The Milwaukee Brewers started to heat up at the end of August, and their temperature has continued to rise, despite losing their best player to a season-ending injury.
The Brewers will look to stay on a roll when they open a three-game series against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.
Milwaukee (83-70) has won 12 of 14 to take over sole possession of the second wild card from the National League. The Brewers are a game ahead of the Chicago Cubs, and a game behind the Washington Nationals, holders of the top wild card.
The Brewers are 7-2 since losing right fielder Christian Yelich to a knee injury.
Yelich was hitting .329 with 44 home runs and 97 RBIs when he fouled a pitch off his right leg on Sept. 9 against the Miami Marlins and shattered his kneecap, which required surgery.
Two other veteran outfielders for the Brewers, Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain, also continue to deal with physical ailments, but Braun delivered two hits and an RBI in a 5-1 win against the visiting San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon, and Cain hit a solo home run before leaving with a mildly sprained ankle.
Braun has been dealing with back issues most of the season, and Cain has a bothersome knee, and now an ankle.
"We understand it's not going to be easy," Cain told reporters after the game. "It's going to take consistency down the stretch here, and that's what we've been doing up to this point. The main goal is to go out there and, hopefully, get some sweeps."
Milwaukee will face a Pittsburgh team that's been swept twice in the past week.
Pittsburgh (65-88) was outscored 47-15 in three games against the Cubs last weekend, and then dropped three straight against the Seattle Mariners, the last-place team in the AL West.
The Pirates haven't homered during their six-game losing streak.
One positive for Pittsburgh continues to be rookie shortstop Kevin Newman, who's hitting .347 during his current 12-game hitting streak.
"Newman worked hard to earn an opportunity," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle recently told reporters. "When an opportunity became available, he's earned more. The thing you keep sharing with players is you earn things in this game. You earn them by hard work, by getting better, by paying attention. For that next guy, stay ready. Newman's a perfect example."
The Pirates plan to send left-hander Steven Brault to the mound for his 18th start of the season.
Brault (4-5, 4.98 ERA) has dropped his past two outings, giving up 15 earned runs in a combined eight innings.
Brault has pitched well in his four appearances against the Brewers this season. While he doesn't have a decision in those games, his ERA is 2.66. For his career, he is 1-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 15 games (nine starts) against the Brewers.
The Brewers plan to send Chase Anderson to the mound for the series opener.
Anderson (6-4, 4.50 ERA) will be making his fifth start against the Pirates this season, and he's 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in the previous four outings. Overall, he's 8-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 18 starts against Pittsburgh.
Pitching deep enough to be eligible for a win has been a sticking point for Anderson, who has lasted just four innings in each of his past four starts. He has allowed two runs or fewer in his past three.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell didn't hesitate to yank Jordan Lyles with a 3-1 lead, two runners on and two outs in the fifth inning on Thursday against the Padres, leaving him ineligible for the victory.
"We understand what's at stake," Cain said. "We understand what we need to do to get to the playoffs."
--Field Level Media