The Brewers suited up for Wednesday's finale against the Cubs with a shot to clinch a postseason berth before they returned home to start this weekend's series with the Marlins. If they had defeated the Cubs -- and if the Cardinals had lost Wednesday and Thursday -- the Brewers would have toasted a division title before taking the field for Friday's series opener at Miller Park.
However, following Wednesday afternoon's 7-1 defeat at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee will have an opportunity to clinch the National League Central in front of its hometown fans. The Brewers, whose magic number is two, are five games ahead of the Cardinals, who let a late lead slip away against the Mets on Thursday.
Milwaukee can clinch with a win in Friday's game and a loss by St. Louis against the Chicago Cubs.
"Clinching is clinching, don't get me wrong, but we want to do it together," said infielder Jerry Hairston Jr., the only Brewer with two hits in Wednesday's loss to the Cubs. "Hopefully, we'll do it Friday or Saturday."
"They definitely deserve it," said pitcher Randy Wolf, referring to the fans that have packed Miller Park this season. "It would be great to do it at home, on our field, so we can spray some of our fans with champagne. I think that's something they've been dying for."
Though Milwaukee appears comfortably en route to October, manager Ron Roenicke believes the Cards' September surge has kept his team hungry and focused.
"You always want to clinch as soon as possible to get in position to set up your rotation for the playoffs, but obviously, St. Louis is playing great," Ryan Braun said. "They've made this thing difficult for us, which is not a surprise at all, because they're a really good team."
In addition to wrapping up the division, the Brewers continue to pursue the second seed in the NL. Seizing that position would afford Milwaukee home-field advantage in the NL Division Series, which is especially important given their 52-23 record at Miller Park. The Brewers are just one game ahead of the D-backs, who beat the Pirates, 8-5, on Wednesday.
Fending off Arizona will fall to Yovani Gallardo. The right-hander takes the mound against the Marlins coming off back-to-back dominant wins. Gallardo has allowed three earned runs on five hits over 13 innings, with 25 strikeouts against just three walks. Gallardo has recorded double-digit strikeouts in three of his past five starts, after tallying just one double-digit strikeout effort through Aug. 21.
Chris Volstad will seek to delay the Brewers' celebration as he attempts to continue a string of positive outings. Though 0-4 in his past nine starts, Volstad has four quality starts in his past five outings, with the fifth being a five-inning showing in which he allowed two earned runs. The right-hander took a tough-luck no-decision on Saturday, despite limiting the Nationals to one earned run over seven innings.
"I don't really pay attention to that. As far as personal wins, they're nice, but the main goal is the team winning, and how I'm feeling out there has been good," Volstad said. "I've been throwing well, and [wins] will come. I can't do a whole lot about that."
Marlins: Bonifacio running wild
Emilio Bonifacio leads all of baseball with 34 steals since June 29, ahead of Brett Gardner (28), Cameron Maybin (28), Ben Revere (24) and Michael Bourn (21). The Marlins' utility man is hitting .311 (96-for-309) and has scored 50 runs in that span.
Bonifacio is hitting .313 (30-for-96) with seven RBIs and eight steals in September. His 16 steals in July were a personal best for a single month.
Mike Stanton has 56 career home runs entering Friday's series opener with the Brewers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Stanton is only the third player in the past 40 years to hit that many home runs at age 21 or younger, joining Ken Griffey Jr. (60) and Alex Rodriguez (56).
Brewers: Chasing crowns
As the Brewers enter their final week of the regular season, both of their superstar sluggers are in position to claim notable statistical titles. Braun enters the weekend hitting .330, tied with Mets shortstop Jose Reyes for the NL lead.
Meanwhile, Prince Fielder (112 RBIs) currently trails Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp by one RBI for the NL lead.
Fielder won the Brewers' only RBI crown in franchise history when he tied Howard with 141 RBIs in 2009. Meanwhile, Braun has the chance to become the first Milwaukee player to win a batting title.
The Brewers are at 91-65 this season, passing 90 wins for the first time since 2008. Only once in franchise history have the Brewers recorded back-to-back 90-win seasons (1978-79).
Volstad took a loss in his only start against the Brewers this season, allowing three earned runs over seven innings on June 4.