With the National League Central figuring to be another close multi-team affair this season, the Cardinals are using their weekend series against the Brewers at Miller Park to put a little early distance between themselves and one of their chief rivals.
The first-place Cardinals claimed a topsy-turvy one Saturday and will be going for a four-game sweep when left-hander Jaime Garcia takes the mound against Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada in the finale.
While the Brewers find themselves in a four-game losing streak, the Cardinals have a five-game winning streak with the guy who started it on the mound again Sunday.
Garcia, whose last win in Milwaukee was in the 2012 Brewers home opener, pitched a season-high eight innings his last start against the Reds, allowing one run on seven hits with no walks. Garcia leads all Major League pitchers with a 78.9 ground-ball percentage, and that was how he recorded 18 of his 24 outs against the Reds.
"Jaime was as good as you could ever ask," Matheny said of that outing. "He did everything right."
Estrada will be making his seventh start of the season and his second against the Cardinals. His first was a no-decision on April 14 in which he allowed three earned runs on seven hits in six innings of work. Estrada has four quality starts among his first six.
For the Brewers, they've managed to stick around the .500 mark with Aramis Ramirez just getting into the swing of things and Corey Hart out. But another losing streak is unfortunately par for the course this season.
"I'm pleased with what we've done so far, but it's hard when you're streaky, like we've been," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "That part gets to you because you're always wondering, 'Well, are we in another one of those bad streaks?' "
Cardinals: Freese's break pays off
Cardinals third baseman David Freese was given two days off earlier this week after an 0-for-16 slump, and it appears the little bit of a break is doing him some good.
Freese went 2-for-3 with a run scored Saturday, giving him three consecutive two-hit games since returning to the lineup against the Brewers on Thursday.
"I'm just focusing on the baseball and trying to hit something hard," he said. "I think that's the key. You do that more times than not, you're going to help the team."
Brewers: Sticking with Ramirez plan
Even though he has a rich history against Adam Wainwright, Ramirez was given Saturday off as planned, as the team remains cautious in bringing him back from a left knee sprain. Ramirez is 19-for-47 for his career against the Cardinals ace, but Roenicke kept him off the field Satuday.
"It's a long season and we need 'Ramie' for the whole year," Roenicke said. "So this is the best way to go."
Ramirez, who went 2-for-3 Friday, is expected to be back in the lineup in Sunday's finale.
Said Ramirez: "I'm glad, personally, for the way my knee held up [Friday]. Hopefully it keeps getting better from now on."
• The Cardinals are off to a 5-1 start in the 19-game season series against the Brewers after taking the 2012 series by a 9-6 tally.
• Next up: The Brewers have Monday off before hosting the Rangers for a two-game Interleague matchup, and the Cardinals continue their road trip with a two-game swing through Wrigley Field against the Cubs starting Tuesday.
• The Cardinals and Brewers won't have to wait long to meet again. They're slated for a May 17-19 series in St. Louis.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.