Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers learned a lengthy April winning streak could play a very small role in a forgettable season.
They're out to match that nine-game stretch Sunday at home as they go for a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates with hopes of making this year's April victories stand for something more later in the season.
The Brewers (9-2) won nine straight from April 14-23 last year and went on to finish 74-88. After a 1-2 start against Atlanta with four runs scored in the series, Milwaukee is averaging 6.1 runs and batting .298 on its current streak.
Against the Pirates (6-5), the Brewers' pitching has done the job, yielding three earned runs on 12 hits in two games. Saturday's 3-2 victory featured a third quality start from Yovani Gallardo and a shut-down performance from the bullpen in three innings of work. Milwaukee's relievers have pieced together 14 straight scoreless innings in the last five games, dropping their combined ERA to 0.83.
"If we have the lead going into the late part of the game, it's going to be very tough for the other team to score a run off those guys," Gallardo told the team's official website.
Francisco Rodriguez has been a big part of that and is once again thriving in a closing role. The veteran picked up his fourth save in as many chances Saturday and has 11 strikeouts in six scoreless innings.
"Right now, I have pretty good command of all of it," Rodriguez said. "If you can throw strikes with any pitch and throw it the way you want to, things are going to be easy for you."
Kyle Lohse is the next arm up for Milwaukee as it seeks a third straight sweep after going 6-0 on a road trip through Boston and Philadelphia.
Lohse (1-1, 4.50 ERA) earned his first win in Tuesday's 10-4 victory in Philadelphia, but he lasted just five innings while allowing three runs on seven hits with five walks.
Lohse is 9-2 with a 3.59 ERA in his career against the Pirates, though he's struggled against a few guys he could face. Second baseman Neil Walker is 10 for 24 with seven walks and eight RBIs, while outfielder Jose Tabata is 13 for 26 lifetime against Lohse.
The Pirates will look to Charlie Morton to stem the bleeding. Morton has a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Chicago Cubs but has failed to get a decision. In Tuesday's 7-6 road victory, he allowed five runs on eight hits in six innings.
Morton is 2-4 with a 4.57 ERA lifetime against the Brewers, but both wins have come in his last two starts. He's compiled a 0.66 ERA in 13 2-3 innings in those two games.
Right fielder Ryan Braun is 6 for 11 with a home run and five RBIs against Morton. The Milwaukee slugger enters the game batting .458 with 10 RBIs on a six-game hitting streak.
So far in the series, Pittsburgh pitching has done its best to hold the Brewers' bats down. Saturday's starter Edinson Volquez limited them to one earned run on four hits in 6 1-3 innings a day after Francisco Liriano also held them to four hits but yielded four runs in six frames.
"It was another outstanding body of work," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Milwaukee's Lyle Overbay is expected to start at first base after Mark Reynolds had been hogging playing time in what was thought to be a platoon entering the year.
Overbay is 1 for 14 to start the season.