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Gallardo strikes out seven, notches 12th win

Playing well at home has not been an issue this season for the Brewers who, once again, flexed their muscles at Miller Park during their recent homestand. Now, with the first-place spot in the National League Central in hand, they'll head back out on the road to be put to the test.

First stop, Houston.

The Brewers, who beat the Cardinals, 10-5, on Wednesday to wrap up an 8-1 homestand, will meet the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday for the first of a three-game series, after off-days for both clubs on Thursday.

Compared to a 41-15 mark at home -- best in the Majors -- the Brewers are 21-35 (.375) on the road, and 3-11-4 in road series.

"I don't know what the answer is," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I've said before, it's a comfort when you come to the ballpark, knowing it's a good-hitting park, knowing that you're probably going to get one or two hits a game. It does something to you mentally."

Challenging the Brewers on Friday will be Astros lefty J.A. Happ, who surrendered five runs (two earned) and a season-high 10 hits in five innings against them in his last outing. Happ has had a season to forget thus far, with a 6.01 ERA.

Despite Happ taking the loss on Saturday, manager Brad Mills said he was the sharpest he's been all season. It marked the first time this season he didn't allow a walk. Mills had said after the All-Star break he was hoping Happ would attack batters more and not walk so many people.

"Without a doubt, it was the best he's thrown all year," Mills said. "I think it was two earned runs, and we could have got him out of those. He wound up giving up five runs, three unearned, but at the same time, he threw the ball extremely well. He was aggressive, threw the ball with conviction."

Happ -- who has yielded at least five runs in each of his last seven starts -- will go toe to toe with right-hander Yovani Gallardo (12-7, 3.69 ERA). Gallardo, who also will be facing the Astros for the second straight start, improved to 9-2 with a 3.00 ERA all-time against Houston in the July 30 meeting.

He threw seven innings, surrendered four hits and wasn't charged with an earned run. The Brewers swept the struggling Astros during the homestand.

"I think we're supposed to beat everybody," Gallardo said afterward. "I think we show up to the park and try and win every day. But for sure, it always helps facing guys and teams in your division. Every game is important from here on out."

Brewers: Quality performances
• Milwaukee's starting rotation has produced 20 quality starts over the last 25 games, posting a 3.04 ERA (53 earned runs in 156 2/3 innings of work) in that span.

The rotation was 7-0 with a 3.17 ERA (20 earned runs in 56 1/3 innings) on the recent homestand.

Milwaukee has used just six starting pitchers this season (Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson, Zack Greinke and Marco Estrada), which was tied with the Giants, White Sox, Mariners and Rangers for fewest in the Major Leagues entering Wednesday.

Astros: 'Pen pals
• Until it allowed a run in the ninth on Wednesday, the Houston bullpen had tossed 10 innings of shutout ball in the three-game series against the Reds. The run didn't matter much, though, as Mark Melancon retired Miguel Cairo on the next pitch to earn the save and clinch the series victory.

In the series, Astros relievers surrendered 11 hits, but just the one run.

• The Astros have now won four of their last five home games.

Worth noting
• It will be Game 10 (they're 8-1 so far) of a stretch of 18 consecutive games for the Brewers against National League Central foes. They began the streak in third place, half a game behind the Pirates and Cardinals. After Wednesday's win, they led the division by 3 1/2 games. The Astros occupy the last-place spot in the division.

The Brewers are 28-18 against NL Central teams this year.

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