The Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres are both looking to advance to the playoffs, but a season-ending four-game series at Miller Park beginning Thursday night is likely to eliminate one of them.
Milwaukee (81-77) is two games behind the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs, and San Diego (87-71) holds a slim one-game lead over Philadelphia and Colorado in the wild card race. The Padres also trail first-place Arizona by one game in the NL West.
The Brewers squandered a chance to close the gap on Chicago on Wednesday, losing 7-3 to St. Louis while the Cubs lost 7-4 at Florida.
“We’re in a situation where we no longer control our own destiny, so we pretty much are in a must-win every day,” said Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun, who drove in all three of Milwaukee’s runs.
The Padres, though, maintained their wild card advantage with an 11-3 win at San Francisco as the Phillies beat Atlanta 5-2 and Colorado won 2-0 at Los Angeles. The victory also helped San Diego gain ground on the Diamondbacks, who lost 5-1 at Pittsburgh.
The Padres and Brewers both turn to rookie pitchers in an effort to improve their postseason chances.
Milwaukee sends Yovani Gallardo (9-4, 3.59 ERA) to the mound in search of his fifth consecutive winning decision. The 21-year-old right-hander, considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, claims the start will be the most important of his life.
“They’re all important now,” said Gallardo, who is 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 35 innings over his last five starts.
Gallardo, who is facing the Padres for the first time, was solid again Saturday, giving up two runs and three hits in seven innings of a 4-3, 11-inning loss at Atlanta.
San Diego will use Jack Cassel (1-1, 4.00 ERA), who will try to bounce back after he was roughed up Saturday in a 6-2 loss to the Rockies. The right-hander - the brother of New England Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel - lasted only 2 1-3 innings after yielding three runs and six hits.
It was a stark contrast from his previous start on Sept. 17, when he got his first major league win by scattering eight hits in six innings of a 3-0 victory over Pittsburgh.
“I think he was a little bit up in the zone overall, and the changeup command wasn’t there like his last start,” Padres manager Bud Black said after Saturday’s defeat.
San Diego swept a three-game set from the Brewers from May 25-27, hitting .305. At Milwaukee, though, the Padres have batted just .257 in losing four of their last five.
They hope Kevin Kouzmanoff, another rookie, can help them reverse that trend by keeping up his torrid hitting. The third baseman has gone 19-for-42 (.452) with seven RBIs in the last 11 games, raising his batting average from .263 to .280. He hit his second career grand slam against Milwaukee in an 8-6 win on May 25.
The Brewers will try to solve Kouzmanoff and rebound from Wednesday’s loss, which prevented a three-game series sweep.
“This time of year, they’re ticking off. But we still have four games left,” said Brewers manager Ned Yost, who was ejected for the third time in four games Wednesday and run out of a game for the sixth time this season.
Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, who went 5-for-9 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the series with St. Louis, managed only two hits in 10 at-bats in the earlier series with San Diego. The NL MVP candidate is 6-for-21 (.286) with only one RBI in seven career home games versus the Padres.