MILWAUKEE -- Two weeks ago, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers were the surprise stories of the first half.
The defending World Series champion Cubs found themselves mired in mediocrity while the rebuilding Brewers went into the All-Star break with a commanding 5 1/2-game lead in the National League Central.
However, when the teams meet Friday night at Miller Park to kick off a three-game weekend series, the tables will be turned.
The Brewers won their first two games of the second half but have been a mess ever since, dropping nine of their past 11.
Chicago, meanwhile, has been red hot since the break, winning 10 of 12 to pass the Brewers and take a 1 1/2-game lead in the division.
To build on their lead, the Cubs will turn to left-hander Jose Quintana, acquired earlier this month in a blockbuster deal with their crosstown rival, the White Sox, in exchange for four prospects.
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Since joining the Cubs, Quintana has looked every bit an ace, holding opponents to three runs over 13 innings (2.08 ERA) while winning both of his two starts.
The Cubs dealt for Quintana not long after general manager Theo Epstein proclaimed that the team would need to look within to dig its way out of an early-season hole. The move provided a boost in the Cubs' clubhouse, where confidence is starting to rise.
"When we traded for Quintana, that's a huge addition to our ballclub, as we've seen in his past couple starts," right-hander Jake Arrieta said. "This guy is really good, and he works his butt off. Just seeing how he carries himself between starts is a really good sign."
Now that they've taken back the divisional lead, the Cubs have no intention of giving it up. They know it starts with putting the Brewers away this weekend.
"We're feeling it," Arrieta said. "We expect to remain in first place throughout the rest of the way. We know it will be a tough task, but that's what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind. We feel we've got the group that can separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the rest of the way."
Back home for the first time in 11 days, Milwaukee will hand the ball to Brent Suter (1-1, 2.60 ERA). The left-hander has struck out 25 batters while walking only five in five starts. He held the Philadelphia Phillies to a run over six innings in his last outing, a no-decision on Saturday.
Starting pitching has been the least of Milwaukee's concerns over the past two weeks.
The Brewers' offense has been anemic of late. Milwaukee scored eight runs in the second inning of its first game out of the break, but the Brewers have scored three or fewer in eight of their past nine games.
"I think we're all looking forward to getting home and starting over again," Milwaukee third baseman Travis Shaw said. "It was a bad road trip all around. If you want to find a positive, it's that we were 5 1/2 games up and we only just lost the (division lead on Wednesday night). We've played horrible, and we're just now losing the lead. Eventually, it's going to turn back. I think we'll be OK."
Quintana is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in two career starts against the Brewers, both of those outings coming while he was with the White Sox.
Suter has not fared well against the Cubs, posting an 18.00 ERA in four career relief appearances.