It was a topsy-turvy homestand for the Reds. They played arguably their best stretch of baseball of the season against the playoff-contending Cardinals and Dodgers -- taking six out of seven in the two series -- but then dropped a set against the last-place Cubs.
What comes now for the Reds, with the Nationals still chasing in the National League Wild Card race, against the struggling Brewers?
Both Milwaukee and Cincinnati will find out on Friday, when the two teams kick off a three-game weekend series at Miller Park. Right-handers Mat Latos and Kyle Lohse will square off in the opener. The Reds were off on Thursday, while the Brewers wrapped up a midweek series against St. Louis with a 5-3 victory.
"We've had some trouble here with Milwaukee the last couple of series, so we owe them one," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "We need to go out there and prove what kind of team we actually are and show everybody, especially in Milwaukee. That's a tough place to win."
The Reds won their series finale against the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon, but the Nationals beat the Mets on Thursday to creep within 5 1/2 games, including five in the all-important loss column. Cincinnati is 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis and Pittsburgh for the both the division lead and the first NL Wild Card spot.
It's the Reds' final road trip of the season, with three games in Houston and three in Pittsburgh to follow the series in Milwaukee. The Brewers will be coming off a six-game road trip, and Friday will mark the start of their last homestand of the year. After the Reds come to town, the Crew will host the Cubs and Cardinals in an NL Central-centric stretch.
"It has been a long year, but it still seems -- it's just odd," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's just a weird feeling when you're thinking about that last homestand or that last road trip. Even though it's been a difficult year, I don't know, for some reason it just comes up on your quicker than you think."
Lohse will try to get his record above .500 on Friday, while working on some discouraging numbers since early August. He's 2-2 in six starts since Aug. 9 (and the team is 3-3), but he owns a 4.95 ERA in that span and teams are hitting .329 against him.
The righty has given up 31 hits over his past three starts, including 11 (and seven earned runs) against the Cubs on Friday.
"[Lohse] missed his location a lot," Roenicke said. "When he missed location, [the Cubs] didn't miss the pitch. He didn't make too many quality pitches in the first inning. But after that he was a little bit better. … [His] last two innings were pretty good. … I don't know why he came out and was struggling there with his command, but we need to get him back on track again."
Latos has surrendered nine hits in two of his past three outings, but took a no-decision in his last outing against the Dodgers. He scattered nine hits and three runs over seven innings.
"[Latos has] learned how to pitch without his best stuff and how to battle," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He's got to stay healthy, because he's only going to get better."
Brewers: A chance for youth
This is the first time in Roenicke's tenure that the Brewers' final home games won't be meaningful. In 2011, they won the division with the NL's second-best record. In 2012, they got hot in August and entered the final homestand with an outside chance for the second Wild Card, before being eliminated in game No. 159 of 162.
This year, the Brewers were eliminated in game No. 143. The focus instead has been on in-season call-ups like Scooter Gennett, who is making a case to start next season at second base; Johnny Hellweg, who will start Saturday against the Reds; and outfielder Khris Davis, who could return from a left wrist injury on Friday.
"The excitement now is hoping some of these young guys put it together to where your future looks really good," Roenicke said.
Reds: Mesoraco busts out
After entering Wednesday afternoon's game hitless in his last 13 at-bats, a season high (and one shy of his career high), Mesoraco singled with two outs in the second inning and went on to have a 3-for-4 afternoon with a solo homer and two runs.
• The Reds have won or split nine of their 23 road series.
• Joey Votto (117) and Shin-Soo Choo (98) are trying to become the fourth set of Reds teammates with at least 100 walks in a season. Nobody has done it since Joe Morgan (120) and Pete Rose (106) did so in 1974.
• The Brewers are 31-40 at home and 7-14-2 in series play at Miller Park.