The Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun and the Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen headed out of the All-Star break among the top contenders for NL MVP. If the opening game of the second half was an indication, the two players could take the race for that award down to the wire.
Braun and McCutchen will try to continue bolstering their respective campaigns as their teams continue a three-game series Saturday night at Miller Park.
Braun, the reigning NL MVP, is once again among the league leaders in the triple crown categories with a .315 batting average, 26 home runs and 64 RBIs. McCutchen is doing the same for the upstart Pirates with an NL-best .367 average, 19 homers and 61 RBIs.
After hitting a triple and a double in Tuesday's All-Star game, Braun went 4 for 4 with two homers and three RBIs in a 10-7 win in Friday's series opener. Cody Ransom hit the go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning - the first of his career - and Martin Maldonado had a personal-high four hits for Milwaukee, which has won seven of 10.
"We had expectations coming out of spring training," manager Ron Roenicke told the team's website. "We thought this was going to be a contending team. We all felt good about the personnel we had. So we're at a point now where we haven't played consistently well all year, but it comes down to here, somewhere, we have to make a move."
McCutchen went 3 for 4 with a solo homer as Pittsburgh lost sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
The Pirates (48-38), winners in 10 of 13, will try to move back in front of Cincinnati on Saturday while helping Kevin Correia (5-6, 4.34 ERA) tie a career high with a fourth consecutive win.
"If you're doing really well against your division, there's a good chance you're going to be at the top overall," second baseman Neil Walker told the team's website. "So we're hoping to continue that the second half."
Correia, who hasn't pitched since July 4, gave up two runs over 5 2-3 innings during an 8-2 win at Miller Park on June 1 to snap a four-game skid to the Brewers (41-45) and claim one of only six Pirates wins in 46 games at Miller Park since 2007.
The right-hander won four straight decisions from Aug. 28-Sept. 25, 2009, and April 12-28, 2010.
Marco Estrada (0-3, 4.06) will try to help keep him from matching that win streak while continuing his success against the Pirates.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his two career starts versus Pittsburgh and has allowed three or fewer runs in each of his two outings since returning from the disabled list June 26. Estrada earned his most recent win in Pittsburgh on Aug. 23.
McCutchen, batting .571 (24 for 42) with five homers and 13 RBIs over his last 10 games, is 8 for 16 against the Brewers this season but 1 for 7 in his career against Estrada. Walker, batting .471 during a 13-game hit streak, is 1 for 8 against the right-hander.
Braun, who has six homers over his last 10 games, is 8 for 26 (.308) with two homers lifetime versus Correia.