Winning a division title requires teams to do the little things correctly on a consistent basis. The Milwaukee Brewers are learning painful lessons at the worst possible time for failing to complete such tasks.
Tied again atop the NL Central, the Brewers try to regroup as their three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates continues Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Milwaukee (73-70) fell into a tie with Chicago for the division lead following a 9-0 loss Monday, coupled with the Cubs’ 12-3 victory over the third-place Cardinals. The Brewers’ game turned in the sixth inning, when a throwing error by Rickie Weeks on a potential inning-ending double play turned what would have been a two-run deficit into an insurmountable four-run hole.
“That’s huge right there, we’ve got to turn that,” Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. “This time of the year, you’ve got to turn that.”
The loss was another in what appears to be an endless string of frustrations in Pittsburgh for the Brewers. They have lost four straight at PNC Park, 13 of their last 17 there and are just 19-41 since it opened in 2001.
It also continued a season-long struggle for Milwaukee on the road, where it is just 28-44.
“We’ve got to bear down and go after guys because sometimes it’s going to be like that,” said Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, who is 13-for-31 (.419) with four homers during a current nine-game hitting streak, and leads the NL with 43. “If we’re not going to score, sometimes we’ve at least got to battle to keep it close.”
Rookie Yovani Gallardo (7-4, 4.27 ERA) will try to win a season-high third consecutive start for the Brewers. The 21-year-old right-hander delivered a clutch effort Wednesday against Houston, scattering six hits with two walks in seven shutout innings of a 14-2 rout.
Gallardo induced three double plays in winning for the third time in four starts, and has compiled a 2.53 ERA in that span. He split a pair of starts versus the Pirates, who roughed him up for four runs in 2 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss on July 3 at Pittsburgh.
He defeated the Pirates on Aug. 31, giving up two runs in seven innings and hitting a solo homer in a 3-2 victory. Gallardo, though, is just 2-3 with a 6.88 ERA in six starts and eight appearances on the road.
The Pirates (64-80) are still two losses shy of a 15th consecutive losing season, but have made things difficult on the contenders in the NL Central. In addition to their home dominance over the Brewers this year, they had taken two of three from the Cubs before Monday and split a four-game series at St. Louis prior to that.
“We have a stretch coming up and have been involved in a stretch here recently where we’re playing contenders - the Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals and we even play San Diego coming up,” Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth told the team’s official Web site. “We’re playing to win every game, regardless of who we’re playing. If we happen be playing contenders, that’s all the better.”
McLouth, who went 3-for-5 with a homer Monday, is 7-for-18 (.389) in five home games against the Brewers.
The Pirates hope it was a case of nerves that plagued Bryan Bullington (0-1, 15.00) in his first major league start. The right-hander was tagged for five runs and seven hits in three innings of Pittsburgh’s 16-4 defeat to St. Louis on Thursday, including a three-run homer that snapped a 2-all tie.