The Brewers are hoping Yovani Gallardo can help them regain that advantage with another strong start in the NL Central rivalry Thursday.
Milwaukee (25-15) had seemed to get back on track after dropping seven of nine, but it had a three-game win streak snapped Wednesday with a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh (17-22). Chris Stewart hit the go-ahead single and Starling Marte had a two-run double in a three-run ninth as the Pirates registered just their second win in nine matchups this season and ended a five-game skid at Miller Park.
The Brewers were playing without Carlos Gomez, who began serving a three-game suspension for his role in a fight with the Pirates on April 20. They also placed Aramis Ramirez on the disabled list Tuesday after activating Ryan Braun.
Gomez and Ramirez are tied for the team lead with 21 RBIs, and Gomez had a club-best nine home runs. The Brewers had five singles and one double Wednesday.
"We didn't swing the bat that well," manager Ron Roenicke said.
Gallardo (2-2, 2.92) will try to help his club by getting back into the groove, and an afternoon matchup with the Pirates might help. He hasn't given up a run in 12 2-3 innings in two daytime victories this season.
The right-hander, though, has also allowed a combined eight runs over 11 2-3 innings in back-to-back defeats and was inefficient in a 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Friday.
Gallardo matched a season high with 114 pitches while failing to make it out of the sixth. He gave up all four runs in the fourth inning after giving up three of his four runs to Cincinnati in the third inning of a 6-2 defeat May 3.
"That's what's frustrating about this game," Gallardo said. "You have to stay away from the big inning."
Gallardo is 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA in last 14 starts against Pittsburgh and 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his past four. He hasn't received a decision in his two matchups this season, giving up two runs over six innings and striking out six in each.
Gallardo has received a combined four runs of support in those games but might get some more since the Brewers face Wandy Rodriguez, who will be activated from the disabled list after two poor rehab starts at Double-A Altoona. The left-hander was tagged for 11 runs and 11 hits with six walks in 8 2-3 innings.
Rodriguez was 0-2 with a 7.65 ERA in four starts before developing inflammation in his right knee. He gave up four runs over four innings in his most recent outing April 17 against Milwaukee, but did not get a decision in an 8-7 loss.
Rodriguez won his final two starts against Milwaukee last season but has also been inconsistent against the Brewers, going 2-1 with a 7.23 ERA in the last five matchups. He won his most recent outing at Miller Park on May 26 but is also 1-2 with an 8.04 ERA in his last three starts there.
The Brewers would have loved to have Ramirez available for this game as he's 22 for 59 (.373) with two homers lifetime against Rodriguez. Braun, however, has also hit the left-hander well, going 18 for 49 (.367) with four homers.
Andrew McCutchen is one of the Pirates' top performers versus Gallardo, going 14 for 43 (.326) with three homers. Pedro Alvarez, meanwhile, is 2 for 24 with 10 strikeouts, and Clint Barmes is 1 for 20.