Milwaukee Brewers (16-12) at Houston Astros (13-16)
Who's on Tap?:
May 2nd: Carlos Villanueva (1-2, 4.66 ERA) vs Roy Oswalt (2-3, 5.75 ERA)
May 3rd: Manny Parra (1-1, 4.94 ERA) vs Brandon Backe (1-3, 4.65 ERA)
May 4th: Ben Sheets (4-0, 1.64 ERA) vs Chris Sampson (1-3, 7.15 ERA)
Who Should You Watch?:
If you didn't know already, Joe Dillon is to return to the Brewers tonight, meaning a roster move is imminent. The likely sacrifice, the waiving of Derrick Turnbow, and his likely acceptance of a AAA assignment so he's guaranteed his money. So with Dave Bush gone and the Brewers finally down to 12 pitchers on their staff, quality outings will be a must from young pitchers Carlos Villanueva and Manny Parra, especially after Wednesday's bullpen taxing night. Besides that, keep your eye on Corey Hart and Dave Bush. Hart is 4/9 against Oswalt and 3/6 on Backe. Braun is only 2/5 combined against both pitchers, he tends to be quite streaky. A good series against Braun may have helped him find something in his swing. My best guess is he's not thinking any more, but that's pure speculation.
For the Astros, you have to watch Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada. These two guys are the only regulars on the Astros who have OBPs higher than .340, and besides Towles who has a .338, they are the only two above .320. That's pretty atrocious. Nevertheless, with Pence and Lee surrounding them they get good pitches to hit. Berkman has had a bit of a resurgence this year since last year's early struggles. While his numbers were still impressive in 2007, his average had dropped a bit. That appears to be over now as he's right near his career numbers, batting .297/.387/.561 in 2008. Despite lying about his age, as many Domnican players probably do, Miguel Tejada is turning out to be one of the better pick ups in the off season, batting .345/.380/.566, while striking out only 13 times in 113 PAs. But you can't expect him to hit .345 all season, so those numbers may shrink a bit as the year goes.
Keys to Victory:
For the Brewers it's going to be starting pitching. The Astros are 26th in the league in batting average and 29th in OBP. This means they don't even average a baserunner and inning. As a result, Brewers pitchers need to stay aggressive, while avoiding the likes of Tejada, Berkman and Lee. With a day off on Monday, they can afford to have a little bit of a bump, but the bullpen needs a break, and the young guys plus the ace have a chance to save them a bit if they keep their pitch counts down.
The Astros need to work on that OBP, especially since Parra and Villanueva have struggle immensely with their command this year. Villa has walked 11 in 29, while Parra has walked 13 in 23.2. While your team may be struggling with their bats, the very short porch in left pays dividends for a team when they get runners on. If they hit homeruns, they can't be solo shots, meaning they have to do their damage in chunks.
The matchups really suggest the Brewers should sweep this series, but that's not as easy as it sometimes looks. The Brewers tend to handle Roy Oswalt quite well, winning all three games they played against him. While it's not easy to take four in a row from an impressive pitcher like Oswalt, Villanueva continues his improvement on the mound, but gives up four or five runs in seven innings. Brewers take game one via the bats. For some reason I think Parra and the Brewers in general will struggle on Saturday, giving Backe the win and Parra his second loss of the year. As for game three, I hate assuming Sheets will win every game, but with a really bad pitcher on the mound in Chris Sampson, I wouldn't be surprised if a blow out was on the horizon after a tough game on Saturday.