The Milwaukee Brewers begin their final homestand of the season after a loss that may have devastated any remaining hopes they had of reaching the playoffs.
It may be too late to bounce back, but having Yovani Gallardo on the mound should provide a positive outlook for Friday night.
The Brewers have won Gallardo's last 11 starts and he's won 10 consecutive outings against the lowly Houston Astros heading into the opener of a three-game set.
Milwaukee (80-76) was one out away from victory before closer John Axford blew the save in Thursday's 2-1 defeat at Cincinnati. The Brewers fell four games behind St. Louis for the NL's second wild card with six games left for both clubs.
"It's a crushing loss," said Axford, who had converted 15 straight save chances. "It hurts. It put us all in a tough spot."
Gallardo (16-8, 3.59 ERA) has two starts left this season to surpass his career-high victory total of 17 from last year. He's 8-0 with a 2.75 ERA in his last 11 outings during the longest win streak of his career.
His streak began with a victory over Houston (51-105), and he's the first pitcher to win 10 or more consecutive starts against one opponent since Roy Halladay did it against Montreal/Washington from 2004-11.
Gallardo has a 2.78 ERA during his 10-start run over the Astros, and he's gone 8-0 with a 2.70 ERA in eight career home starts against them. No pitcher owns more than his nine victories since the All-Star break.
The Brewers have won a major league-best 26 games since Aug. 20 to move within range of a playoff spot, but have now dropped three of four.
"Obviously, we'll have to win every game and hope for some help on the other side," Axford said.
Milwaukee is only 8-6 against Houston this year, with Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks each driving in 11 runs in the season series while combining for 13 homers.
Braun has reached base in 14 straight games, batting .418 in that span.
The Astros are one defeat shy of their franchise-worst total from last season as they start a six-game trip that will end their 51-year stay in the NL. They won their final NL game in Texas with a 2-0 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday.
Houston named Nationals third base coach Bo Porter its manager for next season Thursday. Porter will remain with Washington through the playoffs, with Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco finishing up this season.
The Astros are 11-13 in September and insist they are taking these final games seriously.
"The guys aren't quitting," DeFrancesco told the Astros' official website. "Our goal now is to try to finish the season .500 for the month of September. We still have a chance to do that."
Edgar Gonzalez (2-1, 3.94) will make his fifth 2012 start for the Astros. The journeyman right-hander, on his fourth different team, has posted a 6.00 ERA in six career relief appearances against the Brewers.