Tonight's Matchup: Brewers (Fiers) @ Cubs (Samardzija)

Aug 18, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers (64) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

The race for the National League's ninth best record is heating up:

Team W L GB
Brewers 61 67 --
Phillies 61 68 0.5
Mets 60 69 1.5
Padres 60 71 2.5
Marlins 59 71 3

The winner of this race, of course, gets nothing.

With that said, the Brewers will get a chance to expand that lead tonight when they face Jeff Samardzija (4.09 ERA, 3.83 FIP), the Cub leader in starts (25), innings pitched (151.2) and strikeouts (153), among other things. Samardzija and Paul Maholm are the only pitchers who have started 20 or more games as a Cub this season. He got a no decision against the Rockies on Friday when he allowed two earned runs on six hits over seven innings, walking two and striking out seven.

Samardzija's season numbers are ok, but he's really been a different pitcher since July 1. He's pitched seven or more innings in six of his last ten starts and posted a 2.80 ERA over that span. He's also, however, given up ten home runs (1.4 per nine innings) during that time.

Samardzija faced the Brewers and received a no decision on May 13, allowing a run on three hits over five innings. Two current Brewers have faced him ten times or more:

Ryan Braun 13 .400 .538 .700 1.238
Corey Hart 12 .200 .273 .300 .573

He'll face Mike Fiers (2.98 ERA, 2.65 FIP), making major league start #16. Fiers has allowed 15 earned runs in his last three starts after giving up just seven in the ten outings before that. He was good against the Pirates on Friday, though, allowing three runs on five hits over 6.2 innings while tying a career high with ten strikeouts. He also picked up his first major league hit in that game.

It's worth noting that while Fiers is carrying the largest workload of his career, his stuff isn't really showing major signs of trouble. He was averaging around 87.5 mph on his four seam fastball on Friday, maxing out at 89.1. Two months ago his fastball was half a tick faster at 88, and his max was 90.4.

Fiers pitched a single inning of relief against the Cubs in 2011 but hasn't faced them this season. No current Cub has faced him more than once.

Here's tonight's lineup:

Norichika Aoki CF
Rickie Weeks 2B
Ryan Braun LF
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Corey Hart 1B
Jonathan Lucroy C
Nyjer Morgan RF
Jean Segura SS
Mike Fiers P

And in the bullpen:

Francisco Rodriguez pitched one inning (12 pitches) last night and also pitched on Monday.
John Axford pitched one inning (10 pitches) last night.
Kameron Loe pitched one inning (27 pitches) Monday.
Jim Henderson pitched one inning (15 pitches) Monday.
Livan Hernandez pitched one inning (12 pitches) Monday.
Manny Parra and Jose Veras last pitched on Sunday.

It's going to be another beautiful night for baseball in Chicago with the temperature around 78 at game time and falling into the low 70's as the night goes along.

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