Preview: Brewers at Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The two teams the Milwaukee Brewers are chasing for a playoff spot -- the Chicago Cubs for the National League Central title and the Colorado Rockies for the second NL wild card -- were off Monday.

The Brewers (80-70) took full advantage by shutting out the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park. They are 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs, two games behind the Rockies.

Milwaukee won't have the schedule in its favor Tuesday with all teams playing, but it will take whatever gains it can get.

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"Every game, every series is more magnified this time of year," Milwaukee second baseman Neil Walker said. "You try not to look around. Obviously, you know where you are in the standings, but when you're playing on a night (like Monday) when the teams you're chasing are not playing and you can pick up a half a game, that's always important."

The Brewers are facing a club that has little to play for beyond pride. Pittsburgh (68-83) has lost six in a row and 11 of 12. Not that anything is a given against a struggling team out of the postseason hunt.

"Look, we don't have a lot of margin for error," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. "Another win adds a little more pressure to the teams we're chasing and puts us in a good spot."

Counsell is still formulating things for the final weeks of the season. For instance, he hasn't named a starter for the Wednesday game against the Pirates.

Tuesday's starter, however, is set.

Chase Anderson (10-3, 2.88 ERA) faced the Pirates just last Wednesday, and while he had a good outing -- two runs (one earned), seven hits, one walk, two strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings in an 8-2 Brewers win -- he already knows the Tuesday start will be different.

That's because the Wednesday win was the first time in his career he pitched on three days' rest. The move occurred after Jimmy Nelson underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.

"It showed (courage). A lot of gusto," Milwaukee first baseman Eric Thames told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Any time a guy will go out there and throw 90 or 100 pitches on three days' rest, that shows a lot. That means a lot to our team."

Anderson figures missing seven weeks earlier this season because of a strained left oblique left him rested and in a good position to be a key player as the Brewers chase a playoff spot.

"I want to be 'that guy,'" he told the Journal Sentinel. "There's plenty of guys in this clubhouse that can be that guy, but when you get asked to do it, it's an honor. I hope to do it throughout this September and, hopefully, in the postseason.

"I feel strong, I feel healthy, and I think being out with the oblique injury kind of set me up for this. Kind of a blessing in disguise. Arm feels great, I'm ready to go."

Anderson is 5-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 10 career starts against the Pirates. This season, he is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in two starts vs. Pittsburgh.

Anderson will be pitted against Pittsburgh's Trevor Williams (6-8, 4.26 ERA).

Williams is 1-4 in his past six outings despite some strong starts after he pitched a gem Aug. 7 against Detroit, when he went seven scoreless innings as part of a combined one-hitter.

As Pittsburgh has done with others, Williams was skipped on what would have been his most recent turn in the rotation. In his most recent start, on Sept. 8 in St. Louis, he allowed four runs and four hits with four walks and five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings during a 4-1 loss.

Before that start appearance, he had allowed two runs total in three starts, but he wasn't sharp against the Cardinals, and then had to wait to get another crack.

"It was lack of execution on some pitches," Williams said. "My slider kept missing down, and they weren't really biting. I didn't make the adjustment to throw for strikes. I walked too many guys. It was just unacceptable pitch execution."

In his career, Williams is 0-0 with a 4.15 ERA in one relief appearance and one start against Milwaukee.