The Milwaukee Brewers hope a long stretch against the bottom half of the NL Central can help them get back to the top of it.
Coming off a series loss to the team they’re now chasing for first place, the Brewers open the first of six consecutive series against the three worst teams in their division as they host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
The upcoming 18-game stretch for the Brewers (66-67) includes six games apiece against Pittsburgh, Houston and Cincinnati—teams separated by 2 1/2 games at the bottom of the Central. The Pirates (59-74) are in last place after losing their last two games at Cincinnati, but they’ve won three consecutive series on the road.
The Brewers are 6-4 versus the Pirates, but lost the last three meetings in early July in Pittsburgh.
Milwaukee’s only win in its last seven games came in ace Ben Sheets’ return from the disabled list on Wednesday, when he threw six solid innings in a 6-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. In the other six games in that span, Brewers starters have a 7.96 ERA.
A bruised thumb forced rookie Manny Parra to leave his second major league start after three innings Thursday, and demoted starter Chris Capuano took the loss by allowing back-to-back homers in the sixth as the Brewers fell 5-4 to the Cubs. By losing two of three in that series, Milwaukee dropped 2 1/2 games behind first-place Chicago.
“I’m just trying to work through a tough time. This was a tough loss,” said Capuano, who lost his 12th straight decision. “Everyone is taking this loss hard.”
The Brewers led the division by 1 1/2 games over the Cubs as recently as Aug. 15. They were in first place for most of the season, but have gone 12-26 over the past six weeks. That stretch includes a 5-10 mark at Miller Park, though they still have an NL-best 40-25 home record.
“We’ve had a lot of tough losses lately,” manager Ned Yost said Thursday following the Brewers’ fourth one-run loss in 10 games.
Brewers All-Star Prince Fielder leads the NL with 39 home runs, but he’s gone 4-for-22 (.182) with no homers and one RBI in his last six games. He did homer twice off Tony Armas, who starts for Pittsburgh on Friday, in the only game Milwaukee faced him this season.
The Brewers hope to avoid falling two games under .500 for the first time all season when they give the ball to Yovani Gallardo (5-4, 4.86 ERA).
The rookie right-hander pitched six scoreless innings to beat Arizona on Aug. 20, but followed that start by allowing five runs in three innings of a 6-2 loss at San Francisco on Saturday. He’s 1-3 over his last four outings, getting tagged for 23 runs and 28 hits over 11 1-3 innings in the three defeats.
Gallardo is 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA at home, walking nine and striking out 33 in 36 1-3 innings.
He lost in relief in his only career appearance against Pittsburgh, allowing four runs in 2 2-3 innings in a 6-2 loss on July 3.
Armas (2-4, 6.93) goes to the mound looking to remain unbeaten versus the Brewers. He’s faced them four times and gone 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA, striking out 22 in 24 innings. Armas, though, was not too impressive in his only outing against them this year, allowing four runs—three earned—and six hits in five innings of a 6-4 defeat on May 6.
The right-hander was bumped from Pittsburgh’s rotation two weeks after that game, but returned this month and won his first two starts with quality outings. However, he’s been shaky in his last three starts, allowing 15 runs, 21 hits and nine walks in 12 1-3 innings.
Armas has an 8.52 ERA and a .330 opponent batting average on the road.