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.
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