MILWAUKEE — The National League Central so far shapes up as the Milwaukee Brewers sitting on top of a tight, mediocre division.
It’s Pittsburgh’s turn to try to knock the Brewers down a peg. The Pirates open a four-game series Monday at Milwaukee.
Pittsburgh (31-38) is six games back of Milwaukee after dropping two of three against the divisional rival and World Series champion Chicago Cubs over the weekend at PNC Park.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle declined to lament a lost opportunity to build more divisional momentum going into Milwaukee.
“We have to go play the game,” Hurdle said after a 7-1 loss Sunday. “They’re in a hunt. We’re in a hunt. You want to go win a series. … I’m not going to sit up here and exchange levels of disappointment. To me, that doesn’t make any sense.
“You keep things simple as far as showing up and playing the game, doing everything you can to win the game today.”
The Brewers (38-33) have won five of six after beating San Diego 2-1 on Sunday. The division features a cluster where the teams are separated by seven games top to bottom.
The Pirates won two of three in their first series against Milwaukee in early May at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh will send out right-hander Gerrit Cole on Monday. Cole (4-6, 4.54 ERA) could be rounding back into the form that made him the team’s No. 1 starter entering the season.
On Tuesday, he pitched seven strong innings (one run, three hits, three walks, three strikeouts) in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over Colorado.
“I just tried to get back to locating the ball down and landing smoothly, and just trusting it worked,” said Cole, who was coming off of a rough stretch.
In his four starts before Tuesday, Cole went 1-2 with a 10.73 ERA, with 23 runs on 39 hits — including eight homers — allowed over 19 1/3 innings. He did not make it past five innings in any of those starts.
The game against the Rockies harkened Cole’s earlier performances. He had eight quality starts before the four-game slide.
“(Cole) stayed off the barrel, he controlled their bat speed,” Hurdle said. “It was a strong outing.”
Cole is 3-2 in his career against Milwaukee but pitched a gem May 6, when he gave one earned run over seven innings in a no-decision before he went into his lull.
Milwaukee will counter Monday with right-hander Matt Garza (5-2, 4.17 ERA).
He will be making his second start since coming off the disabled list for the second time this season, most recently for a chest contusion.
In his last start Wednesday at St. Louis, Garza picked up a win in a five-inning outing, allowing four runs on five hits with four strikeouts and two walks as Milwaukee won 7-6.
In that game, all four runs Garza allowed came in the second, including four straight hits.
“It shouldn’t have been as close as it was,” Garza told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The second inning kind of got me. In the middle of it I was just telling myself, ‘Slow down, catch your breath, keep going. Keep attacking.’”
After that, Garza faced the minimum for his final three innings.
Garza is 3-6 with a 4.14 ERA in 14 career starts against Pittsburgh. He also had a strong outing with a no-decision May 6 against Cole and the Pirates, giving up one run on eight hits over seven innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.
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