Brewers’ postseason push moves to Cincinnati

Maybe a successful weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that haunts them like no other, was exactly what the Milwaukee Brewers needed to jump-start their late-season stretch drive.

Because how the Brewers play in their division the rest of the way is central to their chances of advancing to the postseason.

So far, they beat no other team in the National League Central like they do the Cincinnati Reds, who open a three-game series against the Brewers on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. The Brewers are 9-4 against the Reds this season, the most wins they have against any division opponent.

Brewers right-hander Junior Guerra (6-8), facing the Reds for the second time in a row, opposes Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (6-4) in the series opener.

The Brewers, despite taking four of six from the Reds and Pirates last week at Miller Park, are in third place in the division, a half-game behind the second-place Cardinals, although they still hold a tenuous lead for the second of the two NL wild-card berths. The Cardinals currently hold the first.

However, the Brewers own the second-worst record against NL Central opponents at 25-30; only the Reds, at 20-38, are worse.

The Brewers play 21 of their remaining 30 games within the division, or six more than the Cardinals and five more than the division-leading Chicago Cubs.

Obviously, the Brewers can’t afford to slip up against the Reds, who’ve been up at times but down for most of the season.

Cincinnati started 3-15, righted itself by being one of the majors’ hottest teams for a month at midseason, but have lost 22 of 35 since the All-Star break, including five in a row.

And the Reds will be coming off a four-game sweep by the Cubs at Wrigley Field, a series that reminded the Reds how well contending teams are capable of playing. The Reds hadn’t been swept in four games at Wrigley in 73 years.

“If you play a really good team, and they play good, you’re going to have a tough series,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell wouldn’t say his team played great while winning two of three weekend games from Pittsburgh, but it was far better than the Pirates’ five-game sweep of the Brewers at PNC Park immediately before the All-Star break. Milwaukee is 4-9 against Pittsburgh.

“Winning series is going to lead to a lot of good things,” Counsell said. “We’ll take it. We got through it.”

The Reds, despite being out of contention almost since their dreadful start, realize they can be a factor the rest of the way. Fifteen of their next 22 games are against contenders, including six games against the Brewers.

“One thing we have to keep in mind is a lot of our games the rest of the season are very meaningful games,” right-hander Homer Bailey told reporters after the Reds lost 9-0 on Sunday to the Cubs. “Especially in our division. … They are going to be coming out and hunting us. Just from being in those positions before, those are the games you really need to win. You know that they are going to be coming after us.”

The Brewers are 5-2 at Great American Ball Park this season, but they dropped their last two there on June 30 and July 1.

Guerra didn’t figure in the decision as the Brewers lost 9-7 to the Reds at Miller Park last Tuesday despite allowing 10 hits and seven runs (two earned) in 5 1/3 innings.

All four runs that Guerra allowed in the fourth inning were unearned, partly the result of a throwing error, a run-scoring passed ball and a line drive that should have been an out but instead struck an umpire. Three hits didn’t leave the infield.

“It was one of the hardest innings of my career,” Guerra said. “I guess there’s always a first. I don’t really know what to say about that inning.”

Guerra will start against the Reds for the fourth time this season. He was 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in the first three and 2-1 with a 4.76 ERA against them in seven career appearances. Eugenio Suarez is 4-for-9 (.444) against him with one homer and two RBIs.

DeSclafani is the Reds’ best pitcher during the second half of the season, going 2-1 with a 1.95 ERA in four August starts. But he lost his last start, giving up five runs (four earned) in six innings of a 7-1 loss to the Cubs on Thursday.

DeSclafani didn’t get the decision during a 6-4 Reds loss to the Brewers on June 28, when he gave up four runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He is 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA in six career appearances against Milwaukee.