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7/17/2014 11:22 A.M. ET

Brewers poised for second-half race in NL Central

Tough start to July aside, Crew ready to battle Cards, Reds, Bucs down the stretch

MILWAUKEE -- Was it just a temporary swoon? Or was it the start of a Brewers collapse? The second half of the season will tell.

Midterm Report 2014
At the break
Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

The Brewers needed their emphatic 11-2 win over the Cardinals on Sunday to maintain first place in the National League Central after losing 11 of their previous 12 games. A loss in the finale of the unofficial finale of the first half would have dropped them into second place. A win helped ease a growing sense of panic in the stands at Miller Park.

Here's a look at where the Brewers have been and where they are headed:

Five key developments so far

1. Amazing April
The Brewers were 20-8 at the start of business on May 1, marking one of the best March/Aprils in baseball history. Only the 21-6 Yankees of 2003 won more games before that date. In terms of winning percentage, it was the 11th-best month in Brewers history.

2. Leading the pack
Because of that hot start, when the Brewers step to the plate Friday in Washington, it will be their 94th game day in first place. They enjoyed the All-Star break in first place for the fourth time in franchise history (also 1982, 2007 and '11).

First-half awards
MVP: Jonathan Lucroy
The team's leading hitter also plays a premium defensive position, though an argument could be made for Carlos Gomez.
Top starter: Kyle Lohse
Had he not been victimized by a team-high five blown saves, Lohse might have been an All-Star.
Top rookie: Rob Wooten
Helped the Brewers overcome injuries to fellow right-handed relievers Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg.
Top reliever: Francisco Rodriguez
He signed late, arrived in Spring Training late and stepped barefoot on a cactus, yet he did not allow a run until his 20th appearance.

3. Offense looked OK
Even though the Brewers staggered to the finish, averaging 2.75 runs per game while dropping 11 of 12, only the high-altitude Rockies scored more runs in the first half among NL clubs, and only the Rockies, Dodgers and Pirates posted a better OPS. The Brewers are the only NL team with five players with more than 40 RBIs.

4. Big bullpen shakeup
When Francisco Rodriguez emerged from the bullpen for a save situation on Opening Day, it surprised the Brewers' own players. Jim Henderson was removed from the role due to velocity concerns, and he wound up on the disabled list. Projected setup man Brandon Kintzler also struggled. But Rodriguez and left-hander Will Smith have been bright spots.

5. All-Stars aplenty
In third baseman Aramis Ramirez, outfielder Carlos Gomez and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers had multiple All-Star Game starters for the seventh time in franchise history, and three starters for the second time (also 2011). With Rodriguez in the NL bullpen, the Brewers had a franchise-best four All-Stars for the fifth time.

Five storylines for the second half

1. What will Doug do?
General manager Doug Melvin has made bold moves in the past leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline when his Brewers were in contention, mostly notably acquiring Indians ace CC Sabathia in 2008 and Mets closer Rodriguez in '11. Now Melvin could use a reliable right-hander to help set up Rodriguez, and he could also look to get more offense at first base. Principal owner Mark Attanasio has always been willing to add payroll for an attractive addition.

2. Will Braun break out?
The move from left field to right has been the least of worries for Ryan Braun, whose production has been limited by thumb, rib-cage and lower back injuries this season. Braun remains one of the Brewers' most dangerous hitters, but he entered the season vowing to produce one of his best seasons, and he is off that sort of pace. Health will dictate whether he is able to find a second-half surge.

Players to watch in second half
Ryan Braun
When he's hot, top of Brewers lineup is potent.
Jean Segura
Battling on-field struggles and off-field tragedy.
Will Smith
A tremendous left-handed weapon when fresh, but shouldering a heavy workload.

3. Can K-Rod and Smith stay strong?
Manager Ron Roenicke rode his two most effective relievers hard during the first half, with Rodriguez setting a franchise record with 27 saves before the All-Star break, and Smith setting a franchise record with 49 appearances. Smith may be the man to watch; he had never been a full-time reliever before this season, and he appeared less effective in late June and early July.

4. Will Garza lead the way?
After a slow start, right-hander Matt Garza began to pay dividends on the richest free-agent contract in Brewers history. He posted a 4.92 ERA in his first 10 starts and a 2.53 ERA in his last nine, flirting with no-hitters in each of his July outings. Garza probably has the most electric stuff of the Brewers' starting pitchers.

5. Jean Segura's comeback
The second-year shortstop endured an unimaginable tragedy last week when his 9-month-old son died suddenly in the Dominican Republic. Segura left the team, but Roenicke told a radio audience Thursday that he would accompany the team on its weekend trip to Washington. The Brewers will try to surround Segura with support when and if he returns to finish what has been a trying sophomore season at the plate.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.