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Pirates look to keep spoiling Brewers’ pursuit of Cubs

September 22, 2018

Were it not for the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2014 and ’15 Pittsburgh Pirates might have been the National League Central champions.

Those Pirates teams won 88 and 98 games, respectively, earning the final two of three consecutive NL wild card berths. But they lost the season series both of those years to the Brewers, and finished two games behind the Cardinals and Cubs, respectively.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially since Pittsburgh lost each of those wild card games by 1-0 scores. Now, the Pirates are in a position to pay back the Brewers when the teams open a three-game series tonight at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates, who have been a thorn in Milwaukee’s side all season, knocked the Brewers off their perch atop the division with a five-game sweep heading into the All-Star break. The Brewers arrived in Pittsburgh for that series with a 1½-game lead in the division. By the time they left, they’d fallen 2½ games behind the Cubs. They begin play tonight facing the same deficit.

Of course, unlike that previous visit, there isn’t a lot of time left to make up that ground. The Brewers have nine regular-season games remaining — the Cubs will play 10 — and have no more head-to-head matchups with Chicago. Mathematically, there’s still a chance Milwaukee could pull ahead over the final week but that would likely require a collapse by the Cubs.

“We’ve just got to keep winning,” manager Craig Counsell said. “If we’re not playing that team, it’s a little out of our control. We’re just going to have to keep winning and stay alive.”

That will be no small task against a Pirates pitching staff that has emerged as one of the NL’s best over the past few weeks. Ivan Nova, tonight’s starter, needed only 76 pitches to get through six innings against Milwaukee in his most recent time out and is 7-4 with a 3.46 ERA over his previous 16 starts, including a pair of one-run outings against the Brewers.

After Nova, the Brewers will face the league’s hottest pitcher of late. Right-hander Trevor Williams pitched six shutout innings Sunday at Miller Park and hasn’t allowed a run while striking out 14 batters in 13 innings of work against Milwaukee this season.

“It is frustrating,” said Jhoulys Chacín, who will start for the Brewers tonight. “We just can’t hit the Pirates. We have to find a way to beat the Pirates. We’ve got one more series there, so we have to see how we can beat them.”

The Brewers have dropped 11 of 16 games vs. Pittsburgh in 2018, with a 1-6 mark at PNC Park.

“We’ve got nine games to go,” Counsell said. “We’ve got a ways to go. There’s plenty of baseball left. There’s going to be some great moments; there’s going to be some tough moments. That’s still ahead of us.

“There’s a lot left to happen, and I think you’re just open to it and ready for it to happen. We’ve put ourselves in a great position to enjoy the last 10 days of the season.”

Except for the Braves, who opened a four-game series Thursday night with Philadelphia up 5½ games in the NL East, all of the NL teams still jockeying for playoff positioning had a day off Thursday.

When play resumes tonight, the Brewers will hold a three-game lead in the wild card race over St. Louis, which plays host to the Giants this weekend. The Rockies, 1½ games back of the Cardinals, travel to Arizona for a three-game series after falling 2½ games back of the NL West-leading Dodgers, who take on the Padres in Los Angeles.

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