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Fielder jacks a two-run homer in the first

HOUSTON -- With 11 wins in 12 games, the Brewers look like a team starting to smell the crisp air of October. Good luck getting anyone to say so inside the clubhouse, where the company line says there is still a long way to go.

They took care of business again on Sunday, as the rising Brewers took advantage of a team falling fast, winning 7-3 at Minute Maid Park to seal a three-game sweep of an Astros club enduring the worst season in a proud franchise history.

Zack Greinke fielded his position as well as he pitched over seven innings, Prince Fielder had another productive day at the plate and the Brewers maintained their momentum for a rematch with the Cardinals. Both teams were due an off-day before Tuesday's opener at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

"I don't think we're sniffing anything at all," said outfielder Mark Kotsay, one of the veterans tasked with keeping the club's focus. "We have a lot of road ahead of us. I just think that, as a team, we're finding our identity. Everybody is contributing, and we've been able to win games that way."

The Brewers' first series sweep in Houston meant they could travel to St. Louis with a three-game cushion in the National League Central.

Six of the Milwaukee's last eight wins have come against a Houston club in rebuilding mode. Sunday's loss dropped the Astros 40 games under .500, matching Houston's 1963 club for the low point in franchise history.

While the Astros try to avoid ignominy, the Brewers have a different goal. They have a real shot of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and are trying to win a division for the first time since 1982.

"We went home and got on a good streak, and kind of continued it here," Greinke said.

That's a big step for the Brewers, who are 8-6 on the road since the All-Star break after going 15-29 in the first half.

A quick-strike offense set the tone in all three games against the Astros, with Fielder's two-run home run to right field on Sunday giving the Brewers their fourth straight game with at least two runs in the opening inning. The previous night, Fielder hit a three-run home run in the first inning.

"That's really nice," Greinke said. "We've been swinging the bats good, pitching good. We've just been playing good for a while now."

Fielder scored a career-high four runs to finish a remarkably productive weekend. In the final two games against the Astros, he had six hits, walked three times, scored six runs and drove in six more. He also doubled and scored in Friday's series opener.

The free agent-to-be's two-run shot off Bud Norris (5-8) was Fielder's 26th home run of the season.

"They're really hot," said Norris, a quality pitcher who endured a rare poor start. "They know how to swing it and they're in first place. They're definitely in the pennant race."

Felipe Lopez and Kotsay added RBIs in the third inning for a 4-0 lead, and scorching-hot shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt made it 6-0 in the fifth with a two-run single. Betancourt has a hit in 10 straight games and 18 of his last 19 games, and he has raised his average 44 points over his last 41 contests.

Those runs were all earned against the Astros' most reliable starting pitcher, Norris, who had not allowed more than five earned runs in any of his previous 22 starts and had allowed more than three earned runs only six times. Norris was charged with six earned runs on eight hits in five innings, his worst start since allowing five runs in four innings of a loss at Philadelphia in his 2011 debut.

"Good effort," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It seemed like every inning, we had somebody on base. I know I keep talking about it, but that's important for us."

One of Norris' best starts this season was against these same Brewers, a May 1 Astros win at Miller Park in which Norris scattered three hits and struck out 11 batters over 7 2/3 innings of a 5-0 shutout.

Greinke (10-4) managed to miss the Astros until Sunday, when he allowed one run on four hits in seven very strong innings. He walked three and threw a pair of wild pitches, but he struck out six and would have probably worked into the eighth inning had the Brewers not owned a 7-1 lead or had such a well-rested relief corps.

Houston managed only one hit through the first five innings before finally touching Greinke in the sixth. Matt Downs' pinch-hit double snapped an 0-for-24 slump, and he scored two batters later on Jose Altuve's sharp single to left field. Greinke surrendered another single in the inning and threw a wild pitch before escaping. Third baseman Craig Counsell made a nice leaping catch to rob Carlos Lee of at least one RBI and maybe two, and J.D. Martinez lined out to second base to end the threat.

Greinke remained on a roll with his sixth consecutive quality start. Since the All-Star break, he's 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA.

He'll have to watch in St. Louis. Greinke is not scheduled to start again until Saturday at home against the Pirates.

Roenicke stressed that the Brewers still have work to do.

"Hey, I think [players] are happy where they are," Roenicke said. "I think they're really locked in as to what we need to do."

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