PITTSBURGH -- With the Cubs and Rockies idle, Monday offered the Brewers an opportunity to gain ground in each of their two paths to the postseason. Mission accomplished.Ryan Braun homered and five pitchers combined for the Brewers' 11th shutout victory, a 3-0 triumph over the slumping Pirates at PNC Park.
PITTSBURGH -- With the Cubs and Rockies idle, Monday offered the Brewers an opportunity to gain ground in each of their two paths to the postseason. Mission accomplished.
Ryan Braun homered and five pitchers combined for the Brewers' 11th shutout victory, a 3-0 triumph over the slumping Pirates at PNC Park. With 12 games left on their schedule, the Brewers pulled within 3 1/2 games of the Cubs in the National League Central and two games of the Rockies in the race for the second NL Wild Card.
"We don't have a lot of margin for error, so another win adds a little pressure to the teams we're chasing," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, whose club is back to 10 games over .500 (80-70). "It puts us in a good spot."
Brent Suter started for Milwaukee and scattered five hits in five scoreless innings as he pushed his pitch count to 64 in his third start since a stint on the disabled list. Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, Anthony Swarzak and Corey Knebel completed the shutout.
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"Hopefully, we'll keep going on an incline here," said Suter, who is entrenched in the rotation with Jimmy Nelson out for the season with a shoulder injury and Matt Garza in the bullpen after a month-plus of struggles. "It's a huge win for the team, our 80th win. ... We have to keep winning."
Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon pitched for the first time in 11 days and allowed two runs on six hits in five-plus innings, a marked improvement from his six-run, 11-hit outing against the Cubs in his previous start. Braun's solo home run with one out in the fourth inning put the Brewers on the board before former Pirate Neil Walker and Travis Shaw added run-scoring singles for insurance.
"I actually thought I threw the ball pretty well. Definitely encouraging, a step in the right direction, which is what I'm looking for at the end of the year," Taillon said. "It was nice that [A.J.] Schugel was able to strand those guys there. ... The season's coming to a close. I'm just looking to trend in the right direction."
The Pirates have lost 11 of their last 12 games while scoring 22 total runs. The Brewers have won eight of 10 while scoring 60 total runs.
"I don't know what to say, man. We're just fighting, fighting every pitch and every at-bat," said Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco, who ran into the final out of the game trying to stretch a single into a double. "Right now the offense is not very good. We're just fighting."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Braun blast: Braun's power spurt -- home runs in two of the last three days, and four in September -- comes at a good time for the Brewers as they seek a strong finish. Braun has his OPS back over .900 this month after a quiet August in which he hit only one home run and posted a .732 OPS in 104 plate appearances.
"I thought he flipped a little bit this weekend and started swinging the bat really well," Counsell said. "Some more really good swings tonight. He's in a good place."
Getting greedy: Against tough Brewers lefty Hader in the seventh with the Pirates trailing, 2-0, Elias Diaz briefly put Pittsburgh in business when he laced a line drive into the right-field corner. Diaz tried to stretch his double into a triple, however, and was thrown out by several steps, right fielder Hernan Perez to second baseman Eric Sogard to third baseman Shaw. Hader went on to finish the inning and his fifth straight scoreless appearance.
"The out at third was big," Counsell said. "It was two outs and nobody on [as a result]. It was kind of a tough play in the corner for [Perez], and Sogard made a nice throw. We played just solid defense, I thought."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called Diaz's decision and Polanco's baserunning mistake in the ninth "unacceptable plays at this level" but acknowledged they were likely a product of the Pirates' inability to produce offensively over the past two weeks.
"Part of this comes from young men trying way too hard because we're not scoring runs, trying to do something they're not capable of doing," Hurdle said. "This is the big leagues. People make plays up here. They made plays on us twice. We got shut down at third. We got shut down at second. They're not good baseball plays."
"We're going to go bowling after the game in his honor." -- Counsell, joking about Suter's underhanded throws to first base for outs on comebackers in each of the first four innings
"You've got to coach it up, but it's something you need to have in your pocket. We're two runs down and we're three runs down in two different instances. ... At the end of the day, those aren't good baseball plays, and they're not plays that are going to help your team win. They know that after the fact. You need to know that before the fact." -- Hurdle, on the Pirates' baserunning blunders
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Knebel finished his 36th save with help from Brewers rookie center fielder Brett Phillips, who threw out Polanco trying to stretch a single into a double for the final out of the game. The Pirates challenged, but the call was confirmed. It was the third outfield assist in Phillips' brief tenure with the Brewers, and his second against the Pirates in the past eight days.
"His first step was [to his left], then he caught up. I saw him going that way, so I dropped my head and hustled to second. I thought I had it, and he made a good throw," Polanco said. "Down by three, you don't have to be overaggressive. I thought I had it off the bat. ... He made a great throw. He's very accurate."
Brewers:Chase Anderson gets the ball when the series continues on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. CT. He will be back on regular rest after pitching on short rest against the Pirates last week and delivering 5 1/3 innings in a Brewers win.
Pirates: Rookie right-hander Trevor Williams will rejoin the rotation on Tuesday night as the Pirates host the Brewers at 7:05 p.m. ET. Williams will be pitching on 11 days' rest after having his last start skipped. He has thrown 15 scoreless innings over his last two starts at PNC Park.
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Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.