A confusing weekend which featured of lineups filled with AAAA players and a series loss to the Pirates is thankfully past, and an after a home off day the Brewers are hopefully refreshed. Tonight at 7:10 CT, the Chicago Cubs will take their first cuts at Miller Park in 2012. The Cubs are coming off a 1–2 series loss to the Giants, and currently sport an MLB-worst record of 18–36. Milwaukee took three of four at Wrigley in early April, their second series of the season.
Probable pitchers (MIL/CHI): Gallardo/Dempster tonight, Greinke/Maholm tomorrow, and Wolf/Garza on Thursday. Tonight and tomorrow night’s games are 7:10 CT starts, 1:10 on Thursday. All televised on FSWI.
In watching the series, please consider the following:
The meat of the order is looking a bit rancid.
Both Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez are banged up as of late, and each of them missed Sunday’s 6–5 loss. While Ramirez’s strained quad is minor and we may very well see him back in the lineup tonight, the jury is out on Braun. The reigning MVP is nursing both a tight Achilles and a sore hip, and while he was able to pitch hit on Sunday—nearly resulting in a game-tying HR—he might not be ready to play the field and run the bases. I imagine the team is being very careful with Braun, who is probably not 100% at all, and with the woeful Northsiders in town, they have good reason to do so. A seemingly unimpressive, sans-Braun lineup similar to what we saw this weekend might be enough to beat the Cubs, and this team needs him healthy.
Without Braun and Ramirez, the middle of the order featured combinations of Corey Hart, George Kottaras, Taylor Green, and Rickie Weeks. But even with the Brewers usual #3 and #4 hitters, spots 3–5 in the lineup only produced two runs this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday the rest of the offense picked up the slack, and the team did have trouble scoring this weekend, but the middle of the order has certainly been underwhelming.
The defense has been a pleasant surprise of late.
Milwaukee is error-less in their last thirteen games, and to me this is the foremost reason they have weathered injury after injury while generally improving their record. With the signing of noted defensive whiz Alex Gonzalez and the installment of a more-athletic-than-Prince Mat Gamel at first, I expected a vastly improved infield D compared to 2011, but we all know what happened with those two. Then Cesar Izturis and Travis Ishikawa, both plus defenders, went down with injuries. Now, they’re counting on journeymen/AAAA-types Cody Ransom at short and a combination of Taylor Green, Corey Hart and Brooks Conrad at first (Conrad even getting some time at short this weekend). Ransom and Conrad are definitely not regarded as strong defensive players, though the 36-year old Ransom has made some fine plays there since joining the team. Hart played first primarily coming up through the minors and has been serviceable there so far. Taylor Green had just a handful of games at first in the minors. With the exception of Ransom, each is essentially playing out of their natural position, and have done acceptablejobs. Keeping that kind of play up will go a long way towards helping the Brewers back to .500.
Is Matt Garza the new Ryan Dempster?
Garza has found some success against Milwaukee during his brief Chicago tenure, with a 3–1 record and 2.88 ERA. Current Brewers are hitting just .231/.341/.359 against him, and inhis April 12th start against the Brewers nearly went the distance, with 8.2 shutout, nine-strikeout, three-hit innings. He is coming off three consecutive losses though, including a 3 IP, 7 ER stinker at Houston. As a Cub, he has gotten steadily better versus the Crew, and it would be nice to see the offense reverse that trend. Their 8–0 loss to him earlier this year left a sour taste in my mouth. There’s a decent chance that he may not be a Cub much longer, though: Trade rumors have been circling around the upcoming free agent as part of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding process. Conversely, some rumors about an extension have surfaced as well.
(Ed. Note: Kevan also writes for Pocket Doppler and will be contributing here a couple times a week now as well. -NP)