Sitting in fourth place in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers have their work cut out if they hope to climb back into the mix.
Yovani Gallardo has certainly done his part of late.
Gallardo tries to win a season-best third consecutive start Saturday night as the visiting Brewers continue a three-game set with the division-leading Cincinnati Reds.
While Gallardo (8-6, 3.59 ERA) was inconsistent over the first two months of the season, he's recently picked up the pace. The right-hander has gone 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA over his last seven outings, allowing three runs or fewer in each.
Gallardo has been especially dominant in three July outings, allowing a combined two runs in 19 2-3 innings. He struck out a career-high 14 on Sunday, throwing seven innings of one-run ball during a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh.
"Real good game," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Downhill with his fastball, life on it, command. Curveballs were good, cutters were good. That's the type of game that we get excited about when 'Yo' throws like that."
Gallardo has experienced mixed results against the Reds (53-40), going 4-4 with a 4.95 ERA over 13 starts. Aside from allowing eight runs over five-plus innings during an 8-4 loss at Cincinnati on Aug. 31, 2010, Gallardo has recorded a 2.27 ERA in his other seven outings at Great American Ball Park.
Gallardo will need to be wary of Jay Bruce, who is 10 for 23 (.435) with a pair of home runs in their matchups. Bruce entered Friday in an 0-for-18 slump before going 2 for 3 with his 19th homer in Cincinnati's series-opening 3-1 win.
The slugging right fielder has given Milwaukee (44-48) fits over the course of his career, hitting .305 with 21 homers - his most against any opponent - and 46 RBIs in 54 matchups.
The Reds have won nine of 11 thanks largely to compiling a 2.61 ERA. Cincinnati is a season-high 13 games above .500 and remains one-half game ahead of second-place Pittsburgh in the division.
The Brewers trail the Reds by 8 1/2 games and likely can't afford to fall much further behind.
"We need these games, especially against this team," Friday's losing pitcher Marco Estrada said. "They're in first place and we're trying to catch up."
Milwaukee will try to make up some ground when it faces Bronson Arroyo (4-6, 4.03), who lasted a season-low three innings during Monday's 5-3 loss to Arizona - his first appearance since the All-Star break. The right-hander gave up all five runs and eight hits, dropping to 0-2 with a 4.44 ERA in eight starts at home.
"I've definitely never been a guy that enjoys days off," he told the team's official website. "... For whatever reason, I didn't have good stuff. I was humping up for 84-85 mph fastballs and that hasn't really happened to me all year. You just hope you can dial it in next time out and have better, crisper stuff."
Arroyo has held his own versus the Brewers of late, going 4-2 with a 2.73 ERA while limiting them to a .196 average over his last eight starts. His 12 victories over Milwaukee are tied for his most against any opponent.
Arroyo has made things difficult on Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks, who are 11 for 60 (.183) and 6 for 39 (.154) against him.