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Bats aside, Brewers' success starts in rotation to help team to NL-best record

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MILWAUKEE - Go ahead and marvel about the Brewers' aggressive lineup and power threats. Worry about Carlos Gomez's speed-power potential or Jonathan Lucroy's ability to seemingly hit a double at will.

All key parts of Milwaukee's success so far this season — though manager Ron Roenicke thinks there might be an even more important factor. The best team in the National League has received a huge boost from its starting rotation on the way to a 51-33 record and 6 1/2-game lead in the NL Central.

"We are in a division where all five teams have five starters that can beat you on any night," Roenicke said. "To be able to stay with those guys and play with everybody, you have to have the same pitching."

Francisco Rodriguez leads the majors with 27 saves. Entering Monday's games, Lucroy was tied for the major-league lead in doubles with 28, and was third in average at .334. Gomez is hitting .301 with 13 homers, 44 RBIs and 13 steals, and irritating opponents with his high-energy play.

He recognizes, too, that the team wouldn't be enjoying such success without the starting pitching.

"Everybody comes and throws seven innings," Gomez said before Sunday's 10-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies. "When you throw seven innings it helps wins game because the bullpen, (it) keeps them fresh and everything is in balance."

The Brewers were off Monday and return to action Tuesday in Toronto. Through 84 games, they had a team ERA of 3.62, which ranked 12th in the majors. Opponents were hitting .249.

The starting rotation had an ERA of 3.72, which is down from 5.05 from the same point in the 2013 campaign. But the rotation's success can be traced back to the second half of last season, when starters had a 3.37 ERA after July 4.

Milwaukee doesn't have a true ace like the Dodgers, for instance, with Clayton Kershaw. But the Brewers are deep as they've been in a while in the rotation with Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada.

The signing of Garza to a four year, $50 million contract has been important. Peralta has taken a step forward in his development this season, while Lohse remains the model of veteran consistency, tied with Peralta for the team-lead with nine victories.

Estrada has given up a major league-leading 24 homers, but he is coming off an encouraging start in a 9-2 win over Washington in which he didn't give up a homer for only the second outing this year. Gallardo has been good for the most part, though he's coming off an off-outing Sunday in which he got shelled for 10 hits and eight runs, including five earned, in five innings to Colorado.

"It was just one of those days, to be honest. I think I've had a pretty good curveball the other games previously," Gallardo said. "Today was just ... I mean, I wish I knew where it went. But it's one game."

The Brewers though have been immune from long losing streaks this season, which the front office hoped would be the case after signing Garza. If one pitcher is struggling, others in the rotation can pick up the staff the next game and help limit the bullpen workload.

"Even when they are off that night, they are still giving us a chance. With our offence, if they are only giving up three runs and they go five or six innings, or if they are giving up four runs, we have a good chance to win that ballgame," Roenicke said.

He's starting to plan ahead for the stretch run and thinking about ways to keep his starters fresh. It could be as simple a matter as the starters enjoying some off days again following a grueling stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

Or the off days could afford Roenicke the opportunity to move starters around according to get better matchups, something which the skipper has avoided so far. Also waiting for another opportunity at Triple-A Nashville is top pitching prospect Jimmy Nelson.

___

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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