Just over a week ago, the Milwaukee Brewers' lead in the National League Central was hanging on by a thread.
But Milwaukee has since surged to create some breathing room in the division, and it will have a great opportunity to continue doing so when it opens a three-game series with the visiting Washington Nationals on Friday night.
The Brewers (82-64) led Chicago by just 1 1/2 games on Sept. 6 before going on a 5-2 run that culminated with Thursday's 4-2 victory over the Miami Marlins. Milwaukee is now 4 1/2 games up on the Cubs and its magic number to clinch the NL Central now sits at 12.
Four relievers combined for four innings of one-hit ball in Thursday's win. Only three Brewers starters have worked at least six innings over the last eight games, and Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell is focused on preserving the bullpen down the stretch.
"It's part of our decisions every single day, and it's important and it's a big picture thing. We're trying to kinda balance a lot of different goals here," Counsell said of how he handles his relievers' workload. "The most important goal is, to me, is that those guys, when they go out there, they feel good.
"They've carried a heavy load, and they're due some rest, they're owed some rest."
Left-hander Wade Miley (7-4, 3.30 ERA) will attempt to take some pressure off the Brewers' bullpen when he makes his 21st start of the season on Friday.
In his most recent outing, Miley allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit in 3 2/3 innings against the New York Yankees last Saturday. He walked three and struck out three.
Miley is 2-3 with a 3.61 ERA in nine career starts against Washington.
Right-hander Jake Irvin (3-5, 4.20) will oppose Miley after taking a no-decision against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Saturday. He gave up one run on three hits through six innings, walking two and fanning four.
Irvin has faced the Brewers once, allowing two runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings to take a no-decision against them back on July 31.
Although they are sitting 17 games under .500 and have already turned some of their attention to next season, the Nationals (65-82) are still trying to finish strong and break a current three-game skid.
Washington is coming off Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Joey Meneses managed to extend his on-base streak to six games. He has also hit safely in four of his last five contests, going 6-for-18 (.333) during that span.
"I think everyone in general wants to finish with good numbers," Meneses said. "We play to hopefully have great numbers at the end of the year; I'm not happy with mine, because we're playing for next season as well. I'm just going to keep battling ... until the last game of the season and see where we're at."
—Field Level Media