Monday at Minute Maid Park.

By the numbers

10--Losses by Brandon Backe through July 22. He's the first Astros pitcher to lose 10 games this year.

Quote of the day

"The organization is certainly as a crossroads right now. I think we have enough veteran guys and a enough proven performers on this team that if we added a player or two here or there we could probably make a serious run, but the flip side to that is when you have veteran guys and you've got guys that are aging you have to look at, ‘What about four years from now? How are we looking?' "--Berkman, on the state of the franchise.


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