Brewers fading out of playoff race with loss
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Brewers couldn't beat the team that dethroned them as NL Central champions, leaving their postseason prospects bleak.
Johnny Cueto pitched seven solid innings, and the Cincinnati Reds stayed in the chase for the NL's top record by beating Milwaukee 4-2 on Tuesday night after learning they'll be without manager Dusty Baker for the rest of the week.
The Brewers dropped back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month, a modest downtown that's had a huge effect on their playoff chances. They fell 4 games behind St. Louis for the final NL wild card after the Cardinals beat Houston 4-0.
"It's not a good time to do it," manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's certainly looking a lot tougher. We're going to have to get some big-time help."
The Brewers won the NL Central last year. They got themselves back into postseason contention by winning 25 of 32. They got no break from the Reds, who clinched the division title on Saturday night and rested four of their regulars the following day. Interim manager Chris Speier went back to his usual lineup on Tuesday.
"It's going to be tough," right-hander Mike Fiers said. "We need to win out, I think. It's coming down to the wire here. We've got to start playing better baseball."
Fiers (9-9) gave up nine hits and four runs in 4 1-3 innings. The Reds put together four straights hits to open the second, loading the bases in three singles. Dioner Navarro singled for a 2-0 lead.
Zack Cozart opened the fifth with a triple that caromed off the wall in center, and Joey Votto and Jay Bruce doubled for a 4-1 lead. Fiers has gone 1-3 in five September starts with a 7.08 ERA, fading at the end of his rookie season.
"It's coming in September, but I've got to live with it and try to get better," Fiers said.
Baker met with the Reds before the game and revealed he suffered a mini-stroke in addition to being treated for an irregular heartbeat at a Chicago hospital last week. Speier will manage the series against Milwaukee and three games in Pittsburgh during the weekend, giving the 63-year-old Baker time to rest.
Doctors expect Baker to make a full recovery. He could resume managing the final series in St. Louis next week.
The Brewers couldn't do much against Cueto (19-9), who is rounding back into form as the playoffs approach.
Cueto got his 17th win in August, then dropped three straight subpar starts. He gave up 14 runs in only 15 1-3 innings during those three games, raising questions about whether the right-hander was tiring out. He was back in form last Thursday, pitching six shutout innings in Chicago for his 18th win.
On Tuesday, the right-hander didn't allow a runner to second base until Carlos Gomez doubled with two outs in the fifth inning. Jean Segura singled to score Gomez, but was thrown out trying to advance to third on the throw to the plate.
"His velocity wasn't as high on every pitch, but when he needed it, he had it," Roenicke said.
Cueto's left hamstring tightened as he ran the bases in the second inning, but he stayed in the game.
"He scared the daylights out of us when he came up limping while running the bases, but he was fine after that," Speier said. "He didn't want to come out after the seventh, but there's a risk-reward there, and we didn't think the risk was worth it."
Cueto gave up two runs and five hits, including Aramis Ramirez's solo homer. Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for his 36th save in 41 chances. It was his first time in the closer role since Sept. 10, when he developed a tired shoulder.
The Reds have 93 wins for only the second time since 1975-76, when the Big Red Machine put together back-to-back World Series titles. The 1999 team won 96 games but failed to make the postseason after losing a one-game playoff to the Mets.
NOTES: After two more games in Cincinnati, the Brewers finish the season with six home games -- three each against Houston and San Diego. ... The Brewers hadn't dropped back-to-back games since Aug. 18-19, when they lost two against Philadelphia. ... Ramirez's homer was his 338th as a third baseman, moving ahead of Ron Santo for sixth on the all-time list.