MILWAUKEE -- For most of the season, the Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen has been the team's anchor, slamming the door on victory after victory as the Brewers walked what manager Craig Counsell called a "high wire act."
Now, though, the relievers are getting some breathing room thanks to a suddenly dominant starting rotation and when the Brewers open a three-game weekend series Friday night against the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park, they'll sit atop the NL Central, 1 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Chicago Cubs.
Milwaukee's starters have allowed no more than one run in four straight games and have combined for a 2.55 ERA over their last 12 despite the absence of right-hander Zach Davies, who's out for a second time this season with shoulder soreness, and right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who's yet to throw a pitch this season after suffering a shoulder injury last September.
"Our pitching has been outstanding all year," outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. "The starting pitching, bullpen, have pretty much been carrying our team for the most part.
"We definitely need to step up as an offense and try to score some more runs. We're putting too much pressure on our pitchers as a whole. They've been outstanding, have been holding the fort down for the team and doing a great job all year long."
The offense fared well last weekend against the Phillies. Milwaukee scored 12 runs in each of the first two contests of the three-game set and tagged right-hander Jake Arrieta (5-4, 2.97 ERA), who gets the start Friday night, for four runs over 5 1/3 innings Saturday.
The veteran right-hander was off to a good start in his first season with Philadelphia but has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts, spanning 11 1/3 innings.
He stands a good chance to snap out of that funk at Miller Park, where he's 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA in five career starts and is 8-5 with a 2.96 ERA in 16 career starts against the Brewers, including last weekend's clunker.
That loss stretched Philadelphia's losing streak to four games but the Phillies have won three of four since, including a 9-3 victory Thursday afternoon against the Rockies.
The victory marked a breakthrough for Philadelphia's offense which had gone 257 innings without scoring more than three runs in a frame, hadn't scored more than six in a game since May 19 and recorded at least 10 hits only once since May 17.
"The process has been there," first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. "Sometimes it just feels like every break doesn't go our way. We know that we're capable of (high-scoring innings) every time we step on the field. But it's nice to see it finally happen."
The Phillies' bats will try to stay hot against Brewers' starter Brent Suter (6-4, 4.61 ERA), who held Philadelphia to three runs over five innings in his last outing.
The left-hander has earned a victory in four of his last five starts. He is 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts versus the Phillies.