You only get so many chances to be the second best team in the National League...but the Brewers control their own destiny with three games to play.
Tonight they'll send Shaun Marcum (3.31 ERA, 3.65 FIP) to the mound in an attempt to hold the Pirates (and Diamondbacks) at bay. He's coming off arguably his best start of the season, holding the Cubs to a run on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts over eight innings on Tuesday. He needed just 97 pitches to get through that outing.
Starting tonight, Marcum is in uncharted territory: He's already set career highs for starts (32) and innings pitched (196) this season. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Brewers try to keep his workload relatively light tonight: With the bullpen moderately fresh there's probably no reason to run him past 100 pitches. If they can get him out of there after roughly 80, that'd probably be all right.
Marcum has faced the Pirates three times this season and fared very well: He's allowed a combined three runs on 13 hits over 20.2 innings (a 1.31 ERA), and walked six while striking out 13. Andrew McCutchen is the only Pirate who's seen Marcum ten times: He's 1-for-8 with a walk and a sac fly.
Marcum will face Charlie Morton (3.67 ERA, 3.75 FIP), making his final start in a career year. Morton has a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time in his four major league seasons, is posting a ridiculously low 0.3 home runs per nine innings and is over 100 major league innings for the first time (he's at 166.2). He beat the Diamondbacks on Tuesday, pitching six shutout innings with three hits and three walks while striking out five.
Morton has a low 90's fastball that he's throwing more often than ever this season (over 70% of the time). He also throws a plus curve and will mix in the occasional cutter or changeup. Opposing batters swing at his pitches outside the strike zone 31.5% of the time this season, easily a career high.
This is only Morton's second start against the Brewers this season: On August 14 he held them to a run on four hits over 7.1 innings, walking two and striking out five in what turned out to be a 2-1 Brewer win. Three Brewers have faced him ten times or more:
Tonight's lineup, sans Ryan Braun:
RF Corey Hart
CF Nyjer Morgan
LF Mark Kotsay
1B Prince Fielder
2B Rickie Weeks
3B Jerry Hairston, Jr.
SS Yuni Betancourt
C Jonathan Lucroy
P Shaun Marcum
And in the bullpen:
LaTroy Hawkins pitched .1 innings (seven pitches) yesterday, and also pitched on Saturday.
Kameron Loe pitched 1.1 innings (36 pitches) yesterday.
Marco Estrada pitched one inning (10 pitches) yesterday.
Francisco Rodriguez pitched one inning (19 pitches) Saturday.
John Axford pitched one inning (16 pitches) Saturday.
Takashi Saito pitched one inning (14 pitches) Saturday.
Michael Fiers last pitched on Wednesday.
Tim Dillard and Marco Estrada haven't pitched in a week.
Frankie De La Cruz hasn't pitched since September 17.