With the end of the regular season looming on Sept. 29, chances are looking better that the Milwaukee Brewers will be celebrating a postseason berth before that.
The Brewers, with star Christian Yelich done for the season after an injury to his kneecap, and veterans Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun hobbled by nagging injuries but still coming up big, are three games up on the rival Chicago Cubs for the National League's second wild card.
They could also overtake the Washington Nationals for the first wild card, meaning getting a home game when the wild cards meet. The Nationals are up only one game on the Brewers, and each team has seven games remaining.
Milwaukee's magic number to clinch a wild card is five entering Sunday's series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"They say we lost our MVP to the kneecap, and guys have stepped up in his absence," Cain told MLB.com. "That's what we're going to need to get where we want to be. Guys continuing to play well. You know me, I'm not satisfied until we're in for sure."
To say the Brewers (85-70) are scorching is an understatement. They've won seven of eight, 14 of 16 and are 16-4 in September.
Milwaukee has won its last two games over the Pirates by identical scores of 10-1. With Saturday's victory, the Brewers are 106-56 all-time against the Pirates at Miller Park, including 7-1 this season.
On Sunday afternoon, the Brewers go for the series sweep in their last regular-season home game. Their remaining six games are at Cincinnati and Colorado.
Brandon Woodruff (11-3, 3.69 ERA) is set to make the start, but he isn't likely to last more than a couple of innings in his second start since coming off the injured list. Gio Gonzalez is expected to be the pitcher called upon to relieve Woodruff, a strategy deployed by manager Craig Counsell last Tuesday.
The Pirates look to avoid the sweep by countering with right-hander Trevor Williams (7-7, 5.59). Williams is 3-2 in seven appearances against Milwaukee, six of them starts, and has a 2.63 ERA.
Pittsburgh (65-90) has lost eight in a row, the fourth losing streak of at least eight games that it has endured this season. The Pirates have allowed 10 or more runs to an opponent 31 times this season, and have been outscored by 60 runs in the current losing streak.
Catcher Elias Diaz left Saturday's game in the fourth inning with a right knee injury when he twisted it trying to catch a pitch from James Marvel. No update on Diaz's status was given after the game, but one is expected Sunday.
"When I tried to catch the pitch, I reached for the ball, and my foot got stuck," Diaz told MLB.com, "and my knee went and, like, turned."
The Pirates have lost 90 games in a season for the first time since 2011, when they finished 72-90 mark. Their next defeat will give them the most losses in a season since they were 57-105 in 2010.
--Field Level Media