The playoff race is all but over for the slumping Milwaukee Brewers, who saw their postseason hopes take a huge blow over the weekend.
The visiting Brewers need lots of help as they head into Tuesday night's series opener against the Cincinnati Reds.
Milwaukee (80-76) has scored five runs during a 1-4 slump after falling 1-0 at Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Brewers dropped two of three in the series and are 4 1/2 games behind the Pirates and San Francisco for the two wild-card spots with six remaining.
"It sure doesn't look good," manager Ron Roenicke said. "(The Pirates) are a good team. They're playing well. You don't expect them to not play well here (down the stretch). And we've got to basically win it out. It's not easy to do.
"We're in a position now we're hoping to get help from somebody and play great."
The Brewers had held at least a share of the NL Central lead for most of the season before falling apart late last month. They've averaged 2.9 runs in dropping 21 of their last 30, giving them one of worst records in baseball since Aug. 20.
"You're facing teams that are potentially going to be or are going to be in the playoffs, so you're going to have your better pitchers (facing Milwaukee)," hitting coach Johnny Narron told MLB's official website. "That's what you're confronted with. It's not like you're playing somebody out of contention and their callups are pitching."
Though the Reds (72-84) have long since been eliminated, Johnny Cueto (18-9, 2.33 ERA) presents a major challenge for a Brewers team that has struggled against him over the years. The right-hander allowed two runs and three hits while striking out 10 in eight innings of a 6-2 victory over Milwaukee on May 3, giving him a 4-1 record and 1.93 ERA in his past six starts the series.
However, Cueto is coming off one of his worst showings of the year in last Tuesday's 7-0 road loss to the Chicago Cubs. He yielded six runs and a season-high five walks over 5 2-3 innings, snapping a three-start winning streak.
Cueto could bounce back at home, where he's posted the third-lowest ERA in baseball at 1.79. He's won eight of his last nine decisions at Great American Ball Park while striking out 72 over 62 2-3 innings.
Milwaukee's Mike Fiers (6-3, 1.78) has allowed three or fewer runs in each of his eight starts since getting called up Aug. 9. The right-hander allowed both runs - one earned - in seven innings of Wednesday's 2-0 loss at St. Louis.
This marks Fiers' first start against the Reds since his 2012 rookie season, when he went 1-2 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts in the series. Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier are a combined 3 for 22 with nine strikeouts against Fiers.
Cincinnati had dropped six straight and seven of eight on its nine-game trip before winning 7-2 over St. Louis on Sunday. Bruce slugged a pair of homers while Frazier and Devin Mesoraco also went deep.
"To end the final road trip on a good note is something we can take a positive out of," Bruce said. "They got a group of guys over there that are hard to score runs against. To continue to keep our foot on the gas and score some runs is nice."
Bruce went 3 for 4 and matched his RBI total from the previous 15 games with three. However, he's batted .190 with one homer and five RBIs in his last 24 games against the Brewers.
Leadoff man Billy Hamilton has gone 6 for his last 56 with 17 strikeouts, scoring once in an 18-game stretch.