|Brewers in thick of playoff race as they host Pirates|
MILWAUKEE -- Gio Gonzalez made a strong first impression on his new teammates.
Acquired by Milwaukee on Aug. 31 from Washington, where he'd gone 7-11 with a 4.57 ERA, Gonzalez returned to the mound after a 10-day rest and allowed a run while striking out seven over 6 2/3 innings as the Brewers wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Giants.
Now, as the Brewers find themselves on the heels of the Cubs in the National League Central Division race and three games up on the Cardinals for the top NL wild-card spot, Gonzalez will get a chance to build off that outing when Milwaukee opens a three-game series with the Pirates on Friday night at Miller Park.
"It was great to contribute to the guys," Gonzalez said. "They've been doing fantastic. The pitching staff here has been unbelievable. The bullpen has been amazing. So, for me, it's nice to finally participate in something.
"That was a step in the right direction. Just take this and move forward with it. It's a positive note. I want to help the team out in any way possible. I'm just happy I finally did something for the Brewers, and just happy to be a part of what they've been doing."
Gonzalez's performance has helped stabilize a pitching staff that was among the league's worst during August.
Milwaukee's pitchers posted a combined 5.33 ERA for the month but have lowered that mark to 2.69 since the start of September, the best among NL teams.
The starting rotation lowered its collective ERA from 4.87 last month to 2.87 in September, putting Milwaukee third in the NL while the Brewers' relief corps went from a league-worst 5.99 ERA mark to first with an ERA of 2.47.
As a result, the Brewers find themselves right back in the thick of the NL Central division race. They trailed the Cubs by five games on Labor Day but won seven of nine since, including four of six against Chicago to get back into the race.
"We're playing good baseball; getting contributions from a lot of guys," said Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell, whose team has won seven straight series. "But, most importantly, we're pitching well. And we've pitched well for a nice stretch here."
The Pirates have pitched well, too. They're third in the NL with a 3.51 ERA since the All-Star break while their rotation leads the National League with a 2.75 mark for the month of September
"This hasn't caught us off guard," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've been building together, growing together. It started in spring training."
Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams have led Pittsburgh's starting group but Chris Archer, acquired from Tampa at the trade deadline, has started to settle in after an unimpressive first few turns with his new team. He takes the ball Friday.
The right-hander went 1-2 with a 6.45 in his fist five starts for Pittsburgh. That stretched ended with a frustrating performance at Milwaukee on Aug. 26, when he gave up six runs on seven hits while striking out five in four innings.
Since then, he's allowed a total of four runs in his last two starts, going six innings in each outing, with 11 strikeouts and four walks.
He credits the recent turnaround to putting more trust in catcher Francisco Cervelli.
"We both have done things a certain way and we've both been very successful," Archer told the Pittsburgh Press-Gazette. "So for me, it was like, blending what I know and what he sees in the moment and just trusting that. Obviously I looked at the back of his baseball card, and he's done some special things, worked with some special pitchers. But actually watching how he goes about his business, how educated he is on the opposition, the in-game adjustments that I see him making, then it makes the trust way easier."
Pittsburgh snapped a two-game slide Wednesday at St. Louis but has won six of its last eight contests and has been a thorn in Milwaukee's side this season, taking nine of 13 meetings, including a five-game sweep heading into the All-Star break.
The Brewers took two of three from the Pirates when the teams met late last month at Miller Park.