The Cincinnati Reds have dropped four of five series and are four games below .500 in September, yet they’d need to completely collapse over the final two weeks to fail to win the NL Central.
Facing the Milwaukee Brewers will likely bring them a step closer to their first division title in 15 years.
The Reds have won seven of eight against the Brewers - success they’ll hope to continue Monday at Miller Park in the opener of a three-game series.
Cincinnati (84-66) has the NL’s most productive offense (4.91 runs per game), but had averaged just 3.54 runs while dropping nine of 13 prior to an 11-1 victory Saturday in Houston.
The Reds had 11 hits Sunday - just two fewer than they had the night before - but couldn’t make them count in a 4-3 loss.
“It still hurts today but we gotta move on to Milwaukee and play them tougher than we played today,” manager Dusty Baker said.
The loss dropped Cincinnati to 7-11 in September, but Baker’s club has a six-game lead over St. Louis in the Central as it seeks its first playoff appearance since 1995.
The Reds have six games left against the Brewers (69-79), and that’s great news for the division leaders - particularly that slumping offense. Cincinnati has averaged 6.75 runs while going 7-1 in the season series versus Milwaukee, with Joey Votto(notes) (.484, 10 RBIs) and Scott Rolen(notes) (.500, 10 RBIs) leading the charge.
Rolen and Votto went a combined 4 for 4 against probable Monday starter Chris Capuano(notes) (3-4, 4.11 ERA) on July 27, when the left-hander gave up four runs and six hits over three innings out of the bullpen in a 12-4 Milwaukee loss.
Capuano has since moved to the Brewers rotation, an excellent chance for the former All-Star to prove himself after a second Tommy John surgery.
After a rough first start, he’s been solid. Capuano has a 2.45 ERA in his last three outings, but a first-inning, three-run homer from Houston’s Chris Johnson(notes) was enough to hand him a 3-2 loss Tuesday.
From there, Capuano pitched 5 1-3 scoreless innings.
“It all came down to one pitch,” Milwaukee manager Ken Macha said. “I think Cappy was trying to go away, and it wound up being a homer.”
The Brewers have totaled only 21 runs over their last nine games, but two excellent pitching performances in San Francisco gave them a shot at a road sweep Sunday. Chris Narveson(notes) couldn’t follow Randy Wolf(notes) and Yovani Gallardo’s(notes) efforts, though, getting chased in the fifth inning of a 9-2 loss.
The lineup’s overall slump hasn’t extended to Ryan Braun. Milwaukee’s left fielder is hitting .357 (15 for 42) with four homers and 11 RBIs over his last 10 games.
He’s batting only .226 this season against Cincinnati and is 3 for 14 lifetime against Homer Bailey(notes) (3-3, 4.85), but it’s no certainty the Reds right-hander will even take the ball for Monday’s opener. Bailey left his start Wednesday against Arizona after three innings with dizziness, and Baker wants to talk to trainer Paul Lessard before giving the 24-year-old the green light for Monday.
“I don’t know yet,” Baker said. “I haven’t talked to him yet about Homer. He says he’s doing better. I hope (he can pitch).”