When the second-place St. Louis Cardinals completed a rare three-game sweep of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park less than a week ago, the division race became a bit more interesting.
Now, they’ll likely need the same result at home to have any realistic shot of closing the gap down the stretch.
St. Louis hosts Milwaukee on Monday to open a three-game series - the final meetings between the teams this season.
The Cardinals (74-66) outscored the Brewers 18-8 last week while becoming the first team this season to sweep Milwaukee at home. In the process, they pulled within 7 1/2 games of the division lead.
St. Louis failed to carry the momentum over into the weekend. The Cardinals dropped two of three to Cincinnati including Sunday’s 3-2, 10-inning loss and are now 9 1/2 games behind the Brewers (84-57), who completed a sweep of hapless Houston with a 4-0 victory.
“If we had been able to win at least two out of three (against the Reds) it would have been a lot more compelling, I guess,” Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman(notes) said of the upcoming series with Milwaukee. “If we can sweep them again, we can put ourselves at least within the realm of possibility, I guess you could say.”
With 22 games remaining, Berkman’s lack of optimism seems warranted - especially given his performance of late. The veteran slugger is hitting .115 (3 for 26) with no extra-base hits over his last eight games.
While St. Louis went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position Sunday, Milwaukee had little trouble scoring in its sweep of the last-place Astros, outscoring Houston 20-4 in the series.
Ryan Braun(notes) hit his 26th homer and drove in three runs in Sunday’s finale, while Jonathan Lucroy(notes) added a solo shot. Braun is hitting .429 with eight extra-base hits over his last 11 games, and Corey Hart(notes) is batting .368 during a 16-game hitting streak.
“Offensively, we’re doing some nice stuff,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “We’re getting guys on base, stealing bases, being aggressive, going first to third.”
Milwaukee, though, has lost four straight overall to the Cardinals and the teams have split six meetings in St. Louis this season.
“We control our destiny,” said Brewers starter Shaun Marcum(notes), who allowed one hit in seven innings Sunday to earn the win. “We can’t focus on what the Cardinals are doing. If we keep doing what we’ve done all year, it’ll be tough for them to catch us.”
The left-hander allowed six runs in five innings of an 8-3 loss to St. Louis on Wednesday, suffering his first defeat since July 23. He had gone 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his previous six starts, including a pair of wins over the Cardinals on Aug. 3 and 10.
Wolf is 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA versus St. Louis this season, allowing at least five runs in three of four starts.
He’ll be opposed by Jake Westbrook(notes) (11-7, 4.72), who has faced Wolf twice in the past month. He earned the win Wednesday after allowing three runs - two earned - in five innings, but suffered a 5-1 loss Aug. 10 after giving up three runs in eight innings.
The right-hander also lost to Milwaukee on June 12 when he allowed four runs in five innings. He’s 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts lifetime versus the Brewers.
Braun is 6 for 10 with a triple and two walks in his career off Westbrook.