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There were plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the Milwaukee Brewers' three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres this week.

First and foremost was the starting rotation, which continued its early-season dominance by allowing a total of three runs. Then there was the offense, which produced 13 runs despite missing three of its top players, including Christian Yelich.

But the unsung heroes of the Brewers' first sweep of the season were their relievers, who combined for 15 strikeouts over 10⅓ scoreless innings, including 11 over 4⅓ in Wednesday's 4-2 victory.

"The bullpen guys did a really nice job (against the Padres)," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, whose team holds a two-game lead over the rest of the NL Central Division as it opens a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. "They've picked each other up, which is a great thing."

Through the first few weeks of the season, the Brewers' traditional script has been somewhat flipped. In recent years, a lockdown bullpen helped make up for a starting rotation that at times was piecemeal at best.

This year, the starters have carried the load, putting up dominant and even historic numbers. The bullpen struggled out of the gate, ranking 13th out of 15 National League squads with a 4.56 ERA after dropping two of three games to the Pittsburgh Pirates last weekend.

"We've had some tough ones the last couple weeks where we thought the starters deserved better," left-hander Brent Suter said. "We've just made a concerted effort to be better at picking up our teammates."

The results weren't at all surprising to Counsell. Early in spring training, he noted this year's crop of relievers was significantly younger and less experienced compared to recent seasons. He was confident those players and the varying styles they offered would eventually lead to another formidable group, though he stressed the need for patience.

"Every year is a different story," Counsell said. "But in the end, bullpens are best when starting pitchers pitch a lot of innings and we create big leads."

Overall, Brewers pitchers are third in both the NL and all of baseball with a 2.71 ERA, with the starters' combined 1.99 ERA the best in baseball. Milwaukee's relievers have a 3.82 ERA, good for sixth in the NL, but have a 2.29 mark over the past seven days, which is second only to the Dodgers' bullpen (1.96) during that stretch.

"Watching the starters dominate fires everybody up and makes everybody want to be better," Suter said. "The way they've been setting the tone for games, for series, it trickles down to everybody in the bullpen, so we're definitely feeding off them and enjoying seeing them turn in outing after outing like that."

Suter earned his first victory of the season Wednesday, striking out four in 1⅓ scoreless innings, his second consecutive outing without allowing a run. He was followed by right-hander Devin Williams, who struck out two while also working a second consecutive scoreless outing as he continues to look more and more like the NL Rookie of the Year winner from 2020.

Because of a shoulder injury that kept Williams out of last year's NL wild card series, the Brewers took a cautious approach with him in spring training. He made only four Cactus League appearances and the light workload likely played into the 9.82 ERA he posted through his first four regular-season appearances.

Counsell was able to move Williams into lower-leverage situations thanks to the emergence of J.P. Feyereisen. The River Falls native has yet to allow an earned run in nine appearances, striking out nine over 9⅔ innings.

His performance has earned Counsell's trust in crucial situations such as Wednesday, when the manager called on Feyereisen to protect a two-run lead with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth.

Feyereisen struck out Wil Myers and Victor Caratini to snuff out the rally and Josh Hader, who gave up his first hit of the season, kept San Diego off the board in the ninth for his third save.

"It's early in the year and obviously guys are still getting their feet going a little bit underneath them," Feyereisen said. "I think that this series, especially after the last series with the questions we had about the pen, I think that our guys showed that we can be the big pen that we're supposed to be."

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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