As recently as Aug. 7, the Pirates were breathing down the Brewers' necks, sitting a single game behind them in the National League Central and looking ready to take over at any moment.
But a seven-game losing streak has put some serious space between the two contenders, and this weekend's series in Milwaukee could be pivotal for Pittsburgh's chances to stay in the division race.
The Pirates snapped a seven-game losing streak Wednesday and sit six games behind the Brewers, who have held first place since April 5.
"The Pirates are looking to rebound right now, so we need to come out and still do our thing and make sure we stay on top," said Brewers reliever Zach Duke. "This is where everybody wants to be. You want to be in contention when this time of year comes around. That's what makes it fun."
Recent history doesn't bode well for Pittsburgh: Since the start of 2007, Milwaukee is 86-39 against Pittsburgh for its best winning percentage (.688) against any regular opponent (the Crew is 3-0 against the Indians). Not counting the Astros, who just moved to the American League West last season, the Brewers' winning percentage against the Pirates over the past eight seasons is the best of any team over a division opponent.
The series is even more lopsided at Miller Park, where the Brewers have won 53 of 66 matchups since the start of '07, while averaging six runs per game and 1.6 home runs per game. The Brewers are 10-3 against Pittsburgh this season, including a 5-1 mark at Miller Park.
Despite the statistics, the Brewers certainly don't seem to be taking their divisional rivals lightly.
"Baseball's just one of those games where you never look at a team and say, 'They lost their last five or six games, we'll go in with a different attitude,'" said Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett. "They're a good team. We know that every time we play them; they battle. It's going to be important to get ahead early and keep chipping away."
Starting with this series, the Brewers will play 25 of their final 35 games within the National League Central, meaning that they'll have plenty more critical games down the stretch. While the division was a four-team race at the All-Star break, a good series for Milwaukee this weekend could mean that only St. Louis is particularly close to the top.
"Obviously, in September, we have all those teams again," Gennett said. "It's definitely important. They're battling too. It's important for us to take as many games as possible when we're playing teams from our division."
On Friday, the Brewers will turn to right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who is 12-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 24 career games against the Pirates. He's 1-0 with a 2.49 ERA against them this season.
His opponent, Jeff Locke, has struggled against Milwaukee, putting up a 1-2 record and a 4.55 ERA in five starts against the Crew. He's coming off a no-decision against Washington in which he pitched 5 2/3 innings and didn't allow a run.
Brewers: Ramirez back to his old self
For Aramis Ramirez, healthy numbers have gone hand-in-hand with a healthy hamstring since his June return from the disabled list.
Ramirez was batting .129/.233/.274 in the 19 games before being placed on the DL on May 13. Since returning from the injury on June 4, Ramirez has raised his season batting average nearly 50 points by hitting .325/.358/.494. In the National League, only Ben Revere has a better batting average over that span.
"This is what I expect from him," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "He's that consistent guy. He's starting to drive in the runs again. Saw him drive a couple balls over people's heads to the opposite field, which I think, when he's really swinging the bat well, that's what he does. This is what I expect him to do."
Long known as an RBI machine, Ramirez has driven in 57 runs this year after totaling only 49 RBIs in an injury-plagued 2013. Though he's only had 13 home runs, Roenicke said he's happy as long as Ramirez is driving runners in.
Sitting in the cleanup spot of an aggressive lineup, Ramirez is valuable in that he rarely strikes out. Ramirez has put the ball in play in 76 percent of his at-bats this season, and he has only a 14.5 percent strikeout rate, third lowest of the Brewers' regulars.
"When he's right, he's a doubles guy," Roenicke said. "He doesn't punch out a lot. He's an early swinger, but he's never had high strikeouts. You see him sometimes take an awkward swing and just flick the bat out there and it's a base hit. Those guys are important to have."
Pirates: Morton has sports hernia
Pirates starter Charlie Morton disclosed the injury he has in his right hip is a sports hernia on Wednesday.
Morton went on the disabled list Sunday with "right hip inflammation" and noted the injury has been bothering him since a June 2 start in San Diego. The right-hander sinkerballer met with Dr. Thomas Byrd in Nashville on Sunday and is going to take some time away from starts to let his hip calm down.
Morton said the issue has not improved since it first flared up. The Pirates will continue to assess Morton, but for now, the future of his 2014 season is unclear.
"I'm still playing catch, I plan on throwing some bullpens," Morton said. "We'll see where I'm at and come back and try to contribute down the stretch."
• Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy leads the National League with 42 doubles. He is vying to become the first primary catcher in modern MLB history to lead his league in doubles.
• With a win Wednesday, the Pirates avoided an eight-game losing streak, which would've been their longest since dropping 10 consecutive contests from July 29-Aug. 7, 2011.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.