The Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates open a five-games series Thursday at PNC Park with National League Central implications that are very different.
The series will carry the clubs into the All-Star break, and the games will help shape the division for the start of the unofficial second half of the season.
The Brewers (55-38) lead the division, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs. They lost 5-4 in 12 innings Wednesday in Miami and missed a chance to go 19 games over .500 for the first time since they were 51-32 in June 2014.
Pittsburgh (43-49) is coming off a series win against Washington, including a five-hit, 2-0 shutout Wednesday. But the Pirates have been struggling for weeks. The Pirates, who were in first place in the division in early May, are stiff-arming last-place Cincinnati. The Reds are 2 1/2 games behind the Pirates.
Milwaukee and Pittsburgh can be expected to run through their full rotation in the series. Thursday, Brewers left-hander Wade Miley (1-0, 1.42 ERA) is scheduled to face Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon (5-7, 4.05).
Miley is expected to come off the 60-day disabled list (strained right oblique) and make his third start of the season, and his first career appearance against Pittsburgh.
There was optimism about his potential contribution this season after he was signed to a minor league contract in February and worked his way into Brewers training camp, but injuries have plagued him.
Miley lasted 19 pitches and got only one out in his second start May 8 against Cleveland. He said at first he thought he was dealing with a cramp, but it got progressively more sore until it felt "like I got hit by a truck."
"I've never dealt with anything like this before. New waters," Miley said when he went on the DL.
"It's a tough one," Manager Craig Counsell said. "One start in, really."
What made it more discouraging is that Miley's two starts early in the season came after he was on the DL because of a groin injury.
In his Brewers debut against Cincinnati, Miley threw six innings of one-run ball and registered a win. But the question of his ability to stay healthy now lingers.
Taillon, meanwhile, has been healthy but inconsistent.
He had a tough-luck start Saturday against Philadelphia, pitching six scoreless innings, striking out six with no walks and riding a 2-0 lead into the seventh. But he ended up getting pulled in the seventh and losing 3-2 to the Phillies -- Pittsburgh's fifth setback in a row.
"I was really excited and looking forward to being the guy to put an end to our tough streak," Taillon said. "I had my good stuff. I was being aggressive. Put us in a good spot there going into the seventh, and we came out with the loss. This one hurts."
Taillon was mildly critical of manager Clint Hurdle for getting the bullpen active in the seventh and then pulling him, and hinted that might have affected his effectiveness.
"That's the human element of it -- pitching, looking over your shoulder. (I was) at 68 pitches without a guy touching second base, and someone's warming up. That's tough," Taillon said.
Taillon is 3-7 with a 4.86 ERA over his past 15 starts after going 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA in his first three. He is 0-4 over his past seven starts at PNC Park and hasn't won at home since April 8.
At the same time, he has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 15 of his 18 starts and has pitched into the sixth inning seven times in his past 10 outings.
Against the Brewers, Taillon is 1-4 with a 3.70 ERA in eight career starts.