After a three game sweep of St. Louis the Brewers are in first place in the NL Central. The last time they led the division this deep in the season was on July 4, 2009. Two years ago the Brewers contended throughout the first half of the season but faded badly in the second half.
A big part of the swoon was pitching. The ERAs of the Brewers five '09 starters were 3.73, 5.22, 5.29, 6.36 and 6.38. It's a miracle the Brewers won 80 games with those grim numbers. Just to give you a sense of where the team is now, the Brewers have three starters with ERAs under 4.00. The Brewers also have the sixth lowest staff ERA in the NL.
The Brewers also struggled with close games in '09. Despite having one of the league's best closers that year the Brewers only won 20 1-run games. Through 66 games this year the Brewers have already won 15 1-run games. For a team to make the jump to the postseason they have to know how to win tight ball games. The Brewers have learned how to close out the close ones this year.
There's also the matter of the schedule. The Brewers and Cardinals don't play again until August 1 but in the final 53 games of the season the two teams meet 12 times. That's plenty of opportunity to gain or lose ground. So yes the interleague slate is brutal and the western swing to open the second half will be a challenge. However it's winning games within the division that will allow the Brewers to seperate themselves from the pack.
There's no doubt this team is better than the '09 version however the division overall is better too. As long as the Brewers have the pitching and can win the tight games there won't be a July swoon like that of two years ago.