The stakes aren’t as high this weekend as the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Atlanta Braves to open a three-game series. A year ago, the two clubs met in the National League Division Series, with Atlanta going on to win the World Series.

While it’s far too early to start talking playoffs, this is an important series for Atlanta, which is hosting its annual “Hank Aaron Weekend.” Aaron, who died last year, had deep ties with both cities and franchises. He began his career with the Milwaukee Braves, broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record as at Atlanta Brave, then played his final season with the Brewers.

“He’s the reason I’m here,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, whom Aaron hired as a coach immediately after releasing him as a player. “I hate that (today’s players) aren’t going to be able to experience Hank Aaron. He was the epitome of grace (and) professionalism.”

The Brewers beat the Cincinnati Reds 10-5 on Thursday, completing a three-game sweep. Milwaukee is 17-5 over the last 22 games and 8-1 over the last nine.

The offense is rolling, with 20 home runs over the last six games. Six came in the series finale with the Reds.

“The guys, they came locked in,” Milwaukee shortstop Willy Adames said. “They came to compete and sweep the series. We knew we needed to do that.”

Milwaukee will send left-hander Eric Lauer (2-0, 1.93 ERA) to the mound in the first game. The Braves aren’t expected to name their starter until Friday morning.

Lauer will be making his fifth start of the season. In his last outing, against the Chicago Cubs on April 30, he allowed only one run over seven innings, with 11 strikeouts and one walk.

He joined Teddy Higuera (1988) as the club’s only left-handed pitcher to have consecutive 10-strikeout games. Lauer fanned 13 in six innings against Philadelphia on April 24.

Lauer made one regular-season appearance against the Braves last season and received a no-decision after allowing three runs in three innings in the Brewers’ 6-3 loss. He also faced Atlanta in Game 4 of the NLDS and allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings of a 5-4 loss.

The Braves could start Kyle Muller, who started on Sunday in the series finale against Texas, or they could recall another pitcher from the minor leagues or go with Spencer Strider, the hard-throwing rookie. Strider has pitched three-plus innings in three of his five relief appearances and could serve as an opener.

The Braves did not play Thursday after splitting a four-game set with the New York Mets. Atlanta’s offense returned in the finale, a 9-2 win, after being limited to a total of four runs in losing both ends of a doubleheader on Tuesday.

The Braves have scored three or fewer runs in 15 games. They have lost four times while allowing three or fewer runs, tied for the most in the National League. They also lead the major leagues with 250 strikeouts.

–Field Level Media