While the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals enter the season's second half leading their respective divisions, they closed the first in very different fashions.
With grieving shortstop Jean Segura back, the sluggish Brewers try to come out strong Friday night in the first of three in Washington.
Sitting atop the NL Central, Milwaukee (53-43) has controlled one of baseball's best divisions for nearly the entire season. However, the Brewers have seen what was a 6 1/2-game lead late last month cut to one after dropping 11 of 13.
"You don't play good for 80 games and then because of a week or week and a half where you're not playing the way you should, you're not a good team anymore," All-Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez told MLB's official website. "That's not a fluke. We played well for three months. We have a good team."
Milwaukee had been outscored 46-21 during a season-worst seven-game losing streak before beating St. Louis 11-2 on Sunday. Carlos Gomez, Scooter Gennett, Ryan Braun and Khris Davis each had two RBIs as the Brewers stayed ahead of the second-place Cardinals.
"We played pretty brutal those two weeks," fellow All-Star Jonathan Lucroy said. "If we can get back to that high level like the last game we played on Sunday, playing at a high level and having good at-bats, our starters going out there and doing what they do, we'll be OK."
It remains to be seen if Friday's lineup will include Segura, who has rejoined the team a week after his nine-month-old son suddenly passed away in the Dominican Republic. Segura's average has dropped to .232 after going 5 for his last 41.
Washington (51-42) has climbed percentage points ahead of Atlanta in the East after winning 10 of 14. Jayson Werth went 2 for 3 with a homer and four RBIs as the Nationals closed the first half with Sunday's 10-3 win at Philadelphia.
"The second half is the best time to play. I look forward to that," said Werth, batting .375 with six homers and a major league-best 19 RBIs in 11 games this month. "You set yourself up in the first half, and you give yourself a chance in the second. We'll see what we have coming down the stretch, and we'll see the type of team we are made of."
Washington now turns to Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.46 ERA), who leads the NL with 10.73 strikeouts per nine innings. He has gone 1-0 with a 2.21 ERA during a three-start stretch since yielding a career high-tying seven runs in 4 2-3 innings in a 9-2 loss at Milwaukee on June 25. Gennett and Davis each homered off the right-hander.
Strasburg allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 home defeat to the Brewers on July 2, 2013, his only other appearance in the series. He is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in his last 10 outings at Nationals Park, with 87 strikeouts and nine walks over 67 2-3 innings.
Milwaukee's Kyle Lohse (9-4, 3.26) is looking to regroup after losing back-to-back starts for the first time. He yielded four runs and seven hits over eight innings last Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to the Phillies.
While Lohse owns a 2.43 ERA at home, he's 2-2 with a 5.28 ERA in his last five road outings. The right-hander, who is making his first appearance in the season series, was 5-1 with a 3.73 ERA in 10 starts against the Nationals from 2008-13.
Werth is 9 for 27 with three homers and three doubles against Lohse.