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Milwaukee Brewers (44-37) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (41-41)
Who's on Tap?:
June 30th: Dave Bush (4-7, 4.94 ERA) vs. Doug Davis (2-3, 3.68 ERA)
July 1st: Jeff Suppan (4-6, 4.05 ERA) vs. Randy Johnson (4-6, 4.94 ERA)
July 2nd: Seth McClung (5-3, 4.25 ERA) vs. Micah Owings (6-7, 5.18 ERA)
July 3rd: Manny Parra (8-2, 3.95 ERA) vs. Brandon Webb (12-4, 3.21 ERA)
Who Should You Watch?:
If you didn't know already, Arizona is finally 'healthy', as Eric Byrnes returned from the DL early last week. Unfortunately for the D'Backs, it hasn't been all that rewarding. Byrnes is 2 for 22 since coming back up and is struggling mightily at the plate. Brewer fans beware, though. Byrnes has five-tool talent and could shake the rust at any time. Elsewhere, keep an eye out for Conor Jackson, who is having a break-out year to keep his team afloat in the dismal NL West. Conor is batting .309/.402/.482 this season, up from his .286/.370/.449 career numbers. As a result, he's far and away this most consistent player on the team. Pitching-wise, the Brewers dodge Dan Haren, but this is a four game series so you're bound to see the ace. Brandon Webb is a sinker-baller who gets a considerable amount of ground balls. To top it off he can strike you out. Webb is a Brewers nightmare. In seven starts against Milwaukee, Webb has tossed 44 innings and given up only 13 earnies, while striking out 42 and walking 16. But the big stat is he has only given up four bombs. That's a recipe for disaster for a team that relies heavily on the long ball.
On the opposite side of the field, the Brewers come in needing to split this series to salvage a road trip of missed opportunities. The Cubs have lost four straight and opened the door, but neither St. Louis or Milwaukee could do a thing about it. If they plan on turning things around Prince Fielder is going to have to start playing. With each strikeout this week, he's losing dollars in arbitration. Prince is 1/24 in the last six games and has only walked once. And to top it off, he hasn't played very good defense in the last month. It's gut-wrenching for Brewers' fans, who saw Prince slug .618 last year, only to see it drop all the way back down to .488. The interesting thing is that it's not like Prince isn't getting anything to hit. With the ever so consistent Corey Hart behind him, he's getting plenty of fastballs and just swinging right through them. On the mound, it's time to really watch Dave Bush and Seth McClung. The trade deadline is not too far out and the market is finally starting to push to the buyer rather than the seller. Bush has had two solid outings since struggling A LOT to open the season, but limiting the free baserunners and the long ball has saved him considerably. I'm still not sure how his ERA is under five. Seth McClung has been pretty solid since entering the rotation and his upside is immeasurable when compared to Bush's. Struggled in his last start against the Twins, leaving far too many pitches over the plate after getting down in the count. Seth clearly didn't have the stuff. In any case, both need to show their respective squads something if they plan on staying in the rotation if a Sabathia, Greinke or Lee arrive in Milwaukee.
Keys to Victory:
The D'backs are struggling bad, going 3-7 in their last ten and 8-13 since getting swept in Milwaukee, and the problem is clearly still the offense. Their pitching staff has been okay, but not amazing. If they can manage four runs, they usually win. As a result, they'll need ot just be patient and take the baserunners they're given. Parra, Bush, McClung and Suppan have all had considerable command issues. They often get behind and find themselves, more often than not, in a fastball situation. McClung, at times, can get away with this because his ball has filthy movement, but Bush and Suppan cannot. Parra is kind of in between. As a result, the D'Backs will have to do their best to work the count and capitalize on those situations.
For the Brewers, walk... walk... walk... WALK! God, I can't take it anymore. These guys just do not like to walk, and really struggle with two strikes, which is proof that they don't have a very good concept of the strike zone. At this point, only Jason Kendall, Rickie Weeks and JJ Hardy are the only three guys who are more than happy to take their walks. Fielder, Braun, Cameron and Corey Hart, could give a crap. They'd rather swing at a 3-1 pitch out of the zone. Grow up guys. A .321 OBP this season is not going to score you runs on a regular basis. It's okay to rely on the long ball every now and then, and free runners will help you there, but games like Friday's or the first game in the Baltimore series, really get under my skin. They have walked just 13 times in their last six games, which is not very good. But it's pretty bad when you realize they've struck out 43 times during that period. Unproductive outs on bad pitches. It looks like the homestand was the anomaly, not the norm.
Predictions and Notes:
- First of all, props to Kevin Slowey. The guy was just nasty yesterday. After the Braves game against Campillo, Yost was talking up Jorge as if he was awesome that day. Yeah, the guy hit his spots, but the Brewers got themselves out more so that Campillo getting them out. Slowey, on the other hand, was sick nasty. His two seam fastball fooled me half the time. The late tail was practically unhittable. I know a good pitching game when I see one and Slowey really impressed me. The Twins always seem to have great young arms in their system. The Brewers should steal one of their scouts. Though, I am hoping to see what Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress put together.
- The D'Backs are struggling so bad, that I'm convinced the Brewers have a shot at taking three games in Arizona. Will I actually predict that? Um, no. I can't see the Brewers taking down Webb or Doug Davis, who owned the Brewers in his last outing. The Brewers are just so inconsistent and Arizona has more than enough talent to capitalize on it. Arizona will have an excellent night tonight and on Thursday, but the Brewers offense will take advantage of Owings and Randy Johnson just as they did in Milwaukee. Webb will finish it off and send the Brewers packing with a split in the series and a split on the stand.
- The Brewers have a chance to make a big run if they split this road trip 5-5. Starting on Friday, they get three games against Pittsburgh (38-43), four games against Colorado (32-50) and three games against Cincinnati (38-45) at Miller Park (All but two of those games are in HD!). While the Cubs only real challenge is playing in St. Louis this weekend, the Brewers can simply put the pressure on them by continuing to win ball games at home. It's not too much to ask for the Crew to go 7-3 or 8-2 to finish up the first half.
- Eric Gagne returns to the Brewers bullpen this afternoon. I don't expect to see him out there unless there's at least a 2-3 run lead in the 7th or 8th inning. Yost, I suspect, doesn't really trust the guy. Unless Mota is clearly unable to pitch, he will take the 8th and Villa will continue in the 7th. To make room for him, the Brewers demoted Mark DiFelice, who was told to stretch out and work on his breaking pitches. DiFelice has the command and stamina to be in the bigs as a #4 or a #5 in this league. Unfortunately, it leaves the Brewers without a mop up or long innings guy. You can say Villanueva if you want, but that's a waste of talent.
- Since returning from the DL, Rickie Weeks is 7/28 with three walks. Not really good, but the ball is really jumping off his bat. The Brewers really need him to start producing, or a move for a guy like Brian Roberts might be too good to pass up for Doug Melvin if the price is cheap enough. Though, you have to imagine Rickie's numbers don't really suggest he'll get a lot in arbitration, so his potential upside is still going to be SUPER cheap for two years.