MILWAUKEE (AP) Once in free-fall, the last-place Milwaukee Brewers have stabilized now that it's summer.
The offense has picked up, buttressed by an effective bullpen led by lights-out closer Francisco Rodriguez. With the second half starting Friday against Pittsburgh, manager Craig Counsell is hoping the Brewers can build on their 21-18 record since June 1.
''The last couple weeks, I think we've been playing much better baseball,'' All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun said this week in Cincinnati. ''So the goal is just to get back to being consistently competitive.''
The improvement may not be enough to prevent the Brewers from becoming sellers at the trade deadline, hamstrung by a 17-34 start that has left them in the NL Central cellar for three months. At 38-52, the Brewers are 18 1/2 games back of first-place St. Louis in the loaded NL Central, and 10 1/2 games out of the wild card.
Of Milwaukee's two All Stars, Rodriguez might be more likely to go. The veteran known as ''K-Rod'' is 19 of 19 in save opportunities with a 1.41 ERA.
Rodriguez agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract in spring training.
Braun is having a bounce-back season, hitting .275 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs in 85 games. The right-handed slugger, who had been hampered by right thumb injury the previous two years, made his first All-Star team since 2012.
It was also Braun's first All-Star appearance since a 65-game suspension in 2013 for his connection to the Biogenesis doping scandal. In the All-Star Game, Braun's slicing triple down the right-field line and hustle around the bases in the ninth inning offered a reminder of how dangerous Braun can be at the plate.
But Braun's contract could make him a less-attractive trade target. A seven-year, $105 million extension signed in 2011 keeps him with the Brewers through 2020.
Any rebuild of the Brewers will likely include Braun in the middle of the order.
Getting catcher Jonathan Lucroy back in the lineup has helped, too. He returned on June 1 after spending nearly six weeks on the disabled list with a broken left toe.
Some other notes about the Brewers going into the second half:
WHO'S GOING?: Besides Rodriguez, veterans who could draw strong interest from contending clubs include third baseman Aramis Ramirez, outfielder Gerardo Parra and first baseman Adam Lind.
Ramirez and Parra are in the last years of their deals, and Ramirez has said he will likely retire after this season. But he could provide a veteran clubhouse presence to a contender. The left-handed hitting Parra is hitting .309 and can play all three outfield positions.
Hitting .292 with 15 homers, the left-handed hitting Lind could be attractive to an AL club as a first baseman and designated hitter.
GOMEZ AND SEGURA: At his best, Carlos Gomez is the Brewers' ignitor, a power-speed threat who boasts a Gold Glove in center field.
Gomez has been limited at times in the first half with a sore right hamstring and hip. Still, a relatively reasonable contract that expires in 2016 could make him attractive to other clubs.
Gomez and shortstop Jean Segura might bring back the most return among potential trade chips. Segura is hitting .273 with 12 stolen bases, plus nice range at short.
Only 25, Segura is eligible for arbitration next year. But he might be expendable because the Brewers' farm system is loaded at shortstop, starting with top prospect Orlando Arcia.
PITCHING: Speaking of younger players, the emergence of rookie starter Taylor Jungmann has been one of the top first-half story lines for Milwaukee. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in seven starts, finishing the first half with a three-hit gem in a 7-1 win Saturday against the Dodgers.
Also, Wily Peralta, a 17-game winner last season, is expected to make a rehab start on Thursday at Double-A Biloxi as he makes his way back from a left oblique injury.