In the thick of the wild card chase, the surging St. Louis Cardinals head into a four-game series at Milwaukee on Monday with more urgency than the host Brewers, who secured a playoff spot over the weekend.
Right-hander Jake Woodford (2-3, 4.30 ERA) starts the series opener for the Cardinals, whoextended their winning streak to eight with an 8-7 victory over San Diego on Sunday. Milwaukee counters with right-hander Freddy Peralta (9-4, 2.57 ERA).
Milwaukee, which leads St. Louis by 11 1/2 games in the NL Central, lost at home to the Cubs 6-4 on Sunday, keeping the Brewers magic number at three for a division title. Milwaukee is 7-5 this season against St. Louis.
"It's pretty simple, we've got to beat this team twice to do it," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of clinching the division. "That's the mission in front of us. It's the next challenge. We talk about the next series as the next challenge and it's right in front of us. They're playing great baseball."
St. Louis leads the chase for the second wild card spot by three games over Philadelphia, which lost to the Mets on Sunday night, and Cincinnati, which has lost seven of its last 10. San Diego, which has lost eight of 10, is 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis after being swept three games by the Cardinals.
The Dodgers, a game behind San Francisco in the NL West and who have clinched a playoff spot, currently hold the first wild card spot by 16 games.
"We know the team well," Counsell said of St. Louis. "I don't think they've pulled a rabbit out of their hat, or anything. They're just playing good baseball."
Cardinals pitcher J.A. Happ, who allowed three runs in four innings Sunday against San Diego, said having the edge in the wild card chase allows them to focus on their game, as opposed to watching the scoreboard to see how the other teams are doing.
"I think when you're sort of in the spot we're at right now, ideally you look at it less because you know you're the one in control. You don't have to rely on anybody else doing something," said Happ, who is 4-2 in nine starts with St. Louis since being acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline.
"You get in that spot where you have it, or you have the lead, your focus is more what you're doing and you start to see your eyes wander up there a little bit less," Happ added. "You save that for after the game."
Milwaukee, which won the NL Central in 2011 and 2018, will be making its fourth consecutive post-season appearance. But the Brewers could have a huge impact on the Cardinals' playoff chances. In addition to the current series, St. Louis hosts Milwaukee for three games at the end of September.
Woodford has faced the Brewers twice in relief this season, tossing seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with seven strikeouts. In his only career start against Milwaukee last season, Woodford was tagged for five runs in 1 1/3 innings. Woodford is 0-2 in five appearances, including four starts, since his last victory on July 19.
After two short starts since a stint on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation, Peralta pitched six scoreless innings in his last start, allowing two hits with nine strikeouts without a decision in the Brewers 1-0 loss in 11 innings at Detroit.
Peralta is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three starts this season against St. Louis.
Shortstop Willy Adames, on the 10-day IL with a left squad strain, is expected to rejoin the Brewers on Monday. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who left Saturday's game with a sore groin after crashing into the wall on a sensational catch, remains questionable, Counsell said.
--Field Level Media