Only one team has beaten the Brewers over their last 15 games and unfortunately for the Pirates, it wasn't them.
Streaking Milwaukee will try to put another hole in Pittsburgh's sinking ship this afternoon with a 12th straight victory in this series, while the Pirates hope that the red-hot Charlie Morton can extend his scoreless-innings streak in the finale of this three-game series at Miller Park.
The Brewers have taken the first two games of this series and have lost just twice in their last 15 games. Both of those defeats came to the Cardinals, but Milwaukee still leads them by five games for first place in the National League Central.
After posting a five-run victory in Friday's opener, Milwaukee limited Pittsburgh to just three hits yesterday and made one of its eight hits count as Yuniesky Betancourt's solo homer in the second inning was the only run scored in a 1-0 decision.
Making a spot start in place of the injured Chris Narveson, Marco Estrada gave up one hit over five innings, combining with Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins, Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford, who got his 34th save, on the shutout.
"[Estrada] had thrown a lot of pitches and we will try to build him up from there," said Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. "He did so well early in the season filling in and he's a real good choice for us so we'll keep him in the rotation for now."
Axford nearly blew the save as Xavier Nady led off the ninth inning with a triple off Milwaukee's closer. It was the first time in the game that the Pirates had a runner past second, but both Andrew McCutchen and Matt Diaz grounded out in the infield before Neil Walker followed a walk to Garrett Jones with a game-ending strikeout.
"We got the leadoff hitter to third in the ninth and that's a situation where you need to convert and we couldn't do it," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "Their bullpen is pretty good and you have to give their closer credit, but that's an opportunity you have to cash in on."
Pittsburgh has now lost 15 of 18 since it was in a virtual tie with the Cardinals for first place in the division on July 25. The Pirates sit 12 games off the top spot and have fallen six games below .500.
A lack of success against the Brewers has a lot to do with that. The Pirates have lost all seven meetings this year as part of their lengthy series losing streak and have just five wins in 25 meetings with Milwaukee since the start of last season. The Brewers have also won 35 of the past 38 games between the clubs at Miller Park.
Not surprisingly, Morton has never beaten the Brewers, losing all four of his previous starts against them with an 8.31 earned run average. He does come into this finale on a roll, having posted consecutive scoreless outings, spanning 15 innings, since giving up six earned runs in a defeat at Philadelphia on July 29.
Morton came back to work seven scoreless innings of a no-decision versus the Cubs on Aug. 3, then held the Giants off the board for eight frames five days later. The right-hander worked around six hits and three walks to claim a 5-0 win that ended his team's 10-game losing streak.
"He was very effective keeping the ball down," Hurdle said. "He had a good breaking ball, good composure, good rhythm and tempo on the mound. It was an excellent outing for Charlie, just what we needed."
Morton is 9-6 with a 3.56 ERA on the season and will be countered by another starter with good season numbers in Shaun Marcum, who is 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA. Marcum's mark includes a win over the Pirates on April 13 in his first-ever meeting with the club. He limited Pittsburgh to four hits over seven scoreless innings.
The right-hander is 3-0 in his past seven appearances, allowing three runs or less in five of those games. However, Marcum has not factored into the decision of his last two games, both against the Cardinals.
Marcum yielded six runs over six innings at home versus the Cards on Aug. 2, but returned to hold them to three runs over six innings at St. Louis seven days later. His outing helped the Brewers claim a 5-3 win.