Who Should You Watch?:
This is an important series for the Brewers, who have fallen right back off the wagon since winning three in a row against St. Louis at home. Look for Ryan Braun to continue his tear at the plate and come full circle as the outspoken leader of this team. Now that he's been here for one year and accomplished what he has, he's earned the right to speak and call out the entire team for not having a winning attitude. Competing does not bring home championships. Elsewhere, keep watching Rickie Weeks. I say it preview after preview, but Weeks continues to hit the ball hard. He was 3/11 last series but walked three times (.272/.428). Two or three of those plays were stolen by slick defense by Julio Lugo at short, but those are outs in the box score. Consider the numbers he would have had that series if it weren't the case (.454/.571). Also, let's see if Manny Parra can continue his run from last week's start, after he got hosed by some bad fielding in the 7th inning. Young minds are fragile, but good outings tend to push you out of that mindset. He could use a bit of a roll.
On the other side of the field, keep your eye on Nate McLouth and Xavier Nady, who are both quietly having career seasons. Nady is hitting .309/.375/.488 with five dingers and 36 RBIs so far, but with the likes of Jason Bay on the team, he doesn't get the recognition he's deserving of. I'm still not sold on him continuing this run, but while he's riding the wave you need to be careful. In only this third full season with the team, Nate McLouth is scaring the hell out of pitchers. He's riding a .306/.392/.618 clip while hitting 12 HRs this year already, one away from matching his season total from last year in 156 fewer ABs. The consistent work has been a blessing and the Pirates organization has to be happy with his impressive development. On the pitching side of things, the Pirates have little to enjoy, with the exception of John Grabow and Matt Capps who are both having some success, but watch out for Snell this week. He's the only right handed starter to face the right handed heavy lineup. Despite the Atlanta game where he gave up one run in seven innings, Snell has struggled with commanding the ball, walking 20 over his last 10 starts and only striking out 29. It will be an important game for his confidence.
What are the Keys to Victory?:
It looks like the Brewers big bats are back and ready to play, especially since they're facing to left-handed pitchiers. That means that the pitching will have to hold the streaking Pirates offense at bay. The Pirates' numbers are practically replicas of the Brewers', so they need to do what other teams have done to them: Set them up at the plate with the pitch selection and get them to swing away at pitches out of the zone. Sheets and Parra definitely have the capacity to do this, while Suppan will use this to induce more ground balls and keep the Crew in the game.
The Pirates will have to do a couple of things to do quite a bit to be competitive in this series, but it boils down to Freddy Sanchez. Since 2006, when he won the batting crown, Sanchez has left much to be desired and no longer represents the leadoff hitter you would like. Freddy has only managed 19 runs this season and is only getting on at a .290 clip, sporting a hefty .260 average. Sanchez's importance to this team is immeasurable. With Bay looking like he'll return to his 2006 form and McClouth doing he's doing, the Pirates should be scoring tons of runs. If Sanchez has a good series, so will the Pirates.
This is a tough one since both of these teams are damn near identical so far. My heart says Braun's comments and the flurry of "Fire Yost" posts lately, including a false report that there was to be a press conference yesterday to do so, will light a fire under these Brewers asses and take advantage of a team that struggle quite mightily in Chicago after winning game one. Nevertheless, I'm going to try and be objective here and say the Crew takes two out of three, rocking Grozelanny and Paul Maholm tonight, but struggle against Paul Maholm. Parra will pitch well tonight, but won't make it past the 6th as usual. Sheets will return to form, but an anemic offense will hurt him and the bullpen will fail him and Suppan will jump back on the horse he always rides. Look for Bay to have a pretty solid series as well as McClouth, but Nady and Sanchez will struggle against Brewers pitching.