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Brewers begin series vs. Reds with eyes on wild card

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers got some help from the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs on their day off Monday, but they still have little room for error as they try to chase down a playoff berth for the first time in six years.

The Brewers kick off their stretch run Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds in the opener of a three-game series at Miller Park.

The Reds stunned the Brewers earlier this month, sweeping a three-game series in Cincinnati by a combined score of 21-8, but revenge isn't the mindset Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell is looking for when the teams meet again this week.

"I don't think it's about payback," Counsell said. "Obviously, they beat us in three games. We're certainly aware that we have to play well and it's not something we can take lightly.

"The day off is important for us to get some guys rested. It's an important day, and it's another big series."

Perhaps the biggest in what has been a month of big series for the Brewers, who were supposed to be running out the string on another season of rebuilding.

Milwaukee's chances of overtaking Chicago for first place in the National League Central all but disappeared over the weekend when the Brewers dropped three of four to the Cubs. Chicago holds a six-game lead on Milwaukee with six to play after beating the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2 on Monday night.

The Brewers would have to win out and the Cubs would have to lose their final six games just to force a one-game playoff for the division title.

With that scenario unlikely, the focus now is on catching Colorado for the last remaining National League wild-card spot. The Rockies' lead was trimmed to 1 1/2 games over the Brewers when Colorado lost 5-4 to Miami on Monday, but catching up might take a near-perfect finish. The Cardinals are still in the mix, 2 1/2 games behind the Rockies.

"We just have to win," Counsell said. "We're close enough, to me, where if we take care of our business, there will be a good result."

Zach Davies gets the start for Milwaukee in the series opener. He has faced Cincinnati three times this season, going 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA. He held the Reds to two runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings during the sweep earlier this month.

"No matter who we're playing, all of these games matter right now," Davies said, "We just have to play winning baseball now, no matter who it is."

He has a 4.50 ERA in three stars since facing Cincinnati. Two of those were seven-inning efforts in which he held the Cubs to three combined runs, sandwiched around a blowup outing against the Marlins, when he allowed six runs in four innings.

Like most of his teammates, Davies is pitching in his first-ever playoff race.

"It's been a fun September already, and now it's going to be a race to the end," Davies said.

Cincinnati right-hander Deck McGuire will make his first big league start on Tuesday. A September call-up after going 9-9 with a 2.79 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) for Double-A Pensacola, McGuire has made four relief appearances for the Reds, allowing two hits while striking out four in 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

"We're certainly aware of the type of season he had in the Southern League," Reds manager Bryan Price said of the 28-year-old Virginia native. "He looks like a capable swing guy -- swing relief, spot starter, or maybe better than that.

"It is a small sample size, but he is coming off a really nice year in Double-A and coming up and showing his competitiveness and his inherent ability to throw strikes with a full set of pitches. That is attractive. He has opened our eyes.

"Maybe he is just one of those guys who blooms late."

The Reds have won four of their past six meetings with the Brewers, who lead the season series 9-7.