The Pittsburgh Pirates have slipped to their lowest point in 3 1/2 months, and their wild-card deficit in relation to games remaining is beginning to seem insurmountable.
Wandy Rodriguez has been one of the few bright spots during their recent struggles, and he'll look to continue his hot streak in Thursday's series finale at home against the surging Milwaukee Brewers .
Pittsburgh's 3-1 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday brought them closer to their 20th consecutive losing season and farther away from the NL's second wild-card spot, falling 4 1/2 games behind St. Louis.
The Pirates (74-74), who were tied for first place in the Central as late as July 18, are .500 for the first time since a loss at Milwaukee dropped them to 26-26 on June 2. They haven't finished .500 or better since Jim Leyland guided a 96-66 team to its third straight division title in 1992.
Andrew McCutchen homered in the ninth for Pittsburgh's only run."We haven't played well and it's been for a while," manager Clint Hurdle said. "So, you know, we had earned the position we were in before; we've earned this position as well. The season's 162 games for a reason."
Pittsburgh is 5-14 since Aug. 29, with Rodriguez picking up three of the victories.
Rodriguez (11-13, 3.65 ERA) went 0-4 with a 5.17 ERA in his first five starts for Pittsburgh after being acquired from Houston before the trade deadline.
The left-hander, though, has been solid since he allowed three runs and walked four in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-5 loss to Milwaukee on Aug. 24, going 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his last four starts.
Rodriguez allowed three runs - one earned - in six innings of his 7-6 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. He has a 2.08 ERA over his last four starts versus the Brewers, who have won four straight and 22 of 28.
Milwaukee (76-72), which traded ace Zach Greinke to the Angels on July 27 when it was nine games under .500 and 12 behind Pittsburgh in the standings, remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second wild-card spot after the Cardinals beat Houston later Wednesday."If anything, the Greinke trade gave us some motivation," closer John Axford said. "We didn't feel in the clubhouse like we were out of it. We never gave up."
Norichika Aoki homered on the second pitch of the game, and he's hitting .429 with two homers during a nine-game hitting streak.
The Brewers look to keep rolling when they send Mike Fiers to the mound.
Fiers (9-8, 3.23) was a pleasant surprise for the Brewers through his first 12 starts, going 6-4 with stellar 1.82 ERA. He hasn't been quite as good since, dropping to 3-4 with a 6.55 ERA over his last seven outings after giving up four runs in five innings of Friday's 7-3 loss to the Mets."The playoffs are right around the corner, and we need to win as many games as possible," Fiers said after his last outing. "Sure, there's a little bit of pressure there, but there is no excuse for me throwing the ball all over the place."
One of the right-hander's better outings during his rough patch came last month when he opposed Rodriguez, giving up three runs and striking out a career high-tying 10 in 6 2-3 innings to beat the Pirates.
|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 are playing their best baseball of the season. Now Aramis Ramirez is hoping they have enough time to secure a spot in the playoffs.
Rickie Weeks hit a tying two-run triple and scored the go-ahead run on Ramirez's single, helping Milwaukee rally for a 9-7 victory over the sliding Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
The Brewers have won five straight, eight of nine and 15 of 19 to climb into the playoff race. They remained 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis for the second NL wild-card slot.
"We're doing everything right, right now," Ramirez said. "I played on a couple of really good teams in Chicago (with the Cubs) but we started off the season really well. We've kind of made a late push here. Hopefully, it's not too late."
Milwaukee had quite the closing push on Thursday. It trailed 7-4 before rallying for four runs in the eighth inning.
Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura opened the inning with consecutive singles off Chad Qualls . Norichika Aoki doubled in a run with one out and Weeks greeted Chris Resop (1-4) with a triple to the 410-foot mark in left-center.
"I was thinking extra-base hit because not only would that score a run there but it would give Rickie a chance to tie the game up in the next at-bat," Aoki said.
Which is exactly what Weeks did.
"Rickie's hit was huge," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. "That was a great at-bat, a big hit off a breaking ball."
Ryan Braun was intentionally walked before Ramirez bounced a single into center field to give Milwaukee an 8-7 lead. The Brewers then added a run in the ninth on pinch-hitter Logan Schafer 's single.
Ramirez had three hits and three RBIs for Milwaukee, which built an early 4-0 lead. Gomez also had three hits and Aoki extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
"We did so many good things offensively," Roenicke said. "Guys are running well, they're moving runners, they're doing a lot of things to help us. When a team rolls, it's not just one or two guys that are doing it."
The stumbling Pirates (74-75) have dropped three straight and 11 of 13 to slip under .500 for the first time since May 29. They are 5 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and are in danger of a 20th straight losing season, which would extend their major North American professional sports record.
The Pirates were a season-high 16 games over .500 on Aug. 8 at 63-47 but have lost 28 of 39 games since.
Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen hit a three-run drive for his 30th homer. Clint Barmes also connected, and Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez each had two hits.
"I wish I had an answer for why we're struggling," Barmes said. "Everything was clicking for us for so long and it seemed like we were doing all the little things right to win games. Now it's not clicking and it just seems like nothing is going our way."
Manny Parra (2-3), the fifth of seven Brewers pitchers, tossed a scoreless inning for the win. John Axford got three outs for his 31st save in 39 chances, working around an error by rookie shortstop Segura.
The Pirates scored three runs in the sixth to take a 7-4 lead. Barmes hit his eighth homer, Marte singled in a run and Travis Snider had a sacrifice fly.
Milwaukee got off to a fast start, but Pittsburgh managed to put together a quick response.
Ramirez hit a two-run homer off Wandy Rodriguez in the first, then doubled and scored in the third.
McCutchen's drive off Mike Fiers in the bottom half trimmed Milwaukee's lead to 4-3. Pinch-hitter Alex Presley then tied the game with a run-scoring fielder's choice in the fourth.
Rodriguez allowed four runs and five hits in four innings. The left-hander was 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his previous four starts.
Fiers gave up three runs and five hits in three innings. The rookie is 3-4 with a 6.75 ERA in his last eight starts after going 6-4 with a 1.82 ERA in his first 12.
"When we pitch, we usually win ballgames," Ramirez said. "Today we didn't pitch and we scored a lot of runs. That's how good teams win ballgames, you've got to pick each other up."
NOTES: Brewers 1B Corey Hart played for the first time in 10 days: He had been sidelined by a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He went 1 for 3 and was pulled after five innings to rest. ... Pirates 2B Neil Walker returned to the lineup after sitting out two of the previous three games with lower back soreness. ... Milwaukee opens a four-game series at Washington on Friday night while Pittsburgh begins a three-game series at Houston. RHP Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.91 ERA) will pitch for the Brewers against Nationals RHP Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.89 ERA). Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (0-1, 5.49 ERA) will look for his first major league win when he faces Astros RHP Edgar Gonzalez (2-1, 4.40 ERA).