The Crew will welcome the Pirates to Miller Park on Monday, all the while battling Arizona for the second seed. To claim home-field advantage in the opening round, the Brewers need to finish with a better record than the D-backs, who won four of their seven head-to-head matchups this season.
Playing the majority of their postseason games in Miller Park will be particularly advantageous for the Crew, who set the franchise record for home wins with Sunday's victory over the Marlins and are guaranteed the best home record in the Majors. And if the Braves hold on to win the NL Wild Card, Milwaukee would draw them instead of the top-seeded Phillies -- a difficult matchup no matter how poorly they finish the regular season.
"I'm trying to win and trying to get ready for the playoffs, and it's a really difficult thing to try to do both," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We know we need to win them, and yet I know we need to be right entering the playoffs. I'm [also] trying to get some guys at-bats who we're going to need in the playoffs.
"It's complicated. We can't run this thing out the way we want to and start the playoffs the way we want to. We can't. It's impossible. It is a shame. We should have won five more games in there somewhere."
Fortunately for the Crew, this series couldn't be against a better opponent. The Pirates have lost 36 of their last 39 games at Miller Park dating back to 2007, including all six in Milwaukee this season. Overall, the Brewers are 10-2 against the Pirates in this year, having won the first eight before splitting a four-game series at PNC Park last month.
The first game of the series will pit Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum, going for his career-high 14th win, against Pirates righty Charlie Morton, making his final start of the year.
Morton has enjoyed a strong bounce-back year after posting a 2-12 record with a 7.57 ERA in a disastrous 2010 campaign. The right-hander has already set career bests in innings pitched (166 2/3), wins (10) and strikeouts (107).
"I would say Charlie has had a successful season, a bit of a step forward in a lot of areas. He has broken down a lot of barriers," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was always the guy that should pitch better, but his stuff doesn't play. I think he's in a good place. He made some great strides. He's a lot more mentally tough this year than maybe he was last year at this time, and is a lot better pitcher."
Pirates: Veras surprised by durability
Reliever Jose Veras is second in the NL with 79 appearances this year, behind only Atlanta setup man Jonny Venters. Veras hasn't been particularly sharp out of the bullpen lately, but even he is surprised at how well he has held up through the course of the season.
"Believe me, I'm surprised I feel so good," said Veras, who made just 48 big league appearances in 2010. "But the offseason was a hard workout for me. That's helped me to handle it. I feel strong enough to handle the last couple games to come. I'm tired, but at the same time, I still have some energy to go."
And Hurdle might let Veras use that energy to pitch in his 80th game this year -- something no reliever has done for Hurdle in his managerial career.
The Pirates are 38-39 against NL Central opponents this year, with three games to go. They have not posted a winning record against their own division since going 61-29 against the NL Eastern Division in 1992, though they went 24-24 against the Central in 1997.
Brewers: Opponent will dictate NLDS roster
The Brewers are leaning toward an 11-man pitching staff for the NLDS, moving fifth starter Chris Narveson in the bullpen. That leaves the Crew with several key decisions to make on the bench, such as whether they'll keep right-handed-hitting Josh Wilson, also a versatile defender, or the left-handed bat of rookie Taylor Green.
And with a tight NL Wild Card race that could come down to the season's final days, those decisions might not be made until much closer to Saturday's Game 1.
"We're looking at that now," Roenicke said. "Some of that will depend on who we're playing, also. Do they have a lot of lefties in their bullpen, and are they their main guys? If it's Atlanta, they do. That makes a difference on what we do for the last couple of spots on our roster."
Another tough postseason decision awaiting Roenicke is whether to stick with slumping third baseman Casey McGehee. The Brewers' other options at the hot corner include Jerry Hairston Jr., Craig Counsell and Green. McGehee has struggled at the plate all year, and Roenicke admitted it was a "tough situation," but he still showed faith in McGehee.
"Playoffs are a different animal," Roenicke said. "[McGehee], he's not going to freak out because it's the playoffs, and that means a lot to me [in terms of] what I think a guy is going to do in the playoffs. We all know his high end."
After going 47-43 before the All-Star break, the Pirates have dropped 45 of their last 69 games.
The Brewers are 18-6-1 in series play this season at Miller Park.