MLB

Preview: Brewers at Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Milwaukee Brewers will hope to avoid a four-game series sweep when they face the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park.

The Pirates (47-48) will attempt to extend their winning streak to five games and pull within three games of the National League Central-leading Brewers (52-45).

"I believed in the club when I don't know how many other people believed in the club," manager Clint Hurdle said of his Pirates. "We hadn't played good baseball. We had better baseball in us. We had to get it out."

Despite Milwaukee's division lead shrinking to 1 1/2 games over the second-place Chicago Cubs, manager Craig Counsell remains confident.

"I think we're in first place still," Counsell said. "So, we're in a good spot. Let's open the calendar to July 21 and say we're in first place. We're happy and we're ready to go. The season is a test, it's a grind, it's long and it's filled with adversity. We're going through a little patch right now."

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Pirates right-handed starter Jameson Taillon (5-3, 3.06 ERA) could give Milwaukee more fits if he is able to duplicate teammate Gerrit Cole's performance from Wednesday. Cole allowed one run and struck out 10 in seven innings, winding up with a no-decision as Pittsburgh won 3-2 in 10 innings.

Taillon will look to go deeper in the game after failing to reach six innings in his past two starts. In his most recent outing on Saturday, he allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings in a 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Before that loss, Taillon won each of his previous two starts, pitching shutout ball for 6 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 29 and for five innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 4.

The Brewers will counter with right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who has won six of his past seven decisions. Nelson (8-4, 3.27) went 6 2/3 innings in his most recent start, allowing two runs on three hits in a no-decision against the Phillies on Saturday.

In one start against Pittsburgh this season, Nelson pitched three perfect innings before a rain delay cut short his promising outing on May 5. Milwaukee ultimately lost that game 4-0.

Each team would like to provide more run support than it did Wednesday.

Brewers right fielder Domingo Santana was one of the few players to have an effective offensive outing, hitting a solo home run that gave Milwaukee a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning. He also set up Milwaukee's first run in the first inning with a leadoff double down the left field line.

Santana went 3-for-5. The Brewers could use a similar hitting line Thursday.

"He's swinging the bat well," Counsell said. "The reason he's hitting (leadoff) is you want to try to get him up a lot. He got us started in the first inning with a double. … And then the homer, (Juan Nicasio) is really tough on right-handed hitters, but Domingo's got that opposite-field power."

Counsell wouldn't say if Santana would again bat leadoff Thursday.