Brewers About to be Tested

MILWAUKEE BREWERS EMBARK ON AN EXTREMELY TOUGH INTERLEAGUE SLATE

We've been talking a lot about the American League in recent days. The Yankees and Red Sox are in a pennant race, and have been on TV a lot. We try to key a good percentage of articles to games you'll be watching on TV...so that's had us AL heavy when not talking about the recently completed NBA Playoffs.

Today, we want to move over the National League. There are two big reasons for that:

  • Milwaukee at the Chicago Cubs is the main national TV game today, featured this afternoon on WGN.
  • We've been talking about Milwaukee some in the AL articles!

The Brewers show up on the immediate schedule for Boston, as the Brew Crew heads to Fenway Park this weekend for a battle of bats that all baseball fans should be looking forward to. A bit down the road, it's a trip to Yankee Stadium to face the Bronx Bombers. We can imagine that's a very exciting challenge for the Brewers players. National League guys just don't get many visits to the storied AL sites. But, WHAT A CHALLENGE!

You don't want to go 1-5 because you're ogling the Green Monster or historical tributes behind a fence in the outfield. If you're way off the pace in your division, or way ahead of the field, you can relax a little and enjoy the moment. Milwaukee doesn't have that luxury. They're neck-and-neck with the St. Louis Cardinals right now in the NL Central. Every game matters. And, in a development that's going to infuriate purists, extreme differences in Interleague schedule strength could ultimately determine who wins that division.

Let's compare the two leaders...

MILWAUKEE INTERLEAGUE SLATE
Minnesota (6)---three at home, three on the road
At Boston (3)
Versus Tampa Bay (3)
At New York Yankees (3)

This may or may not be a good year to have Minnesota as your IL "rival." The Twins have a horrible full season record because of a very slow start. But, they are playing much better lately, and have been the class of the AL Central in recent years. Milwaukee may be running into the Twins at exactly the wrong time!

And, outside of the Twins, it's absolutely BRUTAL! Milwaukee has to play the three AL East superpowers of the past few seasons. Boston has been on fire lately. The Yanks and Rays are certainly in the mix to come back and win that division, or even go the distance. It should be illegal for any NL team to have to play all three in the same year. That by itself virtually guarantees that Milwaukee has the toughest Interleague schedule. If Minnesota stays hot, the Brewers will have faced the toughest IL schedule by a mile.

Here's what St. Louis is looking at...

ST. LOUIS INTERLEAGUE SLATE
Kansas City (6)---three at home, three on the road
Versus Toronto (3)
At Baltimore (3)
At Tampa Bay (3)

Three of the games with Kansas City are already in the books (Milwaukee starts IL play this weekend). Tampa Bay is an overlap with the Brewers. But, St. Louis gets the bottom two teams in the AL East rather than the top two to go along with the Rays. BIG DIFFERENCE. And, though your full season standings show Kansas City well ahead of Minnesota, the "recent form" standings show Minnesota well ahead of Kansas City (Twins by 3 games over the last 20 and 4 games over the last 30).

So, St. Louis will probably have the easier rivalry matchup again this year...and has it easier in the AL East. And, that means there's a pretty good chance that the winner of the NL Central will be determined by what happens in IL play these next few weeks. The Brewers can't afford to miss a step. If St. Louis slumps vs. this schedule, then they're not playoff material anyway.

Milwaukee has really impressed us in recent weeks because they've been able to find some pitching to go with their sluggers. This gives them a puncher's chance to succeed on those big AL East road trips. Here's the recent rotation:

MILWAUKEE'S STARTING PITCHERS
Shaun Marcum: 2.68 ERA in 14 starts
Randy Wolf: 3.20 ERA in 14 starts
Yovani Gallardo: 3.76 ERA in 15 starts
Chris Narveson: 4.32 ERA in 13 starts
Zack Greinke: 4.69 ERA in 8 starts

Marcum came over from Toronto in the American League, and has been dominant his first time through. That may not hold up as the NL gets used to him. But, we've seen several AL starters come over to what has been the lesser league and play like All-Stars. This was a great acquisition for the Brewers.

Greinke was expected to do the same thing after leaving Kansas City. An offseason injury slowed down his preparation. And, he's the type to be nervous at first before settling down. If Greinke comes anywhere near his peak form for the Royals, then the Brewers are World Series threats. Even if his adjustment takes longer than expected, you can't go wrong if somebody like Greinke is your #5 starter!

We've talked in recent articles about the importance of having strikeout pitchers on your staff because they can control their own destinies much better than "pitch to contact" guys. Let's look at the K-Rates (strikeouts per 9 innings) for the fivesome listed above.

K-RATES
Greinke 11.3
Marcum: 8.2
Gallardo: 8.1
Narveson: 8.0
Wolf: 6.9

That's a power staff. Wolf isn't quite up to the pace of the others, but something near 7.0 isn't the end of the world either. Greinke's K-Rate suggests very strongly he'll be improving his ERA soon. The other guys are a handful to deal with.

We also want to note for you that Milwaukee's ballpark has poor visibility in night games. You may have noticed that yourself watching games on TV. Everything seems dimmer in night games at that park than in other places. This plays right into the hands of a strikeout staff (about time the Brewers acquired talent to play to this strength!). Milwaukee is 25-9 at home this year, but was a disappointing 13-21 on the road heading into Wednesday Night's game in Chicago (played after publication deadlines).

Oh, can't leave out the ace reliever. He's a flamethrower too.

CLOSER
John Axford: 2.97 ERA, 18 saves, 11.9 strikeouts per 9 innings

Milwaukee's had bats that scare people for awhile. They now have a pitching rotation that matches up well with all but a couple of staffs...and one that could be VERY lethal in the postseason when only the best guys get the call.

These next few weeks will feel like the playoffs for Milwaukee because they'll be facing recent playoff perennials. You impress versus the likes of Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota, you've accomplished something. You don't...and you're not quite where you thought you were. Maybe the rest of June is where Milwaukee gets exposed. Or, maybe it's where they make an announcement about the new kid in town in the National League championship picture.

With Brewers/Cubs highlighting a busy afternoon slate, we'll have "split sessions" today with day and night selections that allow you to maximize your profits with sound money management. You can take those early winnings and re-invest them tonight with our top picks from Boston-Tampa Bay, San Francisco-Arizona, St. Louis-Washington, and NY Mets-Atlanta. You can purchase game-day selections a few hours before first pitch with your credit card seven days a week here at the website. We also have great rates for the rest of the baseball season. If you have any questions, or you want to talk about early bird football rates, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We'll focus on Interleague handicapping in our Friday report. IL play will dominate MLB for the next couple of weeks. We're really looking forward this weekend to series like Milwaukee-Boston, NY Yankees-Chicago Cubs, Texas-Atlanta, Toronto-Cincinnati, LA Angles-NY Mets, and San Francisco-Oakland. Recent MLB history has suggested that IL play may be the EASIEST time to beat the line in Vegas because oddsmakers do such a bad job of comparing league's strengths and weaknesses. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK is ready to take advantage. BE SURE YOU GET EVERY BIG JUICY WINNER!

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