Cardinals-Brewers Preview

The Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals have already supplanted Milwaukee atop the NL Central, and now they're trying to further damage the Brewers' chances in the wild-card race.

The Cardinals aim for their longest winning streak in over four years by sending the Brewers to a 10-game skid for the first time since 2006 on Friday night.

A week ago, St. Louis (77-63) trailed Milwaukee (73-67) by two games in the division race, but the Cardinals have since surged to take a four-game lead that only appears to be growing.

They've won six in a row after a 3-2 victory Thursday in the opener of this four-game set at Miller Park, moving a season-high 14 games above .500. St. Louis last won seven straight as part of an eight-game run from July 11-21, 2010.

The Cardinals' quick climb up the standings has been helped greatly by the Brewers' nine-game swoon, and they last dropped 10 in a row from Aug. 25-Sept. 3, 2006.

The current skid has also dropped Milwaukee into a tie with Atlanta for the league's second wild-card spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh.

Milwaukee is looking to get a lift from the expected return of Ryan Braun, who missed the last two games following the birth of his daughter on Wednesday. Carlos Gomez, who has been out of the lineup for four games with a left wrist injury, may also be back after pinch-running in the series opener.

"I'd like (Braun) and Gomey in the lineup," manager Ron Roenicke said. "But you've got to do what you've got to do. This is obviously the most important thing in his life."

Braun is 12 for 33 (.364) with seven RBIs in eight games against the Cardinals, but he's 4 for 25 in his last seven overall.

The rest of the Brewers haven't been much better during the slide, batting .216 with 18 runs while going 7 for 50 with runners in scoring position. They went 0 for 9 in that scenario Thursday.

"Again, we're just waiting for that big hit," said Logan Schafer, who is 1 for 8 in three games since being recalled from Triple-A Nashville following Gomez's injury.

The Brewers are turning to Mike Fiers (4-2, 1.93 ERA), who is looking to bounce back from a 3-1 loss at San Francisco on Saturday. The right-hander allowed three runs with nine strikeouts in seven innings after winning four straight starts behind a 1.29 ERA and fanning 32 in 28 innings.

Perhaps facing the Cardinals may help since Fiers is 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA in four meetings, giving up one run in 12 innings in two starts. However, he hasn't started against them since a 6-3 win at St. Louis on Sept. 8, 2012.

The Cardinals are countering with John Lackey (2-1, 4.23), who is facing the Brewers for the first time since making his team debut Aug. 3 after being acquired in a trade from Boston four days earlier. In that outing, he held them to two runs in seven innings of a 3-2 home win.

He wasn't nearly that efficient Sunday, when all five runs he allowed came in the second inning - though only two were earned - before leaving with one out in the seventh and not figuring in the decision of a 9-6 win over the Chicago Cubs.

"This is a professional ballclub," Lackey told MLB's official website. "It's a team that's not going to stop until the 27th out. We're going to keep grinding at it."

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