Milwaukee (44-41) is two games behind St. Louis after dropping two of three to the Cardinals this week, managing only three hits in a 5-1 loss Thursday. The team did not leave a man on base, erasing three of its four baserunners with double plays.
The Brewers were shut out in the series opener, and they’ve been blanked three times in their last 10 games. More than 35 percent of their RBIs this season have come from Prince Fielder(notes) (77) and Ryan Braun (58), both headed to Tuesday’s midseason classic in St. Louis.
Hart, fourth on the team with 35 RBIs, is expected to return Friday after missing two games due to a foot injury.
“We’re all going to get better offensively,” he said. “You figure it’s got to turn around. We’ll put up numbers when we get that consistency going.”
The Dodgers’ ability to generate offense was affected by the 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez(notes), but since the slugger’s return last Friday, Los Angeles (54-31) has averaged 6.7 runs and gone 4-2 to start its road trip.
Ramirez reached base four times in Thursday’s 11-2 win over the New York Mets as the Dodgers racked up 17 hits.
“We’ve been aggressive. Manny makes a big difference in our lineup, there’s no question,” manager Joe Torre said. “I think it helps our personality when guys who maybe put a little extra pressure on themselves when he was gone look to him like a security blanket.”
The best team in the majors also has a 3.52 staff ERA that ranks among league’s lowest, with Billingsley (9-4, 3.14 ERA) selected as a first-time All-Star.
The right-hander will be taking his fifth shot at his 10th win. He’s 0-1 with a 4.55 ERA in his last four outings, and appeared in line for a victory Sunday against San Diego after allowing three runs and four hits in eight-plus innings.
“I’m just thankful we got the win,” Billingsley said. “That’s all that matters.”
Billingsley has won both of his starts against the Brewers, allowing a total of four runs and eight hits in 14 innings. Milwaukee’s Mike Cameron(notes) is 2 for 20 (.100) with eight strikeouts against Billingsley.
The Brewers will go with Braden Looper(notes) (7-4, 4.78), who’s coming off back-to-back wins and has made three straight quality starts. He beat the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, allowing two runs in six innings of an 11-2 win.
“That’s probably as bad as I’ve felt on the mound in a while,” Looper said. “I was battling myself the whole time, mechanically. I was just able to make a few good pitches when I needed to.”
Looper has only made one previous start against the Dodgers after 25 relief appearances.
The clubs will be meeting for the first time in 2009 after Los Angeles went 4-2 last year. Milwaukee hasn’t won a season series against the Dodgers since 2000.