PITTSBURGH -- This week is full of opportunity for the Pirates, who are scratching and clawing their way into contention in the National League Central race. They took another step in the right direction Monday night at PNC Park, when right fielder Gregory Polanco went 4-for-4 with two RBIs to
PITTSBURGH -- This week is full of opportunity for the Pirates, who are scratching and clawing their way into contention in the National League Central race. They took another step in the right direction Monday night at PNC Park, when right fielder Gregory Polanco went 4-for-4 with two RBIs to spark the lineup in a 4-2 win over the division-leading Brewers.
The Bucs are still three games under .500 and six behind the Brewers, who have only lost four times in their last 15 outings, including their last two games. But the Pirates have won eight of their last 10 games, they have Starling Marte returning from his suspension on Tuesday, and they have three more with the Brewers in this series.
"We're in a good spot. Break came at a good time," said starter Chad Kuhl, who held the Brewers to two runs in 5 2/3 innings. "Having Marte back will be a big boost. We're going to welcome him back and feel like we're in a good spot."
With the Brewers' loss and a Cubs win, Milwaukee's lead the NL Central is now 3 1/2 games.
Polanco's four hits included a pair of run-scoring doubles off Brewers lefties Brent Suter and Josh Hader. Polanco scored the tying run in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Jordy Mercer, saved a run with a strong throw home in the sixth and scored an insurance run in the eighth on Max Moroff's single.
"It's been fun watching him roll into July. There's a different look in his eye," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's parts of this game he took over tonight … he's been the kind of player we've seen before."
• Polanco hitting stride all over diamond in July
Kuhl struck out a career-high seven batters, then Daniel Hudson, Tony Watson and Juan Nicasio combined to record six outs before Felipe Rivero delivered a four-out save.
Travis Shaw scored both runs for the Brewers, while shortstop Orlando Arcia had two hits, an RBI and three stolen bases. Milwaukee stranded 11 on base in the loss.
"We had plenty of opportunities," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It was a good ball game. We had some rallies going, the bases loaded a couple times."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Strong Coffee: The Brewers had a chance to take the lead in the sixth with two on and two outs and pinch-hitter Jesus Aguilar set to face Hudson. Aguilar delivered the necessary hit, slapping a ground-ball single through the right side of the infield. Brewers third-base coach Ed Sedar sent home Manny Pina from second base, but Polanco delivered a strong throw to the plate, where catcher Francisco Cervelli twisted to his left and tagged out the sliding Pina for the final out.
"I grabbed the ball and I threw it as quick as I can," Polanco said. "I knew who was running. He's a catcher, but he's not that slow. And the ball wasn't hit that hard. I've got to attack the ball real quick and get rid of it. I felt strong."
Elementary? Clinging to a one-run lead, Watson got himself into and out of a tight spot in the seventh. Eric Thames and Ryan Braun singled with one out, before Watson struck out Shaw and walked Domingo Santana. Up came Pina with two outs and the bases loaded. The Brewers catcher worked a full count before chopping a 95-mph sinker back toward the mound that Watson fielded to strand the bases loaded.
"Very important. ... We're fighting, man. We're fighting. The second half, it's really good for us. We're in the fight right now."--Polanco, on the importance of the next three games against the Brewers
"They did a good job of hitting some pitches that were not necessarily bad pitches. You got to tip your hat to them, and Polanco had a heck of a night, so you got to tip your hat to him, as well. --- Suter, on pitching against the Pirates
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Brewers center fielder Brett Phillips unleashed a 102.6 mph throw on Mercer's sacrifice fly in the fifth, the hardest throw tracked by Statcast™ this season. Phillips also made a four-star catch (with a 46 percent catch probability) on Phil Gosselin's lineout to end the sixth inning, covering 53 feet in 3.6 seconds.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Jonathan Villar's throw to first base on Cervelli's ground ball in the fourth forced Thames to leap and swing his glove toward the Bucs catcher, who was initially ruled out. Cervelli animatedly signaled toward the dugout he hadn't been tagged, and the 40-second review following the Pirates' challenge confirmed Cervelli's assertion, as the call was overturned.
Polanco's bloop to left field in the sixth drove in Josh Bell, giving the Pirates a one-run lead, and he stretched it into a double when the ball slipped under Braun's glove. The Brewers challenged the tag at second, but the safe call stood after a one-minute, 25-second review.
PLAY AT THE PLATE
Brewers catcher Stephen Vogt exited with a left knee strain and a neck strain during a collision at the plate with Kuhl in the fifth. Kuhl's left arm appeared to catch Vogt in the face as he slid, and both players went down. Vogt held onto the ball, remarkably, and Kuhl was called out. The Pirates starter got up slowly and walked off the field on his own, but Vogt remained on his back near the plate, eventually leaving the field for further testing.
• Vogt day to day after collision with Bucs' Kuhl
Brewers:Junior Guerra will start for the Brewers as they continue their four-game series against the Pirates on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. CT at PNC Park. Guerra left his last start on July 7 after getting hit by a comebacker and was placed on the 10-day DL with a left shin contusion on July 9. He last faced Pittsburgh on June 21, allowing three earned runs over six innings in a no-decision.
Pirates: Marte is expected to return to the Pirates' lineup on Tuesday night, when they continue their four-game series against the Brewers at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Marte's 80-game suspension ended after Monday's game, and he is set to play for the Bucs for the first time since April 17. Right-hander Ivan Nova will make his first start of the second half for Pittsburgh.
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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.
Jonathan Toye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh and covered the Brewers on Monday.