Sitting in fourth place in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers know their upcoming efforts could be make or break.
With things starting to finally go their way, the Brewers look for their recent momentum to carry over Monday night in the first of three with the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, winners of 10 of 13 in this series.
After winning its first division title since 1982 last season, Milwaukee (42-46) has experienced its fair share of woes this year. The Brewers trail first-place Cincinnati by eight games and third-place St. Louis by 3 1/2.
Milwaukee, though, has picked up the pace of late, winning eight of 12 while hitting .306 with runners in scoring position - 57 points higher than its season mark.
The Brewers proved plenty formidable in their first series following the All-Star break, taking two of three from Pittsburgh. Martin Maldonado went 3 for 4 with an RBI while Yovani Gallardo struck out a career-high 14 over seven dominant innings during Sunday’s 4-1 win.
“You have to tip your cap to how they pitched, especially today,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “This is a tough place for us to play regardless, tough place for anybody to play.”
Milwaukee, which visits red-hot Cincinnati after a day off Thursday, knows just how crucial its upcoming slate of games may prove to be.
“It’s really like win or go home every game,” Gallardo said. “We all know the nine games we have here, the next series with the Cardinals, then the Reds. They’re very important.”
The Brewers surely like their chances of keeping things going with Michael Fiers on the hill. The rookie right-hander has been superb in his last four starts, going 2-1 with a 0.98 ERA while striking out 31 in 27 2-3 innings.
In his final start before the break, Fiers fanned nine over 7 1-3 innings of two-run ball but took the loss during a 4-0 defeat to Miami on July 5.
“If you look at just stuff, you might say, `Well, he’s pitching better than you think he is,’” manager Ron Roenicke said. “He’s got deception.”
Fiers will get his first look at a Cardinals team coming off a three-game road sweep at the hands of Cincinnati over the weekend. St. Louis (46-43) was limited to seven runs against the Reds and failed to get much going in Sunday’s 4-2 defeat.
“We have our moments, but it’s just doing it on a consistent basis,” losing pitcher Jake Westbrook said.
St. Louis, though, hasn’t had much trouble putting runs on the board versus Milwaukee of late. The Cardinals have hit .291 and outscored the Brewers 72-37 during a 10-3 run in this series, winning four of six this season.
The Cardinals now turn to Lance Lynn (11-4, 3.41), who made the NL All-Star team but didn’t pitch during Tuesday’s festivities.
The right-hander had gone 0-2 while compiling a 9.98 ERA over a three-start stretch before scattering four hits and striking out seven over six scoreless innings during a 6-2 victory over Colorado on July 5.
“I finally got back to where I felt comfortable,” he said. “The ball was coming out the way it used to. It was a good feeling.
“I was just off a little mechanically. The ball was coming out well, I just wasn’t hitting my spots.”
Lynn also shined during a 9-3 win at Miller Park on April 8, yielding a run and two hits while striking out eight over 6 2-3 innings - his only career start in this series.