The first month of 2014 is set to end with a meeting between a pair of National League Central clubs that expect to be part of the battle for division supremacy when the season later comes to a close.
Milwaukee opens a seven-game road trip with a stop in St. Louis, where the Cardinals will be waiting for Monday's series opener at Busch Stadium. Michael Wacha heads to the hill for the Cardinals, facing off against the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo.
The Brewers hold an early 4 1/2 game advantage in the Central, a deficit larger than any the Cardinals faced en route to capturing the division title last season. St. Louis did take two out of three in Milwaukee when these clubs met earlier in April.
"They're not going anywhere," manager Mike Matheny said of the Brewers. "They're going to be right in the middle of this, and the Central is going to be a tough division again. They're a good club. They have what they need to be successful. We like the opportunity to go head-to-head with them."
The Brewers are likely to be without outfielder Ryan Braun during their three-day stay as Braun nurses a right rib cage strain. After Milwaukee's loss on Saturday, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke projected that Braun would miss three to five games. Shortstop Jean Segura is also on the mend after being struck in the face on Saturday by Braun's bat.
It's not an ideal roster situation coming into a key division series, though the Brewers still boast the Majors' best record. That puts an onus on the starting pitcher.
"It helps, certainly, when you're not at full strength to get that good outing," Roenicke said. "Hopefully the guys will come through, we'll get some runs and go from there. The more runs you get, you build on it. The offense, we still can be better than what we're doing offensively."
On Monday, the Brewers will be leaning on Gallardo, an otherwise accomplished Major League pitcher, but one who is 1-11 with a 6.46 ERA in 17 career starts against the Cardinals. The lone win came in 2011.
In 10 of his 17 starts against the Cardinals, Gallardo has surrendered at least four earned runs. Eight times, he has not made it past the fifth inning. He has surrendered 20 home runs to Cardinals hitters -- seven more than any other opponent.
He'll be facing a Cardinals offense that might just be coming alive. After scoring three or fewer runs in seven consecutive games, St. Louis broke out for seven on Sunday to lead the club to a series win over the Pirates. The Cardinals also broke a homerless drought of 366 at-bats with Jhonny Peralta's two-homer game.
The Cardinals would need to win the series against the Brewers to finish with more April wins in 2014 than they did a year ago when they tallied 15.
"They've got a good club," Matt Adams said of Milwaukee. "The Central is packed with great teams. We're just going to treat it like any other series. Go out there each night and compete and try to get a 'W.'"
Cardinals: McCarver behind the mic
Tim McCarver will join the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasting team for 30 games this season, beginning with Monday's series opener. McCarver will be in the Busch Stadium broadcast booth on Tuesday, as well.
McCarver joined the FSM team after ending an 18-year run as a national baseball analyst for FOX. He worked alongside Jack Buck, son of longtime Cardinals voice, Joe Buck. This will not be the first time McCarver has called games for a local broadcast affiliate. Earlier in his broadcasting career, he made stops with the Yankees, Phillies, Giants and Mets.
St. Louis is a familiar place for McCarver, who played 12 seasons with the Cardinals. He was a member of the 1964 World Series club, finished second in the 1967 MVP vote and was a two-time Cardinals All-Star.
Brewers: Working bullpen hard
Roenicke is well aware that he has ridden some relief pitchers hard during the first month of the regular season. Veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez appeared in 14 of the team's first 24 games, on pace for 94 games this season. Will Smith was on pace for 87 appearances, and Zach Duke and Tyler Thornburg for 81 apiece.
"Hey, we're doing this a lot because we're in or winning every game," Roenicke said. "As much as I would like for this to last the whole season, I don't think it's going to last the whole season that we're going to play this kind of baseball. So somewhere down the road, they'll get a little bit of a breather. Hopefully, our offense takes off and we start winning games by six-to-eight runs."
If that happens, Roenicke would have an easier time working Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang into the mix. The left-hander pitched just twice in the team's first 24 games.
• Brewers outfielder Logan Schafer will begin a Minor League rehab assignment at Class A Advanced Brevard County on Monday. Schafer is on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and is eligible to be activated by the Brewers on Saturday.
• The Brewers have gotten a quality start in 20 of 25 games this season, including seven games in a row.
• St. Louis' rotation continues to be the club's backbone through the team's offensive ups and downs. Only the Braves have a better rotation ERA (2.24) and batting average against (.210) than the Cardinals' starting five.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.