Taking two out of three this weekend would mean the Brewers would head to Philadelphia two games below .500, still in third place in the Central and (at least) 6.5 games of either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. I'm not sure that's good enough to count as "back in the race," but I'm also not comfortable saying the Brewers must win all three games on the road against a first place team.
Either way, they've got a steep hill to climb this weekend and they'll start with Marco Estrada (4.13 ERA, 4.07 FIP) on the mound. Estrada has been very good this season in every aspect of the game but one: Keeping the ball in the ballpark. He's allowed eleven home runs in his nine starts this season, including one against the Pirates on Saturday. He allowed three runs on six hits over 5.2 innings in that game, walking one and striking out eleven. He also threw a season-high 114 pitches.
With the exception of the home run ball, Estrada has arguably been the Brewers' best pitcher. He's striking out more opposing batters than Yovani Gallardo or Zack Greinke (10.5 per nine to 9.4/9.1), and he's walking less than Greinke or Mike Fiers (1.7 per nine to 2.2 each). He's throwing his fastball nearly two thirds of the time, but FanGraphs says both his curve and changeup have been below average.
This is the third time Estrada has faced the Reds in 2012, and he's allowed a combined eight runs on 13 hits over 13 innings in the previous two meetings. He's struck out 17 and walked just two in those games, though. Three Reds have faced him ten times or more:
He'll face Homer Bailey (3.93 ERA, 4.55 FIP), who was selected two picks after the Brewers took Mark Rogers in the first round in 2004. He's been very good lately, allowing five earned runs over 24.2 innings (a 1.86 ERA) in July. He beat the Cardinals on Sunday, allowing two runs (one earned) on nine hits over eight innings, walking two and striking out two.
Bailey has been reasonably good this season despite the fact that his strikeout rate is significantly down. He's K'ing 6.25 batters per nine innings in 2012, down from 7.23 in 2011 and 8.26 in 2010. He has a low-to-mid 90's fastball he'll throw nearly two thirds of the time, combined with a slider, curve and splitter.
The Brewers have had good luck in their two games again Bailey in 2012: They tagged him for six runs over 3.2 innings on May 8 and again for five runs (four earned) over four innings on June 27 en route to a pair of wins. Four current Brewers have faced him ten times or more:
Tonight's lineup is as follows:
Norichika Aoki RF
Carlos Gomez CF
Ryan Braun LF
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Corey Hart 1B
Rickie Weeks 2B
Martin Maldonado C
Cody Ransom SS
Marco Estrada P
And in the bullpen:
Francisco Rodriguez pitched one inning (35 pitches) Wednesday and has appeared in four straight games.
Manny Parra pitched one inning (18 pitches) Wednesday and also pitched on Tuesday.
Jose Veras pitched one inning (15 pitches) Wednesday and also pitched on Tuesday.
John Axford pitched 1.1 innings (18 pitches) Wednesday.
Kameron Loe last pitched on Monday.
Livan Hernandez is on twelve days' rest and counting.
It looks like a beautiful night for baseball in Cincinnati, with a game time temperature around 82 and falling into the upper 70s as the night goes along.