The Milwaukee Brewers’ recent mediocre play hasn’t dropped them completely out of the NL playoff picture, but failing to take advantage of their schedule over the next week just might.
The Brewers will face the NL’s two worst teams during a critical seven-game road trip that begins Monday night at PNC Park, where they’ll hope to continue their recent dominance of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Milwaukee (58-59) was 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central heading into the All-Star break, but a 13-16 start to the second half has left it fading from both the Central and wild-card races.
The Brewers had lost three of four heading into a weekend series with Houston, but won convincingly Friday and Saturday to put themselves in position for their first three-game sweep since mid-June. Milwaukee had to settle for taking two of three, though, after its bullpen gave four runs in the final two innings of Sunday’s 8-5 loss to the Astros.
“I wish I would have saved some for the last one, I guess,” said Fielder, who became the first Brewers player to record at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in three straight seasons.
Ryan Braun also homered for Milwaukee, his fourth in four games.
If there’s any consolation for the Brewers following Sunday’s loss, it is their schedule for the next week. Milwaukee had won 17 in a row against the last-place Pirates (46-70) before dropping two of three at PNC last month, and it will follow that series with four games in the nation’s capital against the major league-worst Nationals.
Pittsburgh has lost 12 of 13, and totaled four runs during its four-game losing streak. It didn’t get a chance to salvage the finale of a three-game set Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, as a rain delay of more than three hours eventually gave way to a postponement.
Acquired from the Cubs on July 30, Hart delivered a quality start in his first outing with the Pirates, but was hit hard Wednesday at Colorado. The right-hander gave up five runs and eight hits over 5 1-3 innings in an 8-0 loss to the Rockies.
Hart hasn’t received a decision in five career relief appearances against Milwaukee, posting a 3.52 ERA in 7 2-3 innings.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.95 ERA as a starter, but had his lengthiest outing Wednesday against San Diego. Villanueva gave up two runs and five hits over 5 2-3 innings, but was denied a decision in the Padres’ 6-5 comeback win.
“I’m content today. I thought I had a little better rhythm,” Villanueva told the Brewers’ official Web site. “The last couple of outings my changeup’s been a little inconsistent, but I thought I mixed it in well today.”
Fielder hasn’t homered versus Pittsburgh in 2009, hitting .310 with six RBIs in eight games. Braun has three homers and 11 RBIs against the Pirates.