Series Preview – Brewers @ Cards
Back to baseball. Sure, the players need days off, but I’m not so sure about the fans. The much anticipated series with Milwaukee starts tonight, and could turn out to be a better indicator of where the Cardinals rank amongst the league’s better teams. Milwaukee brings along a record of 8-4, a half game back of St. Louis in the Central.
The Brewers got off to an incredible start in 2007, running away with the division early, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch, giving the Cubs the crown. Their team is a year older, and more experienced, and once again picked by many to be the favorite. They’ve finally got Ben Sheets healthy, but the Cardinals are lucky enough to not have to face him in this series. Milwaukee will pitch Dave Bush today, followed by Carlos Villanueva tomorrow and Manny Parra on Thursday. The Brew Crew is loaded with talented hitters too, but their big stick, first baseman Prince Fielder has yet to get it going. After a 50 home run season a year ago, he’s yet to hit one out in ’08. Bill Hall, however, already has 5 homers.
I thought it would be interesting and a nice change of pace to get some perspective from the other side, so I asked the guys over at Right Field Bleachers, the Brewers blog in the MLB hub network, a few questions. Here’s the transcript:
"First, a little background. How was Milwaukee’s offseason? Are you happy with the moves they made? Are there still holes that need filling?"
"Milwaukee’s offseason went well. It didn’t go like fans thought it would, but in the end GM Doug Melvin filled holes and put together an impressive roster. Everyone thought the team would trade one or two of its starters since they went about eight deep, but injuries and little interest from other teams led the Brewers to look elsewhere for the bat they needed. Melvin originally was seeking a left-handed third baseman, but struck out. The team talked with the Cardinals about Scott Rolen, but eventually settled on free agent centerfielder Mike Cameron, a move that shifted Bill Hall from centerfield back to the infield and rookie of the year Ryan Braun out to left field. While the Brewers didn’t get the left-handed bat they needed, the defense improved greatly since Hall is a natural infielder, Cameron is a gold-glove-caliber centerfielder, and Braun, who was historically bad at third base last season, will hurt the team less in left as he hopefully rounds into a serviceable outfielder. Defense was one of the biggest reasons Milwaukee lost the division to Chicago last year and it’s already been noticeably better in 2008. The other reason the Crew fell to Chicago was the bullpen. While the team lost closer Francisco Cordero and set-up man Scott Linebrink, they added veterans Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, Salomon Torres and David Riske. Manager Ned Yost has a lot more solid late inning relievers to choose from this year and if Gagne pitches like he did with the Rangers last season, the bullpen should become a team strength."
"So far, the Cards are out in front by a half game. It looks like the Brewers kept pace through the first two weeks, despite having a tougher schedule than St. Louis. Would you say that the Brewers are the team to beat in the Central? Which other teams do you think can contend?"
"I think the Brewers are the team to beat in the Central. The Cubs will be close all year, but Milwaukee has a better offense and more starting pitching depth, which gives them the edge in my mind. The Reds are intriguing due to the mix of talented youth and good veterans they have, but I still don’t think they have enough this year. And I can’t see St. Louis hanging around all season. There are too many question marks in that rotation."
"When looking at the pitching match-ups, I notice that Milwaukee will have the back end of the rotation going in the series. What do you think of the match-ups, and what’s your prediction for the series?"
"The Brewers mash lefties and I see the Cardinals are throwing three right-handed starters against them so that bodes well for the Cards. The lone lefty in the Milwaukee line-up, Prince Fielder, has not hit at all yet for the Brewers and you’d expect him to turn it on soon. A match against the Cardinals, who threw at hit him high and intentionally hit him late last season, might be enough to get him going. Prince’s temper is well-reported and he has crushed some balls in “payback” for similar situations in the past. I expect a 2008 coming out party for Prince in this series.In the Tuesday game, Dave Bush will throw for Milwaukee. He has struggled badly so far this season and may be pitching for his job since Yovani Gallardo is ready to return to the rotation. And the Brewers hit the Cardinals’ Tuesday starter, Braden Looper, pretty hard last season. It may be a high-scoring game and I like the Brewers offense more, so I’ll pick Milwaukee.On Wednesday, it’ll be too young pitchers with Adam Wainwright taking the hill for the Cardinals against Carlos Villanueva and the Brewers. Villanueva has been solid, but I’ll give the edge to Wainwright in that match-up.Thursday’s starters are Kyle Lohse and the Brewers’ young lefty Manny Parra. I like Parra and the Crew in this one in a close low-scoring game.So, I give the series to the Brewers 2-1, which would be three road series wins in a row to start the season for Milwaukee."
"How’s our old pal Jeff Suppan?"
"Suppan has been Suppan. You can pretty much mark him down for an ERA in the mid-4s and a slightly better than .500 record. He eats innings and keeps you in games, a valuable guy to have, but not a top-of-the-rotation starter. We hear he’s great in the post-season too…"
"It looks like Ned Yost has taken a page out of Tony La Russa’s book, batting the pitcher 8th, and with a lot of early success. What’s your take on the unorthodox lineup?"
"I was not thrilled with batting Jason Kendall ninth at first, but I warmed up to as I looked into the stats more this offseason. It’s unconventional, but it does make sense on a lot of levels, especially with a hitter like Kendall, who hits into a lot of double plays because he hits a lot of groundballs. It’s hard to argue with the results so far as Kendall has been one of the Brewers’ top offensive producers hitting in that nine spot. In the end, it will probably have very little effect on the season, but it’s something to talk about…"
"I’ve never been to Miller Park, but it looks like a great place to see a game. Ever been to Busch Stadium?"
"Miller Park is a great place to watch a game. It gets some flack for the roof (it’s sure nice to have that retractable roof in April though) and for the All-Star game fiasco a few years ago, but it really is a great field. I’ve talked to a lot of opposing team’s fans (including bunches of Cardinals fans who make the trek up) and almost everyone talks about how nice Miller is. It probably won’t make the top of many baseball park lists, but I think it’s a gem.No, I haven’t been to new Busch or old. Busch is on my short list of ballparks I’d like to get to though. It looks spectacular and I love watching games with Cardinals fans. I’ve had great experiences with St. Louis fans, even as you guys filled up my ballpark in the days when the Brewers didn’t draw too well here… Very knowledgeable and polite. Pretty much the exact opposite of the average Cubs fan we run into…"
"Miller Lite or Bud Light?"
"Miller Lite. I don’t drink imports…"
Except for that last one, Jared had some great answers. It’s nice to get a different take, and just chat baseball in general. We’re both super-fans of our respective teams, and of course, we’re both pretty confident that our club will come away from thi
s one with a series win. Maybe next time around we’ll have to make a little wager.
Just a reminder, today is Jackie Robinson day. Many players and coaches across baseball are wearing number 42, in honor of Robinson. The Brewers have selected just one player to wear the number, Fielder. The entire Cardinal team will don number 42.
We’re about an hour and a half from game time. Time for a Bud Light. Thanks again to Jared from Right Field Bleachers. I’ll save a beer for you!