To get off to a start like the Brewers have had this season, good pitching is a must. Kyle Lohse has been impressive and the Crew brought in Matt Garza in the offseason, but it's the back end of the rotation that has been the biggest reason Milwaukee's starters have compiled a 3.20 ERA.
Fourth starter Marco Estrada has been a big part of that success. The righty, who missed two months last season with a left hamstring strain, is now fully healthy and will make his ninth start of the season in Sunday's rubber match against the Cubs and lefty Travis Wood.
"He's not a rollover, not a pushover," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "What's great is that no one in our rotation is a pushover. … Everybody is going to go out there and compete, and they have good enough stuff to really dominate."
Lucroy said Estrada, who is 3-1 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings pitched, has been a "huge" part of the Brewers' deep rotation. Estrada is coming off one of his best outings of the season Tuesday against the Pirates, allowing one run on six hits in six innings with eight strikeouts and two walks.
"Well, you know he has that changeup, and that changeup is a really good pitch. It equalizes everything else, makes everything else better because guys know that he has it, so it makes his fastball and curveball that much better," Lucroy said. "He's been throwing strikes, he's working down in the zone, makes big pitches when he has to and that's what it's about."
Estrada got the better of Wood when the two faced off April 26 in Milwaukee, a 5-3 Brewers win. Wood scattered seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, and the Brewers forced him to throw a lot of pitches early. He needed 48 pitches to get through the first two innings.
"It was a grind and a battle," Wood said. "I didn't have my 'A' game and was missing balls on the arm side and falling behind with hitters, and they took advantage of it."
Wood got the win in his last start Monday against the Cardinals, despite allowing four earned runs as the Cubs scored a season-high 17 runs. He has a 7.41 ERA in three May starts after posting a 3.52 mark in five April starts.
Brewers: Road warriors take same approach regardless of venue
The Brewers enter Sunday's series finale with the Cubs with a 13-7 (.650) record away from home, one of the best road records in baseball. In contrast, Milwaukee is 14-10 at Miller Park. What's been the difference?
"I think it changes from year to year. … Most of the time, you guys are asking me why we're so bad on the road," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't know why it is, but yes it does change, it makes a difference. These guys know how well we've played on the road this year. It makes a difference."
The Crew didn't register its 13th road win last season until June 19, and the team finished 37-44 away from Miller Park. As cliché as it may sound, the Brewers take the same approach on the road as they do at home.
"We don't care where we're playing. It doesn't matter to us," starter Kyle Lohse said. "We're just going out there. It's boring as can be, but we're taking it a day at a time."
Cubs: Cleanup man Castro
In Starlin Castro's young career, the shortstop has batted at least six games at every spot in the order. But he seems to have found his groove in the four-hole for the Cubs.
In 20 games since moving to the cleanup spot on April 25, Castro is batting .321 (26-for-81) with seven doubles, four home runs and 13 RBIs. He delivered a two-out RBI double in the first inning Saturday to help Chicago post a 3-0 win over Milwaukee.
Castro isn't a traditional No. 4 hitter, and he has spent more time at the top of the order. But Cubs manager Rick Renteria has had to come up with some unorthodox lineups as he tries to find a winning combination.
What's encouraging for Cubs fans is that Castro is batting .297 for the season as he tries to regain his All-Star form and erase last season from memory. In 2013, he batted .245 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs. This year, he already has six homers and 22 RBIs in 41 games.
• With Saturday's loss, the Brewers were shut out for the fourth time this season, and the second time to the Cubs (April 27 in Milwaukee).
• Lucroy registered his 14th multihit game of the season with a 2-for-4 performance on Saturday. He's batting .347 in 17 road games, compared to a .264 mark in 14 home games.
• Garza's ERA in four road starts sits at 6.86 after he allowed three runs in seven innings in Saturday's loss.
• Chicago leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio is batting .349 (37-for-106) with six doubles and 19 runs scored in 24 games against NL Central teams.
• Cubs reliever Hector Rondon needed eight pitches in the ninth to record his fourth save. He's 4-for-4 in save situations.
• Chicago is 13-1 this season when entering the eighth inning with the lead.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.