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Milwaukee Brewers (33-30) @ Houston Astros (32-32)
Who's on Tap?:
June 10th: Seth McClung (3-2, 4.25 ERA) vs. Roy Oswalt (4-6, 5.38 ERA)
June 11th: Manny Parra (4-2, 4.33 ERA) vs. Brandon Backe (4-7, 4.66 ERA)
June 12th: Ben Sheets (6-1, 2.62 ERA) vs. Brian Moehler (3-2, 3.76 ERA)
Who Should You Watch?:
Lance Berkman flat out owns the Brewers. In the last series at Minute Maid Park, Berkman went 7/13 with two bombs and six RBIs, leading the Astros to a big time sweep. Berkman hasn't cooled off much either, having a hit in 15 of his last 16 games. Even better, he's still sporting a .372/.458/.723 line. .723?! Good lord. On the mound, beware of Brian Moehler. I'm still not convinced by this guy and for good reason. He doesn't strike out a lot of guys, but doesn't walk that many either. He's a groundball pitcher who works the outside of the plate well, which is the Brewers' Achilles' heel. His last start against the Brewers lasted only five innings, but was only spoiled by a 2-run blast from Prince Fielder and an ace like performance from Sheets.
On the Brewers side, I have some questions that will or won't be answered when I see the lineup as a result of Rickie Weeks being place on the DL. I'm in favor of a strict platoon at second with Joe Dillon and Hernan Iribarren. Iribarren is a lefty with a lot of speed and has earned some playing time. On the other side, so has Joe Dillon. I've come to really like Dillon, who has the propensity to walk and hit the ball hard on a consistent basis. With that being said, he is so vital to have on the bench during pinch hit opportunities and lacks range at 2B. Keep an eye on this development. Elsewhere, be very cautious of the Brewers first two starters, Manny Parra and McClung. McClung keeps showing he has the stuff to get it done, but struggles at times. Parra is a little more consistent, but has similar problems. Sheets will no doubt anchor on Thursday, but these first two games are very important and will likely revolve around the success of the two youngsters.
Keys to Victory:
The Astros will need their starters to get through six as the bullpen has been unbelievable lately. Geary, Brocail and Byrdak have really done well for themselves lately, but you don't want to over use them in the series. If they can rotate through the 7th and 8th innings with leads and get to Valverde, who has been serviceable, the Astros will be in good shape.
The Brewers goals go hand in hand with this one. While the back end of the Astros bullpen has been practically lights out, it's middle relievers have been absolutely terrible. By working the count and getting baserunners, the Brewers will have to knock out the starting pitcher early, even if they don't pick up a lot of runs. Wesley Wright and Chris Sampson have not been particularly good for most of the year, Sampson especially who was relegated to the bullpen after a terrible run and Wandy Rodriguez returning from the DL.
Predictions and Notes:
This is a bit of a tough one. With the Brewers struggling on the road and the Astros falling apart after getting swept at Miller Park, which struggle is favored. I'll be a bit of a pessimist and say the Brewers will probably struggle more, but they'll somehow take this series 2-1. Oswalt hasn't been sharp enough to give him the credit he deserves and the Brewers showed him that they didn't fear him in the least during his last shot. I have a feeling McClung is going to show a little more promise this week and do just enough to steal a victory tonight. Manny Parra, however, will not stay on the horse and will struggle with his command. The Astros have the ability to go right hand heavy and the short porch in left is not going to help Parra. While Backe isn't particularly great either, I think he'll get the better of Parra and take a victory or will at least leave the game with a no decision, leading to an Astros victory. Game three is not going to be a repeat of Sheeter's last two performances, but he'll get a quality start and rely on the bullpen to keep the lead again. This time, though, the lead will be big enough as Moehler will finally come back to earth.
This is an important series for both teams as they're both heading into inter-league play this weekend, with the Astros facing the Yankees at home and the Brewers hosting the Twins. Both will need some serious momentum if they think they can handle both of those powerful offenses, especially since neither team will get the chance to toss their aces against the AL squads.
It's been a tale of two cities so far as both teams have swept at their respective ballparks. The question is, 'Who will give in first?'. The Brewers are very young, but could be just aggressive enough to get over the hump. Game one is an important confidence meter, and if they take it, it will likely carry them through the series. The Astros veteran squad may be able to pull all the pieces together, looking for redemption after the sweep and a day off. It won't be easy though, especially after the heartbreaking loss on Sunday, in which they gave up five, all of which were unearned, in the 7th to blow the game.