Preview: Brewers vs. Reds

MILWAUKEE — As the Milwaukee Brewers try to close in on a postseason berth, offense has suddenly become hard to come by.

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The Brewers have managed four runs in their last three losses, including one Tuesday night in a setback to the Reds that dropped them 3 1/2 games back of the first-place Cubs in the National League Central.

“We’re going to have to do better than that,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell conceded. “More pressure has to be put on the other team.”

That could be a difficult task Wednesday night when Milwaukee wraps up a three-game series with the Reds at Miller Park. Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw and center fielder Lorenzo Cain left Tuesday’s game and their status for the series finale was unknown Tuesday night.

Shaw suffered a right knee contusion when he took a Michael Lorenzen pitch to his knee in the second inning. X-rays came back negative and he’ll be re-evaluated Wednesday.

Cain, meanwhile, was pulled from the game with what manager Craig Counsell said was a rib cage injury.

“I just thought he took some swings tonight in his second at-bat that didn’t look good, so we took him out of the game,” Counsell said. “We’ll see how we’re looking (Wednesday). He’s pretty adamant about wanting to play, but we have to be careful with this thing, too.”

Losing Cain for any extended period of time would be a big blow for the Brewers. He and Christian Yelich have formed a potent 1-2 punch atop Milwaukee’s lineup this season and both rank among the National League’s top 10 in WAR, batting average and on-base percentage, putting them both into the league’s MVP conversation.

Cain’s 6.7 WAR is tops among NL position players this season.

“He’s played exceptional baseball from the day he signed with us,” starting right-hander Chase Anderson said. “Obviously replacing that guy, there’s some big shoes to fill. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious and he gets back in the lineup because he’s a dynamic player for us. I know we have some guys that can step in for him for a little while, but obviously having Lorenzo in the lineup is huge for us.”

Solid pitching has kept the Brewers close despite those offensive struggles. Milwaukee’s pitchers have allowed a total 13 runs over the last five games and lead the National League with a 2.57 ERA since Sept. 1.

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will try to keep it going Wednesday in his third start for Milwaukee. After a splendid debut against the Giants on Sept. 8, Gonzalez looked much more like the pitcher who went 7-11 with a 4.57 ERA for the Nationals his last time out when he failed to get through five innings after allowing three runs on three hits and four walks while striking out six.

The Brewers’ offense got Gonzalez off the hook in that contest, belting three homers to beat Pittsburgh, 7-4.

“It’s good to see this team pick you up big time,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez might not be with the Brewers had they been able to work out a deal with the Reds for their scheduled Wednesday starter, Matt Harvey.

Milwaukee was believed to have pursued a trade for the right-hander ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline in July then, reportedly made a claim when Cincinnati placed him on waivers last month before deciding to hold onto Harvey for the rest of the season.

He faced the Brewers a few day after that decision and allowed five runs on 11 hits over four innings, dropping him to 1-1 with a 5.52 ERA in three starts against Milwaukee this season.

Harvey, though, has pitched well since that outing and has a 2.50 ERA with 19 strikeouts and only four walks in 18 innings over his last three starts including six scoreless innings against the Cubs his last time out.

“I’m starting to really feel good,” Harvey said. “It’s kind of coming at a good time, I guess you can say. I’m just trying to go out and compete and do everything I can to help this team win. Things are coming out good.”

With their loss Tuesday night, the wild card again appears to be Milwaukee’s most likely path to the postseason. The Brewers begin Wednesday first in the wild-card race, two games ahead of St. Louis and 3 1/2 in front of the Rockies.