18 Game run has already tipped balance in National League Central
As the Milwaukee Brewers boarded a plane in San Francisco on the evening of July 24th, they were hanging their heads a bit after dropping a tough 2 – 1 decision to the Giants. The 11-day, 10-game post All-Star trip was not a total loss but after being shut out four times and scoring only seven runs in the series with San Francisco the team had to be a little disappointed.
The Crew took a much needed day off that Monday before they began a nice long home stand; and started a stretch of games that would see the team play 18 consecutive games against NL Central division opponents. St. Louis was in first; a percentage point ahead of the Brewers with the Pirates just a game back and Cincinnati only four games back.
The Brewers would first welcome the Chicago Cubs to town for a three game series. The cliché “you can throw the records out” when these two teams meet applies well. Despite struggling for the season, the Cubs presented quite a challenge as Ryan Dempster took the mound in game one. In 45 appearances lifetime against Milwaukee, Dempster was 15-3 with a 2.50 ERA.
Game 2 would see the Cubs trot out Carlos Zambrano; owner of a 7 – 0 record in his last eight Miller Park starts. Six of those wins were against the Brewers and the other was a no-hitter against the Astros in a relocated game in 2008. The five-year anniversary of their last win at home against Zambrano (8/9/2006) was on the horizon. The Cubs had just taken all three from Houston.
In a hard fought series, the Brewers exercised lots of Cubby demons and sent the Chicago faithful back south licking their wounds after a three game sweep that featured all three games being finished by the powerful duo of Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.
Houston was up next and while they are the worst team in the National League, the Brewers had to be careful not to look past the Astros who during the series traded away Michael Bourne and Hunter Pence. Coming up after this weekend series, a three game set with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Brewers avoided the trap and after two easy victories finished the sweep with a big Prince Fielder RBI single in the bottom of the eighth before Axford notched his fourth save during the six-game win streak setting up a battle for first place with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals meanwhile split a series with Houston and took two of three from the Cubs and found themselves 2 ½ back heading into the highly anticipated matchup.
In one of the most talked about series in baseball the Brewers took two of three and sent Tony LaRussa and his bunch on their way with a 10 – 5 blasting in the finale. The two games before featured some fantastic NFC North styled baseball.
In game one, the Brewers exploded for five runs off St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter in the fifth inning capped by Nyjer Morgan’s bases-clearing double. Shawn Marcum and the bullpen kept things in check and a sweet 5 – 2 victory was in hand. Later that night accusations of gamesmanship and sign stealing elevated the simmering tension between the two teams.
Game 2 featured the most talked about story in baseball during the series when the Brewers hit Albert Pujols unintentionally. In the bottom of the inning, LaRussa brought in the hardest throwing reliever and had him throw at Ryan Braun. He missed!
The next pitch drilled Braun in the back and set off a typical Tony LaRussa circus. Lost in the drama was a wild 11-inning game between two very good baseball teams loaded with hitters and pitchers. If not for a ridiculous catch by Rafael Furcal on a Felipe Lopez fly ball, the Brewers might have swept the Cards.
Casey McGhehee hit three home runs in game 3 and the Brewers appeared to have responded well to their opponent’s tactics.
The Cardinals responded nicely as well by sweeping a four game series from Florida. The Brewers beat up on the Houston Astros 22 – 9 in taking care of their own business and the teams arrived in St. Louis for an off day on Monday with the Brewers up by three games.
Did you forget about the other two clubs in the Central? You might as well. During the Brewers run the Pirates dropped 10 in a row and Cincinnati treaded water to each fall 10 games behind.
Monday night’s victory for the Brewers in extra innings was huge given their history in St. Louis and their dismal record on the road this year, although they are 9 – 4 in their last thirteen. A heartbreaking loss would have really put the pressure on the Brewers. Instead Casey McGehee remained clutch and Brewer bullpen did their thing to give the Brewers a 12 – 1 record in the first thirteen games of the eighteen game run.
The team has shown poise, determination and a very Central focus on their way to a four game lead in the division and send their most consistent starter this season Randy Wolf; who beat the Cardinals at home last week to the mound in Wednesday’s Game 2.
They will wrap up their trip and this NL Central journey with three at PNC Park this weekend against the reeling Pirates. The Brewers have ruined success in the Steel City before but there seems to be a different mindset for this team, a very focused one.