The Milwaukee Brewers picked up a crucial win in their series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
A victory Saturday night would move the Brewers within five games of a playoff spot for the first time in almost two months.
Milwaukee (68-70) arrived in St. Louis having won 13 of 17 to trim 5 1/2 games off its deficit in the wild-card race and pull within seven of the Cardinals (74-64). It picked up another game Friday, thanks to Ryan Braun 's 13th-inning homer providing a 5-4 victory.
"We've been a resilient team all year," Braun said. "We're realistic about where we're at. We got to play great baseball the rest of the way, but by no means are we out of it. A game like tonight can be the type of thing that can propel you to a winning streak, so hopefully it will do it for us."
The Brewers, who overcame a rain delay of 2 hours, 20 minutes and withstood a game-tying, two-run homer by Yadier Molina in the eighth inning, haven't been within five games of a playoff spot since July 18, when they were 5 1/2 back of Atlanta for the NL's second wild card.
St. Louis, which has lost seven of 10, still owns a 1 1/2-game lead for the second wild-card spot."It's extremely frustrating," manager Mike Matheny said. "We had our chances and just couldn't come through."
Braun, whose homer also made him the first player in Brewers history with five 100-RBI seasons, has been instrumental to his team's surge. He is batting .396 with four homers, six doubles and 15 RBIs in his last 12 games, and his next home run will be his 200th.
Braun and several of his teammates could be poised for big games Saturday against scheduled starter Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.93 ERA).
The reigning NL MVP is 8 for 16 with a homer and triple lifetime against Westbrook, while Corey Hart is batting .313 with two home runs and one double in 16 at-bats. Aramis Ramirez has been out since Wednesday with a minor back injury but is hopeful to play Saturday, and is 6 for 11 with two doubles lifetime against Westbrook.
After yielding 12 runs in 10 innings in back-to-back starts against Houston and Pittsburgh, Westbrook pitched better Sunday in Washington, allowing two runs and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings, but St. Louis ended up losing 4-3.
"It's a step in the right direction and something I can build off of," the right-hander told the Cardinals' official website.
In his lone start of the season against Milwaukee on April 27, he gave up one run and seven hits in seven innings of a 13-1 victory.
The Brewers counter with Mike Fiers (8-7, 3.11), who tries to put another disappointing start behind him.
In Miami on Monday, the South Florida native allowed six runs - four earned - six hits and four walks in 3 1-3 innings in a 7-3 loss. Both of the unearned runs were results of two errors by the rookie right-hander, who gave up five runs and five hits - all singles - in the fourth.
Fiers has a 7.40 ERA over his last five starts after posting a 1.82 ERA in his first 12.
His lone start of the season against the Cardinals came when things were going well. He gave up four hits in seven scoreless innings versus St. Louis on July 16, but the Brewers ended up losing 3-2. Molina had one of those hits - a double - and has feasted on Milwaukee pitching this season, batting .377 with three home runs.
|July 29, 2012||Aramis Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Sore left wrist|
|July 17, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Right thigh strain|
|June 15, 2012||Shaun Marcum||60-Day DL||Right elbow tightness|
|June 15, 2012||Shaun Marcum||60-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|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
|August 25, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Left wrist contusion|
|August 25, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Sprained ankle|
|August 21, 2012||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right hand injury|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Aramis Ramirez and the Milwaukee Brewers are peaking at the right time.
Ramirez went 3 for 3, including his 22nd home run, and reached base all five times to help the Brewers win for the 15th time in their last 19 games as they beat the Cardinals 6-3 Saturday night.
Not bad for a guy who spent the past two games on the bench with a lower back strain.
"It's hard to keep him out of the lineup when he does the things he does," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I want to take care of him when he's hurt. He came in today and told me he's playing."
Ramirez, who also walked twice, reached base all five times he batted and scored twice. After a slow start, he has raised his average over the past 89 games from .218 to an even .300.
He was ready to get back to action.
"I don't really like to be babysitted," Ramirez said. "I've been around long enough that I know when I can play and when I can't."
Though the Brewers (69-70) are still not at .500, they are not out of the race for a playoff spot, as Milwaukee has creeped within five games of the Cardinals for the second wild card in the National League.
"We've got a good shot," Ramirez said. "We've got to keep playing good baseball. We played good at home, we played good the last two road trips."
For inspiration, the Brewers only have to look across the field at the team they are facing. St. Louis was 10 1/2 games back of Atlanta on Aug. 24 last season. The Cardinals, who have the same record as they did last year after 139 games (74-65), passed the Braves on the last day of the season and went on to win their 11th World Series title.
"Look at what the Cardinals did last year," Roenicke said. "If we get back to .500 and stay hot, this can be interesting."
St. Louis is one-half game up on the Dodgers for that spot with a four-game series against the Dodgers set for next weekend in Los Angeles. Pittsburgh (72-66) is also in front of the Brewers.
"We've been here before," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny . "It's the stretch and everybody's got to be ready to go. We're going to get through it.
Rickie Weeks added a solo home run and Ryan Braun went 3 for 5 with a run scored for Milwaukee. Carlos Gomez went 2 for 4 and drove in two runs.
Mike Fiers (9-7) allowed one run and five hits in five innings and also got his first career RBI with a single in the second inning. He limited the Cardinals to five hits and three walks while striking out five. John Axford pitched a scoreless ninth for his 27th save.
Adron Chambers had an RBI triple for St. Louis. Jake Westbrook (13-11) went five innings and allowed three runs and seven hits.
The Brewers took a 2-0 lead in the second as Gomez's sacrifice drove in Ramirez, who had walked, and Fiers had his RBI single two batters later.
Daniel Descalso 's two-out RBI single pulled St. Louis within a run in the bottom half of the inning.
However, Milwaukee regained its two-run lead in the third on a fielding error by Skip Schumaker on Corey Hart 's grounder that scored Braun. Weeks' homer leading off the seventh off reliever Trevor Rosenthal made it 4-1.
The Cardinals pulled to 4-3 on Schumacher's sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Ramirez went deep with one out the ninth against Fernando Salas to make it 5-3, and Gomez's RBI single closed the scoring.
NOTES: Joe Kelly (5-6) will face the Brewers' Shaun Marcum (5-4) in the series finale Sunday. ... Weeks' home run gave Milwaukee an extra base hit for the 78th straight game. ... Carlos Beltran , who was hitless in the first five games of the homestand (0 for 9) was out of the lineup for St. Louis. . . . The Cardinals said afterwards that David Freese would not play Sunday after twisting his left ankle legging out a double in the eight inning.