Reaching the postseason for the third straight season is on the minds of the Milwaukee Brewers as they open a three-game series against the visiting Kansas City Royals on Friday.
The Brewers (23-26) are part of a logjam of teams competing for the lower end of the National League's eight playoff spots and need to win as many of their final 11 games as possible.
Longtime Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun surveyed the situation -- seven teams are legitimately in play for the last three spots -- and summed up his thoughts in a carefree manner.
"We've been in worse places with less games to play," Braun said.
The 36-year-old Braun might need to be one of those players who goes on a hot streak down the stretch. So far, he is thriving in September going 11-for-30 (.367) with four homers and 13 RBIs after beginning the month with a meager .182 average.
Overall, Braun is batting .240 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 29 games while splitting his time between designated hitter and the outfield.
His hot hitting was timely against the St. Louis Cardinals. He had a homer and two RBIs in Milwaukee's 18-3 trouncing of the Cardinals on Tuesday and one day later, he played only the second game of a doubleheader and smacked a three-run homer in a 6-0 victory to help the Brewers split with St. Louis.
Wednesday's homer was the 350th of Braun's 14-year career.
"I think when you're at the place he's at in his career, these are the games you're dying to be in, these are games you want to be in," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It's a credit to his skill set that he's able to deliver in the biggest games still, that he's a force and he's a presence in these games."
The games against the Royals (21-29) could conceivably be Braun's final contests at Miller Park. The guaranteed portion of his contract runs out after the season -- there is a mutual $15 million option for 2021 that the Brewers are expected to decline -- and he hasn't committed to playing next season.
"Let's see what our world looks like at that time," Braun said. "I'll take some time to see where I'm at physically, see where things stand baseball-specifically and in the world at large before I make a decision about that."
The Brewers will try to tame a hot Kansas City squad that has won seven of its last eight games.
Even with their torrid stretch, the Royals aren't considered part of the American League playoff chase. That would change quickly with a sweep of the Brewers.
The Royals defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-0 on Wednesday, marking the third time in seven games they have won by shutout.
Kansas City's string of strong pitching has been fueled by rookie right-hander Brady Singer, who has allowed no runs and three hits and struck out 16 in 14 innings over his past two starts.
Singer pitched 7 2/3 no-hit innings against the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 10 before allowing a hit and departing one out later. He followed up with six shutout innings in Wednesday's win.
"He's still learning," Royals catcher Salvador Perez said of Singer. "He's going to be one of the best pitchers in the organization, that's what I think."
Perez has been a big part of Kansas City's recent hot stretch, going 11-for-21 with two homers, four doubles and six RBIs in five games since missing 3 1/2 weeks with vision issues. He was seeing the ball well Wednesday, going 2-for-3 with a homer, double and three RBIs.
Left-hander Danny Duffy (3-3, 4.24 ERA) will start the series opener for the Royals. His start against the Tigers on Tuesday was skipped as a disciplinary measure after he missed the team flight from Kansas City to Detroit, but he was reinstated to the rotation on Thursday.
Duffy defeated Milwaukee in his lone start against the club. He gave up one run and five hits over six innings in 2018.
Left-hander Kris Bubic had been scheduled to start Friday, but his outing was moved to Saturday.
Right-hander Adrian Houser (1-5, 5.40) takes the ball for the Brewers after going 0-5 over his last seven starts. The 27-year-old gave up seven runs (two earned) and four hits in four innings on Sunday when Milwaukee lost 12-0 to the Chicago Cubs and was no-hit by Alec Mills.
--Field Level Media