MILWAUKEE -- The hits aren't coming for the Milwaukee Brewers, who will try to snap out of their second-half funk and pick up ground in the National League Central race Friday night when they open a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park.

The Brewers saw their losing streak grow to five games Thursday, one off the team's season high, thanks to another anemic showing by the offense, which managed just two hits over the final 7 1/3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Minnesota.

"We have to step up here," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "This stretch has been difficult. We're a hit away some innings. It's time to step up, for sure."

Milwaukee held a 5 1/2-game lead over the NL Central at the All-Star break, and after winning its first two games of the second half, sat a season-high 11 games over .500.

Since then, though, the Brewers have gone 7-17 to drop to 59-58. They now sit third in the division, two games behind the front-running Chicago Cubs and a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

"We're just in a rough stretch," veteran Brewers right-hander Matt Garza said. "Other teams have done it. We'll be back at it. Peaks and valleys here. That's always what it is. You've just got to ride the good and bad waves and just find a way to break through -- and that's about it."

Milwaukee will hand the ball to right-hander Jimmy Nelson (9-5, 3.24 ERA), who has established himself as a dominant force atop the rotation. Over his past 18 starts, Nelson is 8-3 with a 2.71 ERA. He took no decision his last time out despite holding the Tampa Bay Rays to a run over eight innings on Sunday.

"Our pitching staff is doing a great job. You can't expect them to be absolutely perfect," Counsell said after that last outing. "We've got to find a way to put some runs on the board and give them a little more room for error."

Nelson is 5-3 with a 4.41 ERA in 13 career appearances against the Reds, including a 2-0 mark and a 1.93 ERA in two starts this season.

His Cincinnati mound counterpart Friday, Homer Bailey (3-6, 8.86 ERA), hasn't had it quite so good against Milwaukee.

Bailey is 5-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 23 career starts against the Brewers, with a 3-3 mark and 4.36 ERA in 11 appearances at Miller Park. Milwaukee torched him once already this season, scoring six runs over three innings in his second outing on June 24.

He rebounded from that loss with two straight victories but is 1-4 with a 9.24 ERA since. Bailey was shelled for 10 runs over 3 1/3 innings by the Cardinals on Sunday.

"Nothing really felt good," Bailey said after the outing against St. Louis. "Didn't execute very many pitches. Had a lot of misses. Had some I missed big and had some that I just missed. It was just one of those deals where I just didn't perform well, and it cost our team the game."

Milwaukee leads the season series with Cincinnati 7-3, but the Reds have won two of the past three.