Their playoff chances only a faint mathematical possibility, the Milwaukee Brewers hope to begin an improbable run for the second NL wild-card spot Saturday night when they continue their series versus the Houston Astros.
Milwaukee (80-77) is five games behind St. Louis with five games remaining, meaning it would need to run the table while the Cardinals suffer an unlikely skid to cap the regular season. The Brewers suffered a crushing 7-6 defeat Friday that all but ended their hopes of returning to the postseason for a second straight year.
''We didn't play well today,'' manager Ron Roenicke said. ''We didn't pitch well. We gave them a couple of runs in the fourth inning with the defense. We did a nice job coming back, making it interesting with the offense. It just wasn't a well-played game.''
While it was only the 11th loss in 37 games for Milwaukee, it could not have come at a more inopportune time as St. Louis appears to have found its footing this past week to secure the last playoff spot. Marco Estrada (4-7, 3.87 ERA) now becomes the last hope for the Brewers to extend their playoff chances for at least one more day.
But the right-hander needs a strong bounce-back effort to win for the third time in four starts. After stringing together 13 2-3 scoreless innings in winning back-to-back outings, Estrada was roughed up for seven runs and eight hits Monday in four innings - partially due to outfielder Carlos Gomez losing a ball in the sun in a six-run fourth - of a 12-2 defeat at Washington.
"It felt like it was a blink of an eye,'' Estrada said. ''I looked up, the score was 2-1, and I was like, 'All right, let's get this guy out. Pop fly.' Next thing you know, it's 7-1. I couldn't believe it.''
Estrada has no record in two starts and a relief outing versus Houston this year, giving up seven runs in 17 innings.
Bo Porter got his first win as manager of the Astros (52-105), who avoided matching last year's franchise record for losses in a season for the second straight game. Houston has played .500 ball over its last 20 games but has not won three in a row since a four-game run May 21-25.
Dallas Keuchel (3-7, 4.66) will try to become the first Astros pitcher to win three consecutive starts since Bud Norris reeled off four straight May 5-21. The rookie left-hander, who will be making his first road start since Aug. 23, limited Pittsburgh to a solo homer and three other hits in seven innings of a 4-1 victory last Saturday and has allowed two runs in 16 1-3 innings covering his last three starts.
"He kept us in the game,'' Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said following that outing. ''He made some big pitches when he had to. I thought he was in control the whole game.
"He turned the order over three times, and that's something we are expecting out of him. Hopefully he can be a big part of the rotation next year.''
Keuchel is 0-1 in two starts versus Milwaukee this year and was pounded in the lone outing at Miller Park on July 31, yielding seven runs and seven hits with a season-high six walks in four-plus innings of a 10-1 defeat.
Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez is 4 for 6 with a home run versus Keuchel, while Ryan Braun - the NL leader with 41 homers - is 2 for 4.