The Houston Astros trail the Milwaukee Brewers by only one game in the NL Central standings, but instead of battling for playoff berths like last September, both clubs are now just playing out the string.
Third place is all that’s on the line at Miller Park this weekend as the Brewers begin the final homestand of a disappointing season Friday night looking to deal the Astros a fifth straight loss.
Houston (70-76) made a late push for the wild card in 2008, before ultimately fading and finishing 3 1/2 games out. The Brewers, meanwhile, qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1982, before losing in four games to eventual World Series champion Philadelphia in a division series.
There will be no return to the postseason for Milwaukee. The Brewers (71-75) haven’t been able to get on a roll since leading the division in late May, failing to win more than three games in a row at any point over the past four months.
“It’s very disappointing that these games in September don’t mean anything, but guess what? … The only team in our division that seems to have got it right this season is the Cardinals,” owner Mark Attanasio told the Brewers’ official Web site.
Milwaukee has won three straight four times since May 29, and has a chance to do so again Friday. The Brewers’ offense scored 16 runs in its final two games at Wrigley Field this week, with Jody Gerut’s(notes) grand slam the big blow in a 7-4 win Thursday to help Milwaukee salvage a four-game split with the Cubs.
Gerut hasn’t faced Astros rookie Bud Norris(notes) (5-3, 5.44 ERA) yet, but his teammates have. The right-hander held Milwaukee to two runs and three hits - striking out seven - over six innings Aug. 7 in a 6-3 home win, though he walked five.
Norris has shown similar promise in his two most recent outings. After giving up two runs over six innings in a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Sept. 6, he limited Pittsburgh to one run in six innings while striking out seven in a 9-1 victory last Friday.
“Bud was very, very good tonight. Very, very good,” manager Cecil Cooper told the Astros’ official Web site. “… This is two games in a row that I thought he really pitched. If he kind of relaxes and focuses on that, then he can be successful. He’s got good stuff.”
Chris Narveson(notes) (1-0, 4.67) gets the ball for Milwaukee hoping to last deeper in the game than he did in his Brewers starting debut. The left-hander tossed three hitless innings Sunday at Arizona before running into trouble in the fourth. He was charged with two runs and didn’t record an out before being relieved, though he ultimately didn’t get a decision in the Brewers’ 5-3 win.
Narveson’s only other career start came when he allowed two runs over four innings against Houston while with St. Louis in 2006 - another game he left without a decision - but this time he’ll be facing an Astros lineup looking to continue a power surge.
“It’s been a strange year,” said Cooper, whose club is trying to avoid its first five-game skid since dropping seven in a row May 21-27. “Other than the five solo home runs, we didn’t put a whole lot together. Not a lot is going right for us now.”