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.
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|July 03, 2012||Alex Presley||Day-to-Day||Left game - concussion-like symptoms|
|June 30, 2012||Andrew McCutchen||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained left wrist|
|June 25, 2012||Rod Barajas||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
|May 30, 2012||Charlie Morton||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|May 10, 2012||Daniel McCutchen||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|June 15, 2012||Shaun Marcum||15-Day DL||Right elbow tightness|
|June 02, 2012||Aramis Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left quadricep|
|May 31, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Tight Achilles|
|May 28, 2012||Jonathan Lucroy||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand, out 4-6 weeks|
|May 26, 2012||Cesar Izturis||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|May 26, 2012||Travis Ishikawa||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Andrew McCutchen turned in an All-Star performance on both sides of the plate.
McCutchen hit a two-run shot for his fourth homer in the last three games and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers 6-4 on Saturday night.
"Andrew's playing the game at a very high caliber right now on both sides of the ball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's in a very comfortable place."
McCutchen hit his 20th homer in the third and also made a nice sliding catch on a sinking line drive by Martin Maldonaldo with two runners on to end the eighth.
"He makes those plays look easy," Hurdle said. "But, it's a good first step. It's an exact read when the ball is off the bat. It's a direct line to the ball and a slide."
The All-Star center fielder is batting .447 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs in his last 28 games, and leads the majors with a .366 batting average.
"Offensively, the big swing of the bat (tonight)," Hurdle said. "It's been fun to watch. The numbers up there, they really get your attention. The numbers he's been putting up since May, then you look at June, you look at July and keep moving forward."
McCutchen has now hit a home run in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Milwaukee starter Marco Estrada made the mistake to McCutchen and paid for it.
"There was one pitch I regret, the pitch to McCutchen," Estrada said. "I went away from our game plan and decided to throw a fastball away. I shouldn't have done that. And I got hurt for it."
Casey McGehee had a much better game after striking out four times Friday night. He went 3 for 5 with a home run and two RBIs.
"I believe in our guys," Hurdle said. "If they don't get it done one day, that doesn't mean you're not going to get it done (the next). Casey struck out four time yesterday. Couple of big swings of the bat today."
Kevin Correia pitched six effective innings as the Pirates remained tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the NL Central lead. Correia (6-6) allowed four runs, two earned, and four hits while improving to 4-0 with a 3.81 ERA in his last five starts.
Pittsburgh scored two runs in the seventh to take a 5-4 lead, making the most of two errors and a passed ball by the Brewers.
Clint Barmes led off with a single and moved to second when the ball went under the glove of left fielder Ryan Braun . Pinch-hitter Josh Harrison then reached when reliever Kameron Loe (4-3) picked up his sacrifice and threw wildly to first, allowing Barmes to score.
"We can't field a bunt when they give us an out," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Braun with a little miscue in left field allowing the runner to go to second. And then the passed ball."
Harrison went all the way to third on Neil Walker 's single and scored on Maldonado's passed ball.
"This is a good team," Roenicke said. "We can't play poorly defensively. We talk about this all the time. You can't let games get away from you when you should win, not if you're going to win the division."
McGehee started the eighth with a drive off Tyler Thornburg for his seventh homer. McGehee finished with three hits.
Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth for his 24th save.
Estrada struck out 11 in 5 2-3 innings and was charged with three runs and six hits.
The Brewers scored two in the second and two more in the third to build a 4-2 lead. Corey Hart had an RBI triple in the second and a sacrifice fly in the third.
NOTES: Walker extended his hitting streak to 14 games with an infield hit in the sixth. ... Pirates OF Alex Presley started in left field Saturday for Triple-A Indianapolis and led off with a single as he began a rehab assignment against the Columbus Clippers. He's been on the seven-day concussion list since July 5. ... Brewers C Jonathan Lucroy made a series of throws to second and third during pregame drills and then headed off to practice his swing. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Lucroy, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a broken finger in his right hand, looked good hitting off a tee. ... The Pirates have hit a home run in their last five games and 16 of the last 18.