The Pittsburgh Pirates have moved up their top starter with an eye on the best team in baseball this weekend.
Gerrit Cole and the Pirates have good reason to be concerned about first meeting the lowly Milwaukee Brewers given how Jimmy Nelson has dominated them.
The Pirates were swept in their last visit to Miller Park and have been stymied by Nelson as they send Cole to the mound to start this three-game set Tuesday night.
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Pittsburgh (79-50) holds the NL's top wild card and trails St. Louis in the Central race. The Pirates visit the Cardinals for three games this weekend.
With that series in mind, the club decided to flip-flop the starts of Cole (15-7, 2.44 ERA) and Jeff Locke to start this series so Cole can pitch Sunday night.
"Any opportunity to throw against the Cardinals is going to be a good one," Cole told MLB's official website. "Without thinking too far ahead, we need to take care of Tuesday against Milwaukee, that's the main priority."
The Pirates, winners of 14 of 18 overall and seven of eight on the road, have good reason to be concerned about the Brewers. These division rivals have split 12 matchups, with Milwaukee (55-75) sweeping a series July 17-19. The Brewers have swept at least one three-game home set from Pittsburgh in nine of the last 10 seasons.
Cole, who is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts at Miller Park, did not pitch in the last series. He gave up two runs in six innings to earn a 5-2 home victory April 19 over the Brewers, improving to 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA in six starts against them.
The right-hander allowed one run over 7 1-3 innings to earn Thursday's 2-1 victory at Miami, ending a five-start stretch in which he was 0-3 with a 3.60 ERA.
Cole's 2.13 road ERA is baseball's fifth-best mark.
Scooter Gennett is 7 for 14 against him and Jean Segura is 6 for 18 while Ryan Braun is hitless in eight at-bats in this matchup.
Nelson (10-10, 3.81) is 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA in four starts against the Pirates this year, limiting them to no homers and a .202 average. He has benefited from seeing Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen twice in those four games, with the center fielder going 2 for 3 with two walks.
Josh Harrison and Pedro Alvarez have combined to go 1 for 17 with seven strikeouts off the right-hander, who is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in his last six home outings. Milwaukee has won nine of Nelson's last 12 starts.
He'll see former teammate Aramis Ramirez for the first time. Ramirez was traded to Pittsburgh on July 23 and returns to Miller Park for the first time after spending his last three-plus seasons with Milwaukee.
The Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy is batting .452 with three homers and 10 RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak. His average is at .255 compared to .301 last year.
"Any time you have tough year and stuff doesn't really go your way, to be able to finish strong is a big part of feeling good about your season," said Lucroy, who is 5 for 17 versus Cole.
Pittsburgh starts a nine-game trip after capturing its last five series while Milwaukee took two of three over the weekend at home from Cincinnati.