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CHC@CIN: Jackson dominates Reds on mound, at plate

While the top three teams in the National League Central battle for the division crown, the Cubs and Brewers are stuck on the outside looking in at the pennant race.

Both teams are more than 20 games out of first place, and their hopes of making a run at the NL Central title have faded long ago. On Monday, the clubs will open up a four-game set at Miller Park as the Brewers continue their 10-game homestand, which they opened by taking two of three from the Reds.

Milwaukee will welcome the return of third baseman Aramis Ramirez on Monday after he missed two straight games with a bruised left wrist. Ramirez suffered the injury on Friday, when Mat Latos hit him with a fastball in the first inning.

Before Sunday's finale against the Reds, Ramirez and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke agreed one more day of rest was a good idea.

"You're talking about a wrist and a hand, and that's different than getting banged up somewhere else," Roenicke said. "If you try to swing the bat with that, it's really difficult. So, hopefully tomorrow we get him back in there."

Ramirez has played in only 81 games this year, spending much of the season battling a left knee injury. But with Corey Hart out for the year and Ryan Braun suspended, the Brewers need Ramirez's power more than ever. After leading the National League with 202 homers last season, Milwaukee has hit just 142 round-trippers with two weeks left to play in 2013.

"You want to be out there for your teammates and everybody," said Ramirez, who has hit 10 home runs this season. "We're not in the race or anything, but you want to finish strong, feeling good about yourself."

Ramirez and the Brewers will face Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, who bounced back from a string of forgettable starts last Tuesday by holding the Reds to one run on nine hits. The 30-year-old right-hander went seven innings, marking his longest outing since he gave up just one run in eight innings against the Brewers on July 31.

That outing capped a strong July for Jackson, who followed it up by going 0-4 with a 5.88 ERA in his next six starts. Chicago lost all six of those games.

Jackson said the key to getting back to being the pitcher he was in July on Tuesday was pounding the zone, as he threw 68 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

"These last four or five starts, I have been just the opposite," Jackson said. "I was behind in the count a lot and not able to make pitches. Just fortunate enough tonight to come out and be able to make some pitches in some key situations and get a lot of run support to back it up."

Brewers: Peralta takes mound, hopes for run support
Milwaukee will open the series against Chicago with right-hander Wily Peralta on the mound. It will be Peralta's fifth start against the Cubs this season. He went 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA in the previous four outings, not accounting for the six unearned runs Chicago has plated against Peralta this season.

Since the All-Star break, Peralta has been a frequent victim of minimal run support. The Brewers have scored just three runs or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts, including one or no runs in five of those games. Peralta has gone 2-6 in those 10 starts, with Milwaukee going 3-7.

"It's sometimes hard," Peralta said. "Because you have to be pretty much, like, perfect."

Cubs: Rizzo, Castro showing growth
The season-long struggles of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro continued on Sunday, as the Cubs first baseman and shortstop combined to go 0-for-6 with a strikeout.

Rizzo enters this week's series against the Brewers batting .229 with 75 RBIs and 22 homers, while Castro owns a .240 average to go with 40 RBIs and nine homers. Still, hitting coach James Rowson has seen growth in both players this season.

For Rizzo, Rowson said the 24-year-old has been dealing with the difficulties of playing his first full season in the Majors.

"You look at some of the more experienced players in this league, players who have dominated, and they've had 30, 35, 40 at-bats against the same guys," Rowson said. "As you start learning how you're being pitched and seeing the same guys, we expect more progress there. For his first full season in the big leagues, I think he's done a nice job overall."

Rowson said Castro has started to be more selective at the plate, as he's watching more pitches per plate appearance.

"As far as Starlin goes, we've gone through a few phases with him," Rowson said. "It's tough, and it was tough early on. He's shown some good signs of late. I think he learned a lot about himself. He had to go through some tough situations for him, but we've accomplished some things."

Worth noting
• Heading into the final four meetings of the year between the Cubs and Brewers, Milwaukee holds a 5-10 advantage in the season series.

• The Brewers enter Monday's game 13-14 in a stretch in which they play 32 of 35 games against NL Central opponents.

• The Cubs continue a season-long 11-game road trip on Monday. Chicago went 3-4 to start the trip.

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