CINCINNATI -- The Brewers' path to the postseason just got a whole lot tougher.

One out away from a 1-0 win over the Reds on Thursday, closer John Axford and the Brewers instead suffered a 2-1 loss that Axford called "crushing" because of its implications on the race for the National League's second Wild Card spot.

"It hurts," Axford said. "We put ourselves in a tough spot now."

Thursday's loss meant the Brewers will begin the season's final homestand four games behind the Cardinals with six games to play, and one game behind the Dodgers.

If the Brewers go 6-0 against the Astros and Padres, the Cardinals need to go 2-4 in order for Milwaukee to force a play-in game. If the Cardinals split their final six games in that scenario, the Brewers are out.

"Hopefully we can pick up as many wins as we can," Axford said. "It's looking like we have to win every game and hope for some help on the other side."

The Brewers are 8-6 against the Astros this season and 3-3 against the Padres. The Cardinals also finish the season at home, facing the postseason-bound Nationals and Reds. The Dodgers host the Rockies and Giants.

Friday's key games to watch (all times ET)

Astros (Gonzalez, 2-1) at Brewers (Gallardo, 16-8), 8:10 p.m. Preview >

Nationals (Jackson, 9-10) at Cardinals (Wainwright, 13-12), 8:15 p.m. Preview >

Rockies (Francis, 5-6) at Dodgers (Kershaw, 12-9), 10:10 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

This is how the teams would match up: Postseason Bracket »

Postseason 101

Magic numbers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.

Tiebreaker scenarios
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker rules »

2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1