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ATL@MIL: Gallardo goes seven strong, strikes out six

Winners of 20 of their last 26 games, the Brewers now embark on an important final road trip of the season.

The first stop is Pittsburgh for a series that has big implications for the National League's second Wild Card.

With the Brewers' 3-0 win over the struggling Mets on Sunday, they are only 2 1/2 games behind the second Wild Card. The Pirates, who took the series finale against the Cubs on Monday, have lost eight times in 10 games and also sit 2 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, the Brewers have their best starter going for Tuesday night's series opener at PNC Park.

Yovani Gallardo (15-8, 3.72) will take the mound in search of his eighth win in 10 starts. He hasn't lost since July 26 against the Nationals, and the Brewers have won each of his last nine outings. His 24 quality starts lead the Major Leagues.

"We know we have to keep it up," Gallardo said after his last start, an 8-2 win over the Braves on Wednesday. "We're scoring runs, and the pitching is doing what it's supposed to do."

This one could have the makings of a pitchers' duel, as A.J. Burnett (15-7, 3.66) will toe the rubber for the Pirates. Though Pittsburgh has lost Burnett's last five starts, the veteran right-hander has received only seven combined runs of support in those outings. He allowed just two runs on five hits in a 2-1 loss to the Reds on Wednesday.

"I tried to keep us as close as I could, and hope we would strike," Burnett said after the game. "Homer [Bailey] didn't allow us to. He showed up and threw the ball very well."

With Gallardo, the Pirates will be tested yet again.

Brewers: Hart doubtful to return for series opener
• Though he still hopes to return for Tuesday's series opener against the Pirates, Corey Hart's pregame baserunning session on Sunday didn't go as well as he had hoped.

Hart, who missed his sixth consecutive start on Sunday, is battling a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot.

"It's tough, because I want to play," he said. "I've played through a lot of injuries, but it's one of those things where if I'm on first, I'm not going to be able to score on a double. If I'm on second, it's going to be iffy to score on anything. Is it worth it to these guys? I feel like I wouldn't be able to do everything I need to do."

• Manager Ron Roenicke said on Sunday that Shawn Marcum will remain in the starting rotation, despite the right-hander's struggles. In five starts since returning from a two-month stint on the disabled list with elbow and shoulder discomfort, Marcum (5-4, 3.91) has pitched into the sixth inning only once. He's 0-1 with a 5.70 ERA in that span.

"As far as I'm concerned right now, yes," Roenicke said. "We haven't even talked otherwise."

• With his home run on Sunday, Ryan Braun became the sixth player in franchise history with 200 home runs. Braun, whose 40 homers lead the National League this year, trails Cecil Cooper by one homer for fifth on Milwaukee's all-time list.

Pirates: McDonald bumped from rotation
• The struggling James McDonald has been removed from the Pirates starting rotation and replaced by 24-year-old Kyle McPherson.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle announced the move on Sunday.

"You want your starters to pitch well, and as the games count down, we've got to look to give ourselves the best shot that we can have at winning a game," Hurdle said. "Based on James' inconsistency the second half, as I shared with him, when James is right, James is a valuable addition to our ballclub. He's had his challenges the second half."

McDonald, who will be available out of the bullpen starting on Tuesday, had a good first half, going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA. His second half has been a completely different story. Since the All-Star break, the right-hander is 3-5 with a 7.08 ERA.

"It's going to be up to him what he provides, and his buy-in. That's what we've encouraged him to do," Hurdle said. "There's still a lot at stake for everybody here, and he has a role to play on this club. I anticipate him very good with it from that end."

Worth noting
• The Brewers' pitching staff set a franchise record with its 1,262nd strikeout of the season in Sunday's 3-0 victory against the Mets. That mark leads the Majors this season. Entering Sunday's game, the Brewers were on pace for 1,403 punchouts. The record is 1,404, set by the 2004 Cubs.

• Second baseman Neil Walker is one RBI shy of becoming the fourth Pirate with at least 70 RBIs this season. The others are Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez. Pittsburgh hasn't had four players reach that mark since 2007.

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