Late-season struggles have complicated the Milwaukee Brewers' playoff push and put them in a position that requires a dominant road stretch against the NL Central leaders.
It begins Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of eight straight at Busch Stadium. The Brewers follow that with three at second-place Pittsburgh.
Milwaukee (78-72) has dropped 14 of 19, while St. Louis (83-67) has taken 12 of 16. The Cardinals hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Pirates and a five-game advantage over the Brewers entering the final two weeks.
"This is where it should come down," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told MLB's official website. "It's there for us if we play good baseball and the other teams I'm sure feel the same way. It's good that we're playing in our division, which I've said before is what we should be like. And, whoever plays better is going to get in there."
Milwaukee remained 1 1/2 games back of the Pirates for the second wild-card spot with Sunday's 9-2 home win over Cincinnati. The Brewers took two of three from the Reds for their first series win in eight, going 8-17 in that stretch.
The outpouring of offense was also a relief after the club averaged 2.6 runs over its previous 18 games.
First baseman Matt Clark has provided a recent spark with home runs in three straight games and six RBIs.
"They come in bunches," said Clark, a September call-up. "You try to ride the wave. You just keep trying to put good swings on the ball and see what happens."
Continuing that pace could be difficult against Lance Lynn, who is 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his last six starts. The loss came in his best outing during that stretch, Thursday's 1-0 loss at Cincinnati.
Lynn (15-9, 2.73 ERA) limited the Reds to a run and three hits but was outpitched by Johnny Cueto.
"To us, he's kind of in another gear in his career and he's been very consistent with how he's preparing and executing," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Lynn's previous start came in Milwaukee on Sept. 6 and resulted in a 5-3 victory after he allowed three runs - one earned - in six innings. The right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA in his last five starts against the Brewers.
Milwaukee's Aramis Ramirez (2 for 21), Carlos Gomez (3 for 17 with nine strikeouts) and Khris Davis (1 for 12) have struggled against Lynn. Jean Segura is 7 for 15 in the matchup.
Ramirez was out of the lineup Sunday due to nagging hamstring tightness.
"It's holding up, but not good," Roenicke said.
The Brewers' Wily Peralta (16-10, 3.75) is looking for back-to-back wins after suffering three straight losses with a 10.29 ERA. He straightened things out by limiting Miami to one run in 6 2-3 innings of Wednesday's 4-1 win.
Prior to that, Peralta allowed three runs in six innings of a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 4. He'd won his previous four starts in the series with a 2.16 ERA.
Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday are both 8 for 18 against the right-hander.
St. Louis began its nine-game homestand with three wins over Colorado, including Sunday's 4-1 final. Its current home streak is its best since also winning eight in a row in July 2010, and its 18-4 home mark since Aug. 2 is the best in baseball.
Yadier Molina went 3 for 4 in the finale against the Rockies and is 8 for 17 in his last five games.