An incredible run over the last month has vaulted the Milwaukee Brewers into the thick of the NL wild-card race.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are right there with them, but they've hardly resembled a playoff team lately.
The surging Brewers look to continue their astonishing playoff push in Tuesday night's opener with the Pirates, who might be weary after arriving home this morning.
Milwaukee (74-72) and Pittsburgh (74-72) are both 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot, but have taken different paths to get to this position.
While the Pirates squandered several opportunities to move past the Cardinals, having lost 18 of 25, the Brewers are a major league-best 20-6 since Aug. 19, trimming 10 games off their deficit. They've won five of six over Pittsburgh in this stretch."A month ago we were out of it," said Aramis Ramirez , who is batting .458 with two homers and 12 RBIs in his last six versus the Pirates. "All of a sudden we got hot. We're right there. We've got a chance."
To improve its chances, Milwaukee has to play well on a crucial 10-game road trip that begins in Pittsburgh, and continues with stops against NL East-leading Washington and Central-leading Cincinnati."This road trip is going to be a tough road trip, and we know it," manager Ron Roenicke said.
The Brewers, however, could have the advantage in the opener.
While Milwaukee spent its off day Monday in Pittsburgh, the Pirates split their four-game series in Chicago following a 3-0 win that ended at 1:28 a.m. CDT on Tuesday. The game started Monday at 10:42 p.m. after a rain delay of 3 hours, 37 minutes.
The Brewers have been off since Ryan Braun hit two home runs in Sunday's 3-0 win over the New York Mets . Braun is making a strong push for a second consecutive NL MVP, as he leads the league with 40 homers and is second in RBIs with 103.
Although Braun has been a catalyst to Milwaukee's offense, he's batting .143 with one homer and three RBIs in the last six with Pittsburgh. He is, however, 5 for 12 lifetime against scheduled starter A.J. Burnett (15-7, 3.66 ERA).
The Pirates have lost each of Burnett's last five starts after winning 18 of his first 22. He pitched well enough to win Wednesday in Cincinnati, allowing two runs in six innings, but was saddled with a 2-1 loss. The right-hander has been backed by four total runs of support in his last four starts.
Three starts ago in Milwaukee on Sept. 1, he gave up two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-2 loss.
While Pittsburgh has had no luck behind Burnett lately, the Brewers have won each of Yovani Gallardo 's last nine starts, with the righty earning the decision seven times to go with a 2.98 ERA.
Against Atlanta on Wednesday, Gallardo (15-8, 3.72) permitted two runs and four hits in seven innings of an 8-2 victory, the fifth time in six starts he yielded two runs or less.
The one time he didn't pitch well in his last six outings came against the Pirates on Sept. 2, when he gave up seven runs in 4 2-3 innings in a game Milwaukee eventually won 12-8. He had posted a 0.90 ERA in winning his previous five starts in the series.
Andrew McCutchen , who is 3 for 17 in his last four games versus Milwaukee, is 3 for 6 with a homer against Gallardo this season.
|September 12, 2012||Carlos Gomez||Day-to-Day||Left game - right quad contusion|
|September 09, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
|September 09, 2012||Corey Hart||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained left ankle|
|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|
|August 31, 2012||Jeff Karstens||Day-to-Day||Hip flexor|
|August 27, 2012||Neil Walker||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 25, 2012||Jose Tabata||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin discomfort|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 19, 2012||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Milwaukee Brewers have wheels.
On the basepaths, and in the standings, too.
Ryan Braun hit two hits, drove in a run and collected three of Milwaukee's seven stolen bases in a 6-0 romp over the weary Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
"I think people have always perceived us as a team that relies on the home run," Braun said. "Well, we really don't. We're pretty good at running the bases."
Then again, just about everybody is against the Pirates.
Pittsburgh entered the night throwing out less than 10 percent of attempted base stealers on the season, by far the lowest in the majors. The number only got worse as the Brewers went 7 for 7 to post their highest single game steals total since moving to the National League in 1998.
"We've got a lot of guys who can steal bases, and if you rely on the homer, you really get yourself in trouble, so you try to find a way to manufacture runs sometimes, too," Braun said.
Not that streaking Yovani Gallardo (16-8) requires much in the way of run support these days.
The right-hander gave up two hits over 6 2-3 innings to win his eighth straight decision. Milwaukee moved in front of fading Pittsburgh in the jumbled National League wild-card race and remained 2 1-2 games back of St. Louis for the second wild-card spot.
"Yo's on a roll that he goes out there and he throws up a lot of zeroes," said Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke .
Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy had three hits apiece for the Brewers, who trailed the Pirates by nine games during their last visit to PNC Park but are peaking heading into the final two weeks of the season.
"We just continued to believe, continued to stay positive," Braun said. "I think with the second wild card, it gives everybody hope."
A.J. Burnett (15-8) gave up two runs in six innings but couldn't stop Pittsburgh's late season swoon. The Pirates are 4-12 this month.
"He really wrestled out there," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle . "He gave it everything he had."
Even if it wasn't enough for Burnett to become the first Pirates pitcher to win 16 games in 20 years. He shook off trouble in the first two innings - when he needed 51 pitches to get six outs while giving up a run - to pitch into the sixth for his 25th straight start.
Pittsburgh took the field less than 24 hours removed from a long night in Chicago, where the Pirates waited out a rain delay of more than three hours before scratching out a 3-0 victory over the Cubs. The team didn't get into Pittsburgh until 5:40 a.m., and Hurdle let his players arrive later than usual to the ballpark after the on Tuesday. The extra rest didn't help.
Gallardo has thrived as the team's No. 1 starter since Zack Greinke was traded to the Los Angeles Angels and had little trouble extending his hot streak against the Pirates.
The Brewers escaped a bases-loaded two-out jam in the second when Gallardo got Burnett to ground out to second.
Pittsburgh didn't get another base runner until the seventh, and by then Milwaukee had raced to a 4-0 lead.
The night followed a similar theme. The Brewers would get on base with a single - all 13 of their hits were singles - then move into scoring position by taking off for second at the first opportunity.
Eventually, the greed turned into runs.
During one sequence in the seventh, Weeks singled with one out then stole second and raced home on a single by Braun. The reigning NL MVP then stole second and came home on a single up the middle by Lucroy to make it 4-0.
"I think they were good times to go, and we have the opportunity anytime we're on second base, we get that base hit and we got a few of them," Roenicke said. "So it was a good game."
Pittsburgh briefly had a chance to get back in it in the bottom of the inning, using a single, an error and a walk to load the bases. Gallardo gave way to reliever Jonathan Henderson, who got pinch-hitter Mike McKenry to pop to shallow right field.
Milwaukee tacked on two more runs in the eighth, sparked by a single and stolen base by Gomez. It was the seventh of the night for the Brewers, the most since the club joined the NL and the second most in team history. The team record for stolen bases in a single game is eight set against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 28, 1992.
Hurdle had no issue with the liberties the Brewers took on the base paths.
"If you don't like'em stealing bases," Hurdle said, "get'em out."
NOTES: The series continues on Wednesday with Milwaukee's Marco Estrada (3-6, 3.77 ERA) facing Pittsburgh's Kyle McPherson (0-0, 1.54 ERA), who will be making his first major league start ... The Pirates reached a two-year agreement with the Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP