Brewers set sights on NL Central title in opener with Marlins

After failing to clinch their first division title in 29 years on the road, the Milwaukee Brewers return home with the National League Central crown in their sights.

Standing in their way will be Chris Volstad and the Florida Marlins, who play the first of three straight this evening against the Brewers and red-hot starter Yovani Gallardo.

Milwaukee went 4-2 on their final road trip of the season, but lost a three- game series in Chicago to keep its magic number for clinching the division at three. That number was trimmed to two during the Brewers' off day on Thursday after the second-place Cardinals blew a big lead and lost to the Mets, meaning the division belongs to Milwaukee with a win and a loss by St. Louis to the Cubs tonight.

The Brewers closed out their road schedule with a 7-1 setback to the Cubs on Wednesday, scoring their lone run of the game on an error. That wasn't enough to back starter Randy Wolf, who allowed six runs over six innings of work.

Milwaukee went 39-42 as the road team this year, but is an MLB-best 52-23 at home this season. Following this series, the Brewers host the Pirates for three games to close out the regular season and will likely do so with their first division title since winning the American League East in 1982.

"We love playing at Miller Park, it's no secret," said Milwaukee's Jerry Hairston. "So hopefully we play good baseball and clinch (a playoff berth) there."

Gallardo gets the call for the Brewers in this big game and looks to win a third straight start.

The right-hander struck out 12 in a victory over the Phillies on Sept. 11, then set a new career high with 13 punchouts in a win against the Reds on Saturday. Gallardo allowed a run on two hits and two walks over his six innings, improving to 17-10 with a 3.60 earned run average on the season.

"He got after it," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He had a good fastball, good location and a really nice curveball. He really threw the ball well."

The 25-year-old is a perfect 3-0 in four career starts against the Marlins with a 1.69 ERA. He beat them on June 4 after yielding one earned run over six innings.

Volstad goes the Marlins on his 25th birthday hoping to win for the first time since July 10.

Volstad has lost four straight decisions over nine starts since, but has pitched to a 2.97 ERA in his last five outings and is coming off a terrific start against Washington on Saturday. The right-hander gave up a run on six hits over seven innings, but did not get a decision for a third straight start.

Now 5-12 with a 5.13 ERA on the season, Volstad lost to Gallardo on June 4 even though he allowed three runs over seven innings. He fell to 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA in three starts versus Milwaukee.

Florida embraced its role of spoiler earlier this week, taking two of three from the wild card-leading Braves. Javier Vazquez dominated Atlanta in Wednesday's 4-0 victory, limiting the club to two hits and one walk in the club's fourth victory in six games.

Vazquez also ran his scoreless-innings streak to a franchise-record 25 straight while winning his 12th game.

"He's been the No. 1 guy for us ... at least in the second half of the season," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said of Vazquez. "It's remarkable the way he's come through."

Brett Hayes hit a solo homer and Logan Morrison also went deep in the victory.

The Marlins do come to Milwaukee without closer Leo Nunez, who was placed on the restricted list Thursday and returned to the Dominican Republic to attend a personal matter. He will miss the team's final six games after going 1-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 36 saves this year.

The Brewers swept a four-game series in Florida from June 3-6.