Prince Fielder’s All-Star season has helped make Milwaukee a surprise contender this season. He hasn’t trailed off in September, and neither have the Brewers.
With a red-hot Fielder leading their lineup, the Brewers have a chance to move back into a tie for first place when they play the decisive game of their series with the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
Fielder hit his NL-leading 46th homer, setting a Brewers’ franchise record, in a 5-3 win over Cincinnati on Saturday night.
Fielder, batting .353 (18-for-51) with five home runs and 11 RBIs in 14 games against the Reds (68-80) this season, surpassed the mark he shared with Gorman Thomas (1979) and Richie Sexson (2001, 2003) with a solo shot in the third inning Saturday.
“To me, he’s got to be the MVP,” Milwaukee pitcher Francisco Cordero said. “I think Prince is going to be the MVP in the National League.”
Fielder, 23, has a career-best 13-game hitting streak, and is batting .422 with seven homers and 12 RBIs in September. Milwaukee has won eight games in that span, which follows a stretch during which it lost 16 of 23.
The Brewers (75-72), who have already matched last year’s win total, are back within a game of the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The Cubs play at St. Louis on Sunday.
The Brewers have hit 208 homers this season, eight shy of the franchise high of 216 set in 1982, which was the last time they made the playoffs. Fielder has not hit a home run in six-at bats against Matt Belisle (8-8, 5.31 ERA), who will get the ball for Cincinnati on Sunday.
Belisle is 3-0 despite a 5.35 ERA in his last six starts. The right-hander pitched well in his last outing, giving up two runs and six hits while striking out five in seven innings to beat St. Louis 7-2 on Tuesday night.
Belisle is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts versus Milwaukee this season. His other nine appearances against the Brewers were all in relief, and he is 1-3 with an 8.38 ERA overall against them.
Milwaukee will counter with Carlos Villanueva (7-4, 4.42 ERA), who will be making his third straight start after being used mainly out of the bullpen. He is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts this season.
In his last outing, the right-hander gave up two runs and five hits in five innings of a 9-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Villanueva has not gotten a decision in two starts and five relief appearances lifetime against the Reds, posting a 3.31 ERA. He will be facing a Cincinnati team that had a four-game winning streak end Saturday.
The Reds have trimmed their deficit in the NL Central considerably since manager Pete Mackanin replaced Jerry Narron, going from 17 games out to 8 1/2. They have played well against the Brewers all season, winning eight of 14 matchups.
Saturday’s contest was just the fourth time Milwaukee has held Cincinnati to three runs or less this season.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips went 1-for-5 with a strikeout Saturday, remaining a homer shy of becoming the third member of the Reds to hit 30 this season. He would join outfielders Adam Dunn (39) and Ken Griffey Jr. (30) to become the first Cincinnati trio since 1970 to all reach at least 30 home runs in a season.