Suddenly stumbling in Pittsburgh, the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers turn to their ace to help them avoid their first three-game losing streak in nearly a month.
Ben Sheets looks to win five straight starts for the first time in his career on Thursday when the Brewers conclude their four-game series against the Pirates at PNC Park.
Milwaukee (48-36) lost 5-3 to Pittsburgh on the Fourth of July, but remained 5 1/2 games ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the division.
Rookie Ryan Braun hit a three-run homer on Wednesday, and is batting .429 (24-for-56) with four home runs, seven doubles and 17 RBIs in his last 13 games.
The Brewers won Monday’s series opener 10-3, but have dropped the last two to the Pirates (37-47). Milwaukee has not lost three straight since June 6-9.
The Brewers’ struggles in Pittsburgh are nothing new. Since its opening in 2001, Milwaukee is just 19-39 at PNC Park, and has lost 11 of its last 15 there.
“I don’t know why, it’s always tough here,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “It’s always a battle for us here. It’s just tough for us right here.”
Sheets (10-3, 3.19 ERA) tries to get Milwaukee back on track.
He has won six straight decisions for the first time since May 29-June 29, 2001 - his rookie season - and has posted a 3.14 ERA in winning his last four starts.
Sheets, who is 9-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts since May 1, was named the NL pitcher of the month for June on Monday, one day after he was selected to his third All-Star game.
On Saturday, the right-hander gave up four runs - his most in 14 starts - and six hits but struck out a season-high 11 in eight innings of a 13-4 victory over the Cubs.
“Benny has always been that guy,” Yost said. “He’s our No. 1 guy. You know what he’s capable of doing when he gets it rolling, and he’s rolling.”
Sheets has also been sharp against the Pirates lately, going 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA in his last six starts against them dating to 2004. In his only outing against them this season, he gave up two runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings, but did not receive a decision in Milwaukee’s 6-4 victory on May 6.
The Pirates have won six of nine since losing five in a row.
Adam LaRoche went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer on Wednesday, and is batting .424 (14-for-33) with three home runs and nine RBIs during a season-high eight-game hitting streak.
Tom Gorzelanny (8-4, 3.05) takes the hill on Thursday in his final attempt to prove he deserves to be on the NL All-Star team.
Gorzelanny was not named to the All-Star team on Sunday, but he can still make it if fans choose him as part of the final vote via the Internet.
The 24-year-old left-hander leads the Pirates in victories, and is 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in his last three starts. He gave up two runs, five hits and struck out six in 7 1-3 innings of a 7-2 win over Washington on Saturday.
“It was another great pitching performance by Tom Gorzelanny,” Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said. “There has been a tremendous show of consistency with each and every start.”
Gorzelanny has been stellar in his two career starts against the Brewers, allowing four runs in 14 innings. In his only start against them this season, he yielded two runs and six hits in seven innings of a 4-2 victory on May 3.