Sitting in third place in the NL wild-card standings, the surging Milwaukee Brewers aren't showing any signs of letting up down the stretch.
Seeking an eighth win in nine games, the Brewers look to continue their quest for a playoff berth Monday in this series finale against the Washington Nationals , who try to avoid back-to-back home losses for the first time in almost two months.
Milwaukee (79-73) extended its longest winning streak of the season to six in Friday's series opener only to fall 10-4 the following day. The Brewers, though, bounced back Sunday, winning 6-2 to remain 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second wild-card berth with 10 to play.
"They're all crucial," said manager Ron Roenicke , whose club has recorded double-digit hits six times during its 7-1 run - including 15 Sunday. "We know that, but you've just got to go out and play. I thought that we played a good game today."
Jonathan Lucroy came through with a pair of RBI singles as Milwaukee improved to a major league-best 25-7 since Aug. 20.
"I don't think we're fun to face right now, as exciting as we've been," said Corey Hart , who's gone 9 for 53 (.170) in 15 career games in the nation's capital.
The Nationals (92-60), meanwhile, dropped to 3-6 over their last nine games and saw their NL East lead over Atlanta cut to 4 1/2. Having already secured a playoff berth, Washington's magic number to clinch the division is six.
Tied with Cincinnati for the best record in baseball, the Nationals haven't suffered consecutive home losses since July 31-Aug. 1. They could be hard-pressed to keep that streak going against Marco Estrada (4-6, 3.56 ERA), however.
While his overall numbers don't stand out, Estrada has given the Brewers a huge boost of late. The right-hander has gone 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA over his last six starts, a stretch in which he's struck out 42 in 36 2-3 innings while limiting opponents to a .195 average.
Estrada was excellent again Wednesday, scattering three hits over seven scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory at Pittsburgh.
"He's definitely a hard guy to square up and do any damage against," Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones told the Brewers' official website. "He's pitching his (tail) off."
In his only career start versus Washington, Estrada gave up one run, five hits and struck out seven over six innings but didn't factor in the decision of a 5-1 road loss April 17, 2011.
Estrada will be opposed by Jordan Zimmermann (11-8, 2.96), who appears to be back on track after going 0-1 with a 9.88 ERA over a three-start stretch Aug. 20-Sept. 1. The right-hander yielded one run and six hits over six innings in Game 1 of Wednesday's doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers , improving to 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA over his last three outings.
Zimmermann has gone 4-0 in his last 10 home starts despite a 3.90 ERA.
Zimmermann stifled Milwaukee in his only career matchup in this series July 28, giving up one run and five hits over six innings to earn a 4-1 road win.
|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|
|September 12, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Torn cuff and bone bruise in left wrist|
|September 03, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right thumb|
|September 02, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore right ankle|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- According to Washington right fielder Jayson Werth , the way an intense, September afternoon sun turns fly balls at Nationals Park into adventures "borders on ridiculous."
Well, this time, that "sun monster" helped Werth's Nationals and hurt the Milwaukee Brewers .
A day after the Nationals misplayed a pair of fly balls in the midday glare, Werth wound up with a two-out, two-run double when Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez lost a ball in the sun to spark a six-run fourth inning Monday, and Washington beat Milwaukee 12-2 to cut its magic number for winning the NL East to five.
"I don't remember a worse sun field, worse sun conditions," said Werth, a major leaguer for a decade. "You almost don't have a chance out there as the game goes on."
Jordan Zimmermann (12-8) allowed one run and four hits in 6 2-3 innings in the rare 1:05 p.m. weekday start. He also delivered two hits and drove in a run as a batter for the Nationals, who are a majors-best 93-60 and increased their division lead over the Atlanta Braves to five games with nine to play.
"We still have a little ways to go, but if we keep playing baseball the way we've been playing, hopefully it'll happen soon," said Ryan Zimmerman , who had three hits and four RBIs.
Marco Estrada (4-7) lasted only four innings for the Brewers, who entered the day 2 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL's second wild-card berth. He allowed seven runs - six earned - and eight hits, and acknowledged that Gomez's problems on Werth's ball into the sun caused the righty to lose his composure "a little bit."
"It felt like it was a blink of an eye," Estrada said. "I looked up, the score was 2-1, and I was like, `All right, let's get this guy out. Pop fly.' Next thing you know, it's 7-1. I couldn't believe it."
As Brewers manager Ron Roenicke put it: "It would've been a good game if that ball's caught."
Right after Zimmermann's RBI single broke a 1-all tie, Werth hit a high fly that could have been the third out - but Gomez couldn't find it.
"It is just a matter of being lucky and not getting a ball hit to you when it's in your field of vision," Werth said. "Even then, if the ball is hit to your left early in the game, it goes into the sun. And if it goes to your right later in the game, it goes in the sun. And if it's hit right at you in the middle of the game, you are in trouble."
Gomez paused and held his glove up to try to shade his view, then suddenly scrambled to his left and tried to make a diving catch.
The ball smacked off the dark sweat band on his left forearm and trickled away.
"Nothing you can do," Gomez said.
Roenicke knew his player was having a hard time locating the ball.
"As soon as the ball went up, he was 10 feet off," Roenicke said. "I was watching the ball, where it was, and watching where he was, and I could tell he was off line."
After Bryce Harper walked and joined Werth in a double steal, Zimmerman sent a three-run shot to right-center for his 24th homer and a 7-1 lead.
"Once it gets out of hand, it's tough to keep everybody's intensity there," Roenicke said, "and because of it, a lot of things go wrong."
In Milwaukee's 6-2 victory Sunday, Werth and Harper each failed to catch a ball because of the sun, leading to hits. Werth's misplay was on a shot by Gomez. Afterward, Harper joked about trouble dealing with the "sun monster."
"Payback," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "It's a tough sun. I mean, this time of year, that time of day."
NOTES: Nationals SS Ian Desmond stole second in the fifth, giving him 20 steals to go along with 24 homers, making him the team's first 20-20 player since Alfonso Soriano in 2006. ... Brewers 1B Corey Hart hit his 28th homer in the second inning. ... The Nationals will throw three left-handed starters in their next series at Philadelphia, with Ross Detwiler (10-6) on Tuesday, John Lannan (3-0) on Wednesday, and Gio Gonzalez (20-8) on Thursday. ... Washington LF Michael Morse was out of the starting lineup because of a bothersome left hand. ... The Brewers open a three-game series at NL Central champion Cincinnati on Tuesday, with RHPs Mike Fiers (9-8), Shaun Marcum (5-4) and Wily Peralta (2-1) set to start for Milwaukee. ... Harper slammed against the wall in deep center to catch a shot off the bat of Aramis Ramirez to end the first, then rolled onto his back and stayed down for a second or two. Eventually, Harper popped up and jogged to the dugout to loud cheers.