MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers insist it's way too early to start watching the scoreboard. That said, they're enjoying their three-game lead in the NL Central.
Braun extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a tiebreaking home run and the Brewers beat the Minnesota Twins 6-2 Sunday."It means we're in a position we wanted to be in," Braun said of the lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. "But ultimately it matters where we're at on Sept. 26, not June 26."The Brewers have not won a division title since taking the AL East in 1982. They moved to the National League in 1998 and won the wild card in 2008. With St. Louis star Albert Pujols expected to be on the disabled list with a broken left wrist for at least six, the Brewers hope to widen their lead.The Brewers were the only team in the division to win on Sunday."It's definitely better than a no-game lead," slugger Prince Fielder said with a big smile.The Brewers had dropped seven of 10 before trouncing the Twins in the three-game interleague series."I don't think we ever lost confidence in any way," Braun said. "You just continue to go out there and continue to compete. Sometime you play against good teams and they are going to beat you, but if we continue to go out there and play the same way we're going to win a lot of games."Braun connected for a two-run shot in the fifth inning. Chris Narveson (5-5) helped himself with an RBI double.The punchless Twins, using a watered-down lineup decimated by injuries, have scored only eight runs in losing five consecutive games."I don't really care," Fielder said. "That's the team that's out there, so we have to try and beat them. Fortunately, we had a good series."Jonathan Lucroy had a triple, a double, a walk, scored two runs and had an RBI for Milwaukee, which swept the three-game series and has won four of five."It's so far to go," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. "Maybe with a month left or something I'll start."I know how fast things can change in one month," he said.Carl Pavano (5-6) blanked the Brewers the first four innings, but allowed five runs with two outs over the next two innings to lose for the first time in five June starts."I gave up those runs with two outs," he said. "That's tough to swallow."Narveson allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings against a Twins starting lineup that had combined for only 22 homers this season, one more than Fielder.Narveson scattered five hits and two walks while striking out seven to win for the third time in four starts.The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the second when Danny Valencia singled and scored on Jason Repko's single.The Brewers loaded the bases with two outs against Pavano in the third, but Braun flied out to end the inning.In the fifth, Braun came through.Lucroy opened the inning with a triple down the left-field line. Two outs later, Nyjer Morgan singled to tie it at 1. Pavano threw to first in an effort to keep Morgan close to the bag, but the ball went off Luke Hughes' glove for an error, allowing Morgan to advance to second. Braun hit the next pitch over the center-field wall for his 16th homer.In the sixth, Milwaukee scored twice more off Pavano with two outs. Yuniesky Betancourt singled and scored on Lucroy's double. Narveson doubled down the left-field line for his second extra-base hit in 105 major-league plate appearances, scoring Lucroy for a 5-1 lead."Ugly ball game for us," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Make mistakes and they end up killing you all the time. We made too many of them today."Minnesota scored its second run off Narveson in the seventh. Hughes walked and scored on pinch-hitter Jim Thome's RBI single, moving the 40-year-old past Ernie Banks into 28th on the all-time RBI list with 1,637.Twins reliever Jose Mijares allowed another hit to Fielder in the seventh that gave the Brewers a 6-2 lead, two nights after getting into a dispute with catcher Joe Mauer over pitch selection. Mijares complained after Friday night's game that he wanted to throw a slider to Fielder, but Mauer called several fastballs and the big first baseman hit one for a game-winning double.With Braun on second Sunday, Fielder came to the plate and Mauer called for the slider. Fielder promptly sent it into center field for an RBI single to make it 6-2.
Gardenhire said Mauer would begin taking grounders at first base when the team returns to Minnesota this week so the team could have more options to get him in the lineup. Mauer did not start Sunday, but pinch-hit in the seventh and stayed in the game. ... Twins OF Jason Kubel, out since May 31 with a sprained left foot, is expected to undergo a workout Monday, and then likely will be sent on a rehab assignment to Triple-A Rochester. Gardenhire said Kubel likely will play seven games at Rochester before returning to the Twins. ... Pavano's strikeout of Fielder in the fifth was the 1,000 of the right-hander's career. ... After Thome collected the RBI hit, LHP Brian Duensing pinch-ran for him. ... It was the seventh time the Twins have been swept this year after being swept only four times all of last season. ... The Brewers optioned RHP Mark DiFelice to Triple-A Nashville after the game.