Milwaukee is coming off a tough loss to the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in which their pitchers looked shaky and surrendered 18 runs. It is actually worse than it sounds because Zack Greinke pitched a gem on Saturday as the Brewers defeated the Cardinals 6-0.
This series is crucial for Milwaukee and Chicago as both teams are already one and a half games back of St. Louis. There is no doubt there will be plenty of excitement and commotion throughout the week as these bitter rivals have at it. The fans will be amped up and the bats will be swinging just like it is every time these two teams clash.
The following are the top three things the Brewers must do in order to defeat the Cubs:
1. Consistency on offense
The Brewers scored five runs in the first game against the Cardinals and six in the second. They then dropped off and only scored three runs on Sunday. If it was not for Corey Hart smashing three homers over the weekend, Milwaukee would have scored four less runs which would have made the offense look even less potent.
There were far too many men left on base as the Brewers did not execute well at all with players in scoring position. Obviously, there is a bit of a learning curve due to it being the first series of the season. However, it was a crucial series against a division rival, the same team that defeated them in the NLCS last season, which means there was a lost chance at doing some damage early on in the NL Central.
Milwaukee had a .255 team batting average against the Cardinals, not counting the starting pitcher’s at-bats. Nyjer Morgan went 0-for-8 while Aramis Ramirez, the big acquisition brought in to replace Prince Fielder’s offensive production, went 1-for-11 for a dismal .091 batting average. Newly acquired shortstop Alex Gonzalez batted .100 while first baseman Mat Gamel collected two hits in 10 at-bats.
If the Brewers want any chance of defeating the Cubs this week these must be more consistent on offense.
2. Get to them early
If the Brewers can jump out to an early lead against the Cubs, something they proved they are capable of doing against the Cardinals, then Chicago may just cave.
It is crucial Milwaukee get on base early so Ryan Braun and Ramirez can take some lethal hacks. Not to mention, both players are going to have a difficult time with the Chicago fans, especially Braun who will be booed to no extent. Ramirez had a great career for the Cubs in nine seasons but it is still up in the air how they will react once he steps into the batter’s box wearing a Brewers uniform. Ramirez acknowledged the fans can be brutal towards opponents and is a little concerned for Braun.
“I think it’s going to be ugly for Braun everywhere we go,” Ramirez said, according to Brewers.com “On the road, it’s going to be tough for him. He knows it. That’s no secret. Plus, he got a taste of it in Spring Training. Everywhere we go, he was getting booed.”
Milwaukee must also get men on base in front of Hart who is currently swinging one of the hottest bats in the majors. Two of Hart’s three home runs over the weekend were solo shots which is disappointing because who knows what the outcome of those games could have been if there were guys on base in front of him.
3. Pitchers Must Be Better
Simply put, the pitching must be better if the Brewers want to record their first series win of the season.
Ace Yovani Gallardo had a horrific opening day start in which he surrendered six earned runs in only 3.2 innings. He will have to find his command before the next time he takes the mound otherwise Milwaukee will be in trouble. Starter Randy Wolf pitched good enough to win if the offense supported him, but even so three earned runs are not ideal.
Milwaukee’s relief pitchers combined for a staggering 10.84 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched. Setup man Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Veras were the only two relievers to not give up a run, although they did each surrender one hit.
Closer John Axford entered Sunday’s game in a non-close situation with zero pressure and still managed to allow two men to reach base. He was pulled from the game for Kameron Loe as his pitch count grew. Unfortunately, Loe gave up a three-run homer to the next batter.
The Brewers need to fix their pitching and fast. There is no room for errors when the expectations are so high. Milwaukee has a team built to go the distance but they will only go as far as their pitching will take them.