A year ago this time, the Brewers' bullpen was running on fumes, one of the main factors in the collapse that allowed the Cubs to overtake them for the NL Central title.
Determined not to allow that to happen again, manager Ned Yost determined he would go longer with his starting pitchers whenever the opportunity arose this season. Thus far, that plan has been a notable success.
Entering the weekend, the Brewers led the National League with 792 2/3 innings pitched by their starters, 28 more than the Arizona Diamondbacks. That figure allowed the Brewers to have the fewest amount of bullpen innings in the league.
"We went to the pen too much last year," Yost said. "I deliberately decided this year that I was going to stick with my starters longer. That's the toughest thing, managing the bullpen, because you have to get (the starter) out one pitch before he gives up the booty. I came to the realization that you have to be able to give your starters a little more leeway to work out of situations instead of always being on the cautious side."
Starting pitching has been a key to the Brewers taking the wild-card lead in the NL. Over the last 19 games, starters were 11-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 14 quality starts.
"For the most part, it's been beneficial for us," Yost said. "Here we are, coming into September, with a very strong bullpen, a bullpen that's almost borderline rusty when other bullpens are borderline worn out."
Brewers 10, Pirates 4
The Brewers broke loose for six runs in the seventh inning to pull away from the Pirates, who have lost six of seven to Milwaukee this season. Shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Mike Cameron blasted homers and right-hander Dave Bush continued his late-season surge with seven solid innings (seven hits, three runs). The Brewers were losing 2-0 in the fourth when a pair of Pittsburgh errors helped them score three runs. Corey Hart delivered the key blow with a two-run double to right-center.
--Left fielder Ryan Braun returned to the lineup against Pittsburgh after sitting out two games with tightness in the intercostal muscles around his ribcage. Benefiting from an off day on the schedule Thursday, Braun was able to recover enough to return to the lineup. He went 2-for-5 with an RBI double.
--Hardy hit his 20th home run of the season to become only the third shortstop in club history to have two seasons of at least 20 homers. Hardy hit 26 homers last season. Robin Yount (1980 and 1982) and Jose Hernandez (2001 and 2002) were the other shortstops with two 20-homer seasons.
--Bush is 6-2 with a 2.85 ERA over his last 11 starts. Bush has gone at least seven innings on eight occasions over that span.
--Catcher Jason Kendall started his 116th game Friday night, the most of any catcher in the majors.
--Cameron, who hit 14 homers in 59 games before the All-Star break, has eight homers in 32 games since the break.