Suppan, Bush Giving Crew What They Need

Brewers continued their mastery of Pittsburgh over the weekend. But now they head to St. Louis, where they swept a big four-game set right after the All-Star break. Milwaukee and the Cardinals meet for the final two contests of the season, a series the Brewers lead 9-4.

Inside pitch

Many playoff-hopeful teams have had trouble finding five dependable starting pitchers to fill the rotation during the heat of the playoff races. The Brewers, however, have thrived in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in their rotation.

Right-handers Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan have pitched their best ball of the season in recent weeks, a major reason the Brewers are leading the National League wild-card race with the second-best record in the circuit.

In five starts this month, Suppan is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA, and has gone at least seven innings on four occasions. Bush is 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA in four starts this month, with three outings of seven innings.

"Every game counts one," said manager Ned Yost. "CC (Sabathia), as good as he has done, ‘Bushie' and ‘Soup' have matched him, really. We get back to the bottom line. Do we win on the day that you pitch? That's what matters. Those guys have gotten hot at the right time and are pitching very, very effectively."

Bush, who was 2-7 with a 5.73 ERA in mid-June, has pulled off the biggest turnaround on the staff. And Suppan has lost just once since returning from an elbow injury after the All-Star break.

"There's no team that has five guys that are consistent in the starting rotation," said Yost. "If you've got three, you're doing pretty good. We're riding some hot spots right now."

Brewers 4, Pirates 3 (12)

It was J.J. Hardy Bobblehead Day and the Brewers' shortstop celebrated by singling in the winning run with one out in the bottom of the 12th on Sunday as Milwaukee moved a season-high 21 games over .500.

The Brewers had a chance to win 3-2 in regulation, but closer Salomon Torres blew his fourth save opportunity in 28 chances since taking over that role in late May. Reliever Guillermo Mota came in and pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the top of the 12th, setting up Hardy's heroics.

Brewers starter CC Sabathia was in line for his ninth victory without a loss when the Brewers took a 2-1 lead in the sixth, but they couldn't stay on top and Sabathia received a no-decision.

Notes

--Suppan is 9-7 with a 4.58 ERA after going into the All-Star break at 5-6 with a 4.71 ERA.

--With their 6-3 victory Saturday night over Pittsburgh, the Brewers went 20 games over .500 (75-55) for the first time since the end of the 1992 season, when they finished 92-70.

--Center fielder Mike Cameron, who struggled much of the season to find his stroke, has gotten hot just as the playoff race has heated up. Cameron established a career high Sunday with five hits, including a home run, and drove in two runs. Over his last 19 games, Cameron is batting .382 (26-for-68) with seven home runs and 14 RBIs.

--Third baseman Bill Hall snapped out of an 0-for-16 slide by collecting singles in all three at-bats Sunday against lefty Paul Maholm. Hall raised his career batting average against Maholm to .650 (13-for-20).

--Left fielder Ryan Braun, who homered and doubled Saturday night in his second game back since returning for a second time from tightness around his ribcage, had the worst day of his career Sunday. Braun went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and two double-play grounders.

By the numbers

8-1--The Brewers' record against Pittsburgh this season, including a 6-0 mark at home.

Quote of the day

"Our confidence is pretty high. When it's like that, good things usually happen."--Second baseman Rickie Weeks.

St. Louis Cardinals

Inside pitch

Manager Tony La Russa, looking for a spark on a hot Sunday afternoon, rested left-handed-hitting outfielders Skip Schumaker and Rick Ankiel, who have hit .171 and .226, respectively, against left-handed pitchers. Facing Atlanta left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes, right-handed-hitting outfielders Brian Barton and Joe Mather combined for four hits and four runs batted in. But Barton, who was 3-for-3, went out in the sixth with a strained right oblique and might not be too much help for a while.

La Russa is worried. "(When), in baseball, do you not use your side?" he asked. "Run, hit, throw, catch. And he runs hard. So, I'm definitely concerned about it."

Barton, who aggravated a previous condition while running out a bunt single, said, "It's one of those unfortunate things that happen. It's a little uncomfortable right now. Hopefully, in the next 24 to 48 hours, we'll have a better feel for it."

Barton, a Rule 5 choice, has a .269 average in 130 at-bats with the Cardinals, and his playing time here has been curtailed even more by a right wrist fracture, although he got a chance to play three weeks in the minors on a rehabilitation option.

"I've always had the utmost confidence in my ability," said the 26-year-old Barton, "and I feel I can help any team if given an opportunity. I was watching the Olympics and they were interviewing Michael Phelps. I guess I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like ‘a great player is determined by how he does when the odds are against him.' If I want to be that great player and the odds are stacked against me because I'm not playing a lot, I've got to shine."

Besides the help the Cardinals received from the two rookie outfielders, first baseman Albert Pujols was his customary devastating self, hitting a two-run homer as part of an 8-for-10 weekend performance. His batting average is at .359 now, virtually tying him with Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones for the major league lead.

Cardinals 6, Braves 3

For the sixth consecutive time, Cardinals righty Braden Looper, who tied his career high set last year of 12 wins, worked seven innings Sunday. Looper gave up three runs or fewer for the sixth straight time, and he has a 2.30 earned run average for those six starts. The Cardinals remained 3 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Milwaukee.

Notes

--Rookie righty reliever Chris Perez gained his fifth save and third of more than three outs when he set down the final four hitters he faced Sunday. "I've thrown twice in the last nine days, so I'm definitely fresh," Perez said.

--Righty Chris Carpenter, recovering from a shoulder strain, went through another bullpen session. "I felt stronger than I did (Friday)," Carpenter said.

His next session, which will be conducted with more intensity, will take place on Wednesday. "We want to make sure it's right before I do anything else," Carpenter said.

--The Cardinals won the season series from the Braves, 5-2, outscoring them by 59-31.

--Pujols has driven in nine runs in his last four games.

--Barton's bunt single in the sixth was just the Cardinals' third bunt hit of the year. Infielder Aaron Miles has the other two.

By the numbers

293--Number of saves with which righty reliever Jason Isringhausen, out for the season with a torn tendon near his right elbow, will finish the season.

Quote of the day

"It's hard to believe he could have been that sharp with that much time missed."--La Russa, on the return of right-hander Adam Wainwright to the rot


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