Current Record- 78-72
3rd Place, 5GB- NL Central
1.5GB- 2nd NL Wild Card
Single- The Brewers appear to have put their almost historically terrible 2-17 game stretch behind them, as they were able to split a four game series against the Marlins and win two of three this weekend against the Reds. One of the most noticable differences between this week’s games and those in early September and late August has been at first base. It appears that the days of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds splitting time at first are over, as they only made two of the seven starts this week. The other five were split between Jonathan Lucroy and September call up Matt Clark, who has been impressive enough in his first month in the majors to earn himself a spot in the line up. Clark hit two key home runs this week and is slugging an impressive .750. Should he be able to hold his average at a solid .250, he would be a substantial improvement over Mark Reynolds, who has been a black hole for the Brewers lineup this year at a dismal .196 average. This is Clark’s first stint in the big leagues, and you wonder how long his impressive streak will last at the major league level, but with the Brewers fighting for their playoff lives they seem content on seeing what Clark can do and handing the 27-year old some starts.
Double- I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss Tuesday nights loss to the Marlins, given that it was the last regular season game I will be able to attend in person this year, and it ended in painstakingly bad fashion. As had been the case during the entire losing skid, the Brewers blew chances offensively and were unable to rely on their pitching when they needed it most. In the bottom of the eight inning, the Crew had the bases loaded in a tie ball game with nobody out, and stranded all three runners after two weak ground balls and a pop fly. The stadium went so quiet that you could hear Bob Uecker’s voice from the radio broadcast in the concessions area of the stadium. Still tied, the Brewers lost any hope of winning the game in the top of the ninth, when Francisco Rodriguez gave up back to back home runs to put the game out of reach for the Brewers. It was a shame on many levels, because the Brewers played well enough all game to warrant a slump busting victory, and instead left with one of the toughest losses of the year. On a personal level, it takes a lot to get me to leave a baseball game early, but the two home runs were just too tough to swallow for me and I headed home. I also let a screaming line drive foul ball go right through my hands in the first inning, so i was exceptionally bitter on the ride home. All in all, it was a tough way to say goodbye to Miller Park for the year, which has me hoping even more for a playoff run so I’m not left with a sour taste in my mouth this offseason.
Triple- Over the past month and a half, there has been no player more valuable to the Brewers than Mike Fiers, who posted a 1.84 ERA in 11 starts since earning a spot in the Brewers rotation in July. Fiers was the only starting pitcher without a major hiccup during the Brewers losing stretch, and has been dominating major league hitters with his solid command and deceptive delivery. Speaking to the FSN broadcast crew before his start on Thursday, Fiers cited his confidence as the reason he has been able to remain so successful over such a long stretch of games, which is almost ironic given that he will now need to rely on that same confidence to overcome what could be a defining moment in his career. In the top of the fifth inning on Thursday, Fiers let a 92 MPH fastball get away from him, hitting MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton square in the face. It was a tough sequence to watch, as a bleeding Stanton had to be carted off the field and immediately sent to the hospital, where he would be diagnosed with season ending facial injuries. Fiers was visibly shaken by the incident, holding back tears in his post game press conference and taking to twitter to apologize to the Marlin’s All Star. The question now is how Mike Fiers will respond in his next start. Many pitchers are never the same after hitting players in the face. They become timid and lack the confidence to work their pitchers inside, resulting in more walks and pitches left right over the plate. What is unfortunate for the Brewers is that they absolutely need Fiers to be the pitcher he has been over the past eight weeks over his final three starts. Should the events last Thursday set him back, it could have playoff implications. All in all, you feel for Mike Fiers, who has been forced to overcome more adversity overt the past 12 months of his career than many players face in a life time. It will be very interesting to see how he responds this week vs the Cardinals in a critical start Wednesday night; you should be able to tell by the end of the first inning.
NOTE: If you want an excellent read on the effect these incidents have on pitchers, I highly recommend this article: http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/cj-nitkowski-recovery-process-for-pitchers-after-hitting-a-batter-in-face-091214
Home Run- It was my hope over the summer that the September Sunday Cycles would always feature the beloved “Magic Number” in the Home Run section, marking the number of Brewers wins + opponent losses necessary to clinch a playoff birth for the Crew. Unfortunately, the Brewers sit 1.5 games behind the Pirates for the final wild card spot in the National League, so the magic number is not entirely in their control. The good news is that the Crew will be able to help their cause directly as they travel to Pittsburgh for the biggest series of the year next weekend. The Brewers have had some well documented success against the Pirates over the past five seasons, boasting a 54-29 record since 2010, their best winning percentage against any NL team. The successful trend has held true this season, as the Crew has gone 11-5 against the Pirates this year, including a 5-2 record at PNC Park. To get a sense for just how important those three games agains Pittsburgh will be, consider the fact that only six games will remain for the Brewers in the 2014 regular season after the conclusion of next Sunday’s game. By that point, we should have a decent idea of the playoff picture before the final week of ball games. It has been an unbelievably exciting ride that has had some monumental highs and gut wrenching lows, but the fact remains that this team has a shot at the playoffs after many wrote them off before the season even began. I’ll throw out a prediction for the heck of it- the Brewers magic number with 12 games to play is 9; 87-75 should be good enough for a wild card spot.