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Brewers make statement in sweep of Reds

July 24, 2014

All but written off 12 days ago by some, the Milwaukee Brewers made a statement this week:

The National League Central is their division, and they don’t plan on letting anyone take it from them.

That their three-game sweep knocked the Cincinnati Reds into fourth place and 4.5 games back only proved the Brewers’ point further.

St. Louis had a chance — leading by half a game after the Brewers’ loss Sunday — but has since lost three in row. Holding tight to first place, the Brewers have won three straight and boosted their lead back up to 2.5 games.

With winnable series against the Mets and Rays ahead, the Brewers’ midseason woes could be all but forgotten by August.

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And as terrible as things looked during a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games, they have looked equally promising this week as Milwaukee now has won fives times in its last seven games.

After battling through a slump for much of June, right fielder Ryan Braun has been swinging a hot bat of late, hitting .385/.467/.692 over the last seven games with a pair of home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs. Braun’s success in the middle of the lineup is hugely important to the Brewers’ ability to sustain late-season and postseason success.

Each of the last two days, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and slugger Mark Reynolds showed signs of breaking out of slumps of their own.

Following a 3-for-30 stretch, Lucroy has gone 4-for-8 with two home runs Tuesday night, including the walk-off blast. Reynolds snapped his 3-for-38 funk with three hits, including a pair of homers in Wednesday’s game.

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Topping it all off is the return of former top pick Jeremy Jeffress.

The right-hander joined the Brewers bullpen this week after lighting up Triple-A, and promptly did the same to the radar gun at Miller Park in a dominant ninth inning. Jeffress — once suspended 100 games for substance abuse and cut earlier this season by the Blue Jays — topped 97-mph with ease and hit triple digits to close out the game.

Jeffress looks like exactly the right-handed power arm the Milwaukee bullpen needs, without the high cost of a trade-deadline deal. If Jeffress can keep his strikeout numbers up and walks down, the Brewers will have gotten themselves a steal.

With the offense rolling again and pitching staff limiting the Reds to just six runs in the series, the Brewers once again resemble a team poised to make a deep postseason run.

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