The Milwaukee Brewers have once again put themselves in position to reach the postseason for the first time in 26 years. Making it happen in their final regular-season series, however, won’t be easy.
The surging Brewers look for a fifth straight victory while trying to move closer to a playoff berth Friday night when they face the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs, who are perfect at Miller Park this season.
Ryan Braun’s grand slam in the bottom of the 10th gave Milwaukee (88-71) a 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday night, two nights after Prince Fielder’s two-run shot in the ninth led the Brewers to a 7-5 win against the Pirates.
The latest victory kept the Brewers, who lost 15 of 19 prior to their winning stretch to fall out of the wild-card lead, tied atop the NL wild-card standings with the New York Mets, who rallied for a 7-6 win over the Cubs on Thursday.
“We know if we don’t take care of business ourselves, it’s irrelevant what (the Mets) do,” said Braun, who hit his 36th homer, but just his second since Aug. 29.
That might not be easy against the Cubs (96-62), who have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs and are 6-0 at Miller Park.
In addition to taking two from Houston there in an abbreviated series Sept. 14-15 that was relocated due to Hurricane Ike, the Cubs outscored the Brewers 31-11 in sweeping a four-game set at Miller from July 28-31.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella rested stars Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto on Thursday and could rest several regulars again Friday, though he does plan to play his starters this weekend to prepare for the postseason.
“We’ve got to rest our team a little bit,” said Piniella, whose team is 8-5 versus Milwaukee overall. “What’s the sense of trying to take care of everybody else. Take care of yourself, too.”
Milwaukee, meanwhile, hopes Thursday’s heroics will jump-start Braun, who is hitting .207 (19-for-92) with 16 strikeouts in September. .
“Sometimes, you’ve got to realize that a young man like that’s never gone through any adversity in his life as an athlete,” interim Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum said. “And then you’re thrown into the spot and sometimes, people struggle.”
Braun, though, is batting .309 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 13 games against Chicago this season.
Prince Fielder takes a 15-game hitting streak into this contest. He is batting .414 (24-for-58) with six homers and 18 RBIs during the span and has four home runs and 13 RBIs against Chicago in 2008.
Jeff Suppan (10-10, 5.06 ERA) tries to avoid a fourth straight losing decision when he takes the mound for the Brewers. He was roughed up in his last outing, allowing five runs and five hits in two innings of an 11-2 loss at Cincinnati on Friday.
The right-hander is 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA in four September outings. He is 6-6 with a 3.68 ERA in 18 starts versus the Cubs, including 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two April appearances against them.
Chicago counters with Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.99), who has won his last two starts and was named the Cubs’ starter for Game 1 of the NL division series Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
“He deserves it,” Piniella said. “He’s been extremely consistent and reliable all season long.”
Dempster, who allowed one run and six hits in five innings of a 5-1 win over St. Louis on Sunday, is 4-0 with a 2.52 ERA versus Milwaukee this season and 8-1 with a 2.99 ERA in 12 lifetime starts against the Brewers.
Making a bid for a spot on the Cubs’ postseason roster, little-used Micah Hoffpauir hit his first two major league homers and finished 5-for-5 with five RBIs on Thursday. He is batting .387 (24-for-62) in 30 games this season.