Though they still lead the wild-card race, Ryan Braun and the Brewers probably would like to gain ground in the division for a change while handing the last-place Pirates a ninth straight loss on Saturday.
Milwaukee (78-56) has won six of seven - including a 4-0 mark versus Pittsburgh - and is 16-5 since Aug. 4. That run has given the Brewers a 4 1/2-game lead over St. Louis for the NL wild card, but the Central-leading Chicago Cubs are 18-4 during the same span and have won seven straight to increase their division lead on Milwaukee to 6 1/2 games.
The Pirates (57-77), meanwhile, have lost a season-high eight in a row to fall 27 1/2 games back of Chicago. They’re on pace for a fourth consecutive season with more than 90 losses.
The Brewers are a big reason why. Pittsburgh has lost seven straight to Milwaukee and is 1-9 in the season series, getting outscored 60-30.
“Every game right now is of equal importance and significance,” Braun said. “It’s important for us to take everybody seriously.”
Braun has helped the Brewers dominate Pittsburgh and get in position to end their 25-year playoff drought. His three-run homer in the first inning Friday lifted Milwaukee to a 3-1 win over the Pirates.
Braun, among the league leaders with 34 homers and 95 RBIs, has hit four home runs and driven in 11 over his last eight games. He’s batted .372 (16-for-43) with four doubles, three homers, a triple and 10 RBIs in 10 games versus Pittsburgh this season.
The Pirates offense continues to struggle, averaging 2.9 runs in the last 14 games while going 2-12.
“We just can’t score runs right now,” Pittsburgh manager John Russell said. “We can’t seem to get the big hit.”
The Pirates now hope to avoid losing to Jeff Suppan (9-7, 4.58 ERA) for the second time in eight days. The right-hander beat them last Saturday despite allowing the leadoff man to reach in each of his seven-plus innings, giving up three runs and eight hits in a 6-3 victory.
“I think I’ve had a lot more movement on my pitches and I’ve been able to stay out of big innings,” said Suppan, who is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts this month.
Suppan, who went 10-7 in 21 starts for Pittsburgh in 2003, is looking to reach double digits in victories for the sixth consecutive season and ninth overall.
He is 11-3 with a 4.29 ERA in 20 career starts versus the Pirates. However, all three of those defeats have come in Pittsburgh, where he hasn’t won since 2004.
Nate McLouth, who is 6-for-12 with two homers against Suppan, ended a 22-game home run drought on Friday. His 23 homers lead Pittsburgh and put him five ahead of teammate Adam LaRoche, who is 8-for-18 (.444) with two homers against Suppan.
Paul Maholm (8-7, 3.62) starts for the Pirates, having lasted at least six innings in 20 consecutive outings. He has only one win in his last four starts despite giving up two runs or less in each of them.
The left-hander gave up a career-high 12 hits to the Brewers on Sunday, but held them to two runs in six innings of a 4-3, 12-inning defeat. Maholm has allowed three runs in 14 innings against Milwaukee this year, but he’s 0-3 in his last five starts versus the Brewers.
He’s 6-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 13 home starts this season.