I have to admit, after sizing up all the difficult scenarios for our Milwaukee nine to make the playoffs, I started to feel the excitement yesterday. The Brewers faced off against their division foe in St. Louis, seeking a sweep to bring them within 4 games of the Redbirds. After the Cardinals put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first, the Brewers scratched together a run in the top of the second. St. Louis answered against Shaun Marcum once more in their half of the second, taking a strong 4-1 lead. The Brewers’ bullpen held the Cardinals scoreless after Marcum completed five frames, and Jean Segura, Corey Hart, and Jonathan Lucroy collected a series of singles to bring the Brewers within two. Despite Norichika Aoki‘s clutch home run to tie the game in the ninth, the Brewers’ magic stopped there; the Cardinals escaped with a one-run victory in their half of the tenth.
As though the Brewers’ wild card fate wasn’t tough enough — Milwaukee fell to six games out of the National League’s final playoff spot, two key members of the Brewers offensive attack suffered injuries on Sunday afternoon. Ryan Braun reportedly had a sore wrist for sometime, according to Adam McCalvy, but the Brewers’ left-fielder further aggravated that wrist and exited Sunday’s game in the sixth inning. Corey Hart hurt his left ankle yesterday, with the Brewers Radio Network calling the injury a minor sprain. Hart told McCalvy:
“I didn’t turn it; my foot just felt like something inside had a real bad burning [...] I saw a doctor and of course they don’t know anything yet. I’ll see our guys when we get to [Miller Park] tomorrow. Hopefully I get there tomorrow and feel better.”
The Brewers will learn more about these injuries as the day unfolds, but unfortunately the injuries occurred on the cusp of a big week at Miller Park. The Brewers face the NL’s top Wild Card club, the Atlanta Braves, a team that leads Milwaukee by 11 in the loss column. The Braves’ projected starters are Mike Minor, the ageless Tim Hudson, and Paul Maholm; the Brewers answer with Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada, and Yovani Gallardo.
The Braves series finds the Brewers in an even tougher spot than the St. Louis series. Although the Cardinals series primed the Brewers for rough-and-tumble close ballgames, allowing the Brewers to string together key hits and never-say-die, Brewers victories against Atlanta have little influence over their Wild Card fate. The best outcome a Brewers sweep could accomplish is (a) bringing the top four NL Wild Card clubs closer together, and (b) gaining as many games as possible (with help) against Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Here we find the Brewers encountering the true difficulty of sitting just out of the Wild Card race — while the Brewers can help their record with wins, their spot in the race now depends on the performance of the other clubs.
Wild Card Week At A Glance
While the Brewers collect a swingman, prospect, and their franchise righty against the Braves, the Pittsburgh Pirates face off against NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds, while St. Louis travels to San Diego to face the Padres. The Cardinals’ probables are Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse (so far), while the Pirates’ probables are Wandy Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, and Kevin Correia. Needless to say, the Pirates’ series against the Reds could be a big statement series for the club, a great opportunity to stay afloat in the playoff race while beating the division leader. Meanwhile, Los Angeles send tender ace Clayton Kershaw and veteran Aaron Harang to the mound against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a two-game warm-up prior to their four game series against the Cardinals.
Monday to Sunday Best-Case-Scenario: If the Brewers go 6-0 versus the Braves and Mets; while the Braves go 0-6 versus the Brewers and Nationals; the Padres and Reds sweep the Cardinals and Pirates (respectively); the Cubs sweep the Pirates; and the Dodgers and Cardinals split. After such a scenario, the 75-71 Brewers would trail the 81-66 Braves, as well as the 77-71 Cardinals and 76-71 Dodgers. As you can see, even with the best case scenario, the Brewers would stand outside the Wild Card race, with only one series remaining against a contender (Pittsburgh). The trouble with the Cardinals series is that even a 2-1 showing wasn’t strong enough for the Brewers’ wild card push, as the Brewers needed to capitalize on one of their last opportunities to directly influence their race. Now it’s all up to the other clubs to falter while the Brewers put together a historic winning streak.
Go Timber Rattlers!
Yesterday, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers defeated the Clinton LumberKings, advancing to the Midwest League Championship Series. The Brewers’ Class A affiliate swept the LumberKings thanks to a strong 8 IP performance by swingman Mark Williams. Williams surrendered two runs to Clinton in their half of the first, and then limited the LumberKings to goose eggs the rest of the way. Santo Manzanillo saved the Timer Rattlers’ 4-2 victory, thanks to just-enough offense spurred by Nick Ramirez‘s two-run home run to match Clinton’s attack in the first inning.
The Brewers signed Williams in August of 2011 after the righty pitched in the independent Frontier League. Williams worked as a starter and reliever for the Rattlers in 2012, posting a league average 3.88 ERA (the Rattlers’ team ERA was 3.83 in 2012) while starting 14 games and finishing 11. Manzanillo is working in his third season since missing 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. The Brewers drafted Ramirez in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, and the first baseman flashes strong power from the left side of the plate. Perhaps this trio of players represents prospects from the fringes of the Brewers’ system, but they combined their strengths yesterday to propel the Rattlers to their league championship.
Rattlers: Ann Mollica/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Braun (AP): http://gazettextra.com/photos/2012/sep/08/53648/