For the second time this month, the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves having to look up in the NL Central standings. Given their recent struggles, though, they may be experiencing this view for longer than one day.
The Brewers try to avoid matching a season-high sixth straight loss as their three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds continues on Saturday night.
Milwaukee (62-60) fell one-half game behind Chicago in the NL Central following its 8-3 loss Friday, coupled with the Cubs 2-1 defeat of the surging St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis are separated by just three games, but the Brewers clearly are fading - having gone 13-21 since the All-Star break and losing nine of their last 11 overall.
“When you don’t win, people always seem to think that you’re pressing or doing something just because you’re not winning,” Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder said. “As far as for me, I don’t see that from none of my teammates.”
The Brewers, who also committed four errors in Friday’s defeat, fell percentage points behind the Cubs on Aug. 2, only to regain the Central lead the following day. Milwaukee, though, desperately needs Claudio Vargas (9-4, 4.87 ERA) to have a quality outing and help boost a flailing rotation that has gone 1-10 with a 6.88 ERA in the last 19 games.
Vargas is winless in his last three starts, but pitched well Sunday at Houston, where he allowed two runs - both on solo homers - in six innings before leaving without a decision in Milwaukee’s 6-4 defeat. The right-hander is 0-2 with an 8.62 ERA in three August starts, getting tagged for 15 runs and 22 hits in 15 2-3 innings.
He has yet to face the Reds this season, but is 1-2 with a 5.52 ERA in four lifetime starts against them.
Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy - dropped into the No. 8 spot in the lineup - hit a pair of solo homers Friday, and is 9-for-28 (.321) with four homers in his last seven games. He is 8-for-17 (.471) with four homers in four games as the No. 8 hitter after spending most of the season batting second.
The Reds (53-68) have won five of their last six on the road and eight of their last 12 overall. They have averaged 6.6 runs and batted .313 in that span, scoring six or more runs seven times.
Adam Dunn, who hit a mammoth two-run shot into the third deck in right field in the ninth inning, has homered in three straight games and is 5-for-10 with four walks in that span. He has 33 homers this season to tie Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard for second in the NL behind Fielder’s 37, but Dunn is 0-for-4 with three strikeouts lifetime against Vargas.
Elizardo Ramirez (0-0, 0.00) will be recalled from Triple-A Louisville prior to the game to make his first start of the season. The right-hander, whose lone appearance was a two-inning relief stint on Aug. 1, was recommended by Louisville manager Rick Sweet after going 3-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 11 starts with the Bats.
“Sweet said in his last two outings, ‘Ramirez pitched well,’” Cincinnati interim manager Pete Mackanin told the Reds’ official Web site. “His command was good. Everything was pretty good. He went into the sixth inning a couple of times.”
Ramirez is very familiar with the Brewers after going 1-0 with a 4.13 ERA in four starts against them last season. One of those outings was the best of his career, scattering five hits in eight innings while striking out a career-high 10 in Cincinnati’s 3-0, 11-inning victory in June 14, 2006.