ST. PETERSBURG -- An offense that powered the surprising Brewers to first place in the National League Central before the All-Star break has fizzled. It's the pitchers who have been keeping Milwaukee in the race.
Zach Davies cleared seven quality innings for the fourth straight start before relievers Jacob Barnes and Anthony Swarzak held the Rays in check for a 3-0 victory on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
The Brewers, without All-Star closer Corey Knebel, extended their streak of scoreless innings to 22 and stayed a half-game behind the Cubs, who beat the Nationals to remain atop the division.
"It's inspiring, it really is," said Swarzak, who earned his second career save. "We're feeding off each other. I know I am. Watching these starters go out there and flat-out get it done, it's exciting to see. It's by far the best starting rotation I've been able to watch as a professional."
The Rays fell to 5 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, and one game behind the Royals for the second Wild Card spot after Kansas City was rained out.
Davies, who didn't surrender a hit through 5 1/3 innings before Lucas Duda singled through the middle on a 2-2 two-seamer, stymied Tampa Bay. He left after seven innings, allowing just that one hit and two walks to earn his 13th win of the season.
Since they were rocked by the Nationals in a 15-2 loss on July 27, the Brewers' 1.82 ERA is best in the Majors. The team has won four of five to gain ground on the Cubs despite scoring three or fewer runs in all but one of those games.
"We saw that we need to pick it up and help out," said Davies, who has surrendered three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings over his past four starts. "It's going to go back and forth. I know that from experience."
Alex Cobb gave the Rays a quality start, keeping the Brewers to one run on five hits. That lone run came in the third when Orlando Arcia's double to right drove in Keon Broxton.
"It wasn't crisp, but getting through six innings with one run and six strikeouts, I'd take that any day of the week," Cobb said.
Added Rays manager Kevin Cash: "Credit [Cobb] a lot for keeping it right there. We just couldn't get the big hit. We just couldn't get many baserunners on."
The Brewers were limited to one run in the first eight innings before adding insurance in the ninth. Hernan Perez hit his 12th homer of the season, a Statcast-projected 409-foot barreled ball off a 1-2 slider from Ryne Stanek. Perez's shot had a 98.6-mph exit velocity with a 26-degree launch angle. The Brewers added another run when Jesus Aguilar scored on a wild pitch by Jose Alvarado.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Broxton's gallop: Broxton singled to begin the third, then stole second. With Arcia batting, Broxton got a good jump against Cobb and took off for third. Arcia hit a sinking liner to right that Steven Souza Jr. charged in for. Paying attention to the action, Broxton stopped in his tracks before heading back to second. Souza dove at the last minute, but he couldn't make the catch. Once the ball hit the turf, Broxton turned around and started for home to put the Brewers up, 1-0.
Barnes' escape: After Davies left the game, Barnes took over to pitch the eighth, and an adventure began. Adeiny Hechavarria singled to open the inning and one out later, Jesus Sucre dropped a single into shallow right field. With Corey Dickerson hitting, catcher Manny Pina tried to pick off Hechavarria at second. The throw went into center field, and both runners advanced. Barnes recovered to strike out Dickerson swinging before hitting Duda with a pitch to load the bases for Evan Longoria. Barnes got ahead 0-1, then came back with a 97.5-mph four-seamer. Longoria swung and flew out to Broxton in center field to end the threat.
"I kind of glanced at Keon and saw he was sitting there waiting for it. I was like, 'OK, phew,'" Barnes said. "Early in the year, the hitters were putting up a lot of runs. It's been our turn of late to carry the team a little bit. It's going to be good when we're all clicking again."
"Started with Corey, guy made a big pitch," Cash said. "Looked like a split, or something to strike him out. Duda gets hit, then Longo. You know, right guy, right spot. Just looked like he missed a pitch and flew out to center."
"We'll be fine. It's been a quiet couple of days. ... It's going to happen. Obviously, we'd like to get the offense going. But you know what? We've got Arch on the mound tomorrow for a team that hasn't seen him too much. We expect him to go out and do his thing, give us a good start. And I think the offense will be itching to go against their guy." -- Cash, on the plight of the Rays' offense, which has gone scoreless in 20 consecutive innings
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cobb lost for just the second time in his career when yielding one run or fewer (also June 18, 2014, vs. Baltimore), and he has lost consecutive decisions for the first time since May 28-June 3, and consecutive starts for the first time since Sept. 21-27, 2016.
Athletic trainers from both teams rushed to Travis Shaw's side after the Brewers' third baseman was hit on the neck by the baseball on a steal of second base in the second inning. Shaw was safe after the wide throw from catcher Sucre, and second-base umpire Eric Cooper immediately signaled to Milwaukee's dugout for medical personnel. The Brewers said Shaw, the team's leader with 74 RBIs, is day to day with a bruised neck. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers:Jimmy Nelson will aim to add to his team-leading 13 quality starts when he takes the mound for Sunday's 12:10 p.m. CT series finale at Tropicana Field. He is 8-3 with a 2.83 ERA over his last 17 starts.
Rays:Chris Archer (8-6, 3.89 ERA) gets the nod on Sunday when the Rays wrap up their three-game series with the Brewers in a 1:10 p.m. ET contest at Tropicana Field. The right-hander has made 14 consecutive starts of at least six innings, the longest streak of his career.