Brewers aim to stay in playoff hunt against Pirates

While the Milwaukee Brewers are making an improbable run towards the postseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in danger of finishing below .500 for a 20th consecutive season.

The Pirates attempt to get over the break even mark on Thursday when they wrap up a three-game set with the Brewers at PNC Park.

Pittsburgh, which was tied for first place in the National League Central as late as July 18, fell to .500 (74-74) on Wednesday with a 3-1 loss to the Brewers.

"We just haven't played well in a while now," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "We have to find a way to finish games. There's 162 games in this season and it's not over yet, we can turn this around if we want to. I have to do more and the guys have to do more."

Pittsburgh has dropped 14 of its last 18 games and now sits 4 1/2 games out of the last wild card. The Pirates, of course, haven't had a winning season since 1992, also the last year the team made the playoffs.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, has thrived of late and on Wednesday received seven strong innings from Marco Estrada (4-6), who gave up just three hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He also drove in a run in his second straight win.

Norichika Aoki hit a solo home run to start the game, while Jean Segura went 2-for-4 with two runs scored for the Brewers, who have won four straight, seven of eight and 18 of their past 23 to get back in the playoff hunt.

"It feels a lot like last year where we were all relaxed and it was so much fun," said Estrada. "We've never gotten down on ourselves this year and now we're starting to feel like something special can happen."

Milwaukee stayed 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis for the final wild card spot in the National League as the Cardinals downed the Astros on Wednesday.

Hoping to salvage the finale for the Bucs on Thursday will be Wandy Rodriguez, who has won his last three decisions.

Rodriguez won again on Saturday in Chicago, as he held the Cubs to three runs (1 earned) and nine hits in six innings to improve to 11-13 on the year to go along with a 3.65 ERA.

Over his last four starts Rodriguez is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA.

Rodriguez lost to the Brewers on Aug. 24 and is just 8-9 with a 3.65 ERA against them in 23 games (22 starts).

Milwaukee, meanwhile, will counter with righty Mike Fiers, who is 9-8 with a 3.23 ERA. Fiers lost to the New York Mets on Friday, as he allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. Fiers threw 34 pitches in the first inning and argued with home-plate umpire Larry Vanover over a tight strike zone.

"I might have over-exaggerated a little bit," Fiers said, "but there were a couple of pitches I thought were strikes. That's the game. I need to put it behind me. I shouldn't have said anything to him. ... I was all over the place, so you can't fault him for missing one here or there."

Fiers outdueled Rodriguez in that start on Aug. 24 and is 1-1 in two starts versus the Pirates with a 5.40 ERA.

Milwaukee has won nine of the first 13 games between the teams this season, including a sweep of a three-game set at Miller Park from Aug. 31-Sept. 2. The Brewers won 12 of 15 games in the 2011 series.