The one thing that the Milwaukee Brewers (42-46) can count on from here on out are tough games. July poses no time for the Brewers to hit any more slumps or be on the losing end of sweeps. Tonight, the Brewers begin the last series in this current home stand against the St. Louis Cardinals (46-43). Friday will start our six game road trip and that begins in the Great American Ball Park against the first place Cincinnati Reds (50-38). After that, the Brewers find themselves against the Philadelphia Phillies (39-51), a team who is also struggling, but may be turning it around with guys coming back from injury. Near the end of this month, the Brewers will be at home to host one of baseball’s hottest and surprising teams in the Washington Nationals (51-35). To end out the month, the Brewers will play the Houston Astros (33-56) in Milwaukee. July is a month that will make or break the season because even with that extra wild card spot, if we can’t beat some of the tougher competition, how can we except to go farther than where we already are?
This series with the Cardinals is going to be another tough one, especially without the Brewers using Zack Greinke. Greinke will not be making his scheduled start for Wednesday so Tyler Thornburg will start in his place. The Brewers will see Cardinals’ All-Star Lance Lynn (11-4, 3.41 ERA) in Monday night’s match-up against Mike Fiers (3-3, 2.31 ERA). The Cardinals will more than likely be favored to win this series, especially with Lance Berkman back in the line-up, but we all know favorites in baseball are a bunch of bologna. For the Brewers, Jonathan Lucroy still is out, but according to his Twitter, he has said his return date is somewhere between July 20 and August 1. Injuries aside, the Brewers have to step it up in this series as not only do the Cardinals have a 4-2 lead in it, but have also beaten the Brewers soundly in those four wins.
From one NL Central team to another, the Brewers’ visit to Cincinnati this upcoming weekend will be no vacation. Much like the Cardinals’ series, the Reds also have a 4-2 lead over the Brewers in their series. Will Aroldis Champan do more somersaults? I hope not, but in order to prevent that, the Brewers must dominate. In that series, the Brewers are projected to use Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo and Fiers. Estrada and Fiers have really stood on their own this season and Gallardo is pitching more like the Brewers’ ace that he used to be, especially in his big win yesterday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds however are playing with a lot of momentum and that is hard to stop. They just completed a three game sweep of the Cardinals last night and now have first place in the NL Central.
The Phillies’ series may be the most intriguing one of all. Roy Halladay is scheduled to come back tomorrow for Philly, but in the same regard, how much will he add to a struggling pitching staff? Cliff Lee only has one win, Cole Hamels could be traded at any time, Kyle Kendrick has been awful as a starter, and Vance Worley has been roughed up a bit this year. This is where I give the Brewers the advantage. Not only have Estrada and Fiers proved their ground, but with Greinke and Gallardo becoming a solid one-two punch in the rotation, it can add up for a devastating blow. Randy Wolf on the other hand may be the kink in the rotation this year, but I believe he can turn it around in this second half. Offensively, the Phillies do have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back so perhaps they’ll provide more firepower.
The last series that’s worth mentioning is the one against the Nationals. This series will see us back in Miller Park, but against a tough Nationals team that can do no wrong. Stephen Strasburg is getting towards his innings limit for 2012, but he’s not the only Nationals’ pitcher that can scare line-ups. All-Star Gio Gonzalez also packs a punch along with Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler (who can not only start, but also pitch out of the bullpen). Pitching is the name of the game and it is certainly something that the Nationals’ have helped reassured their winning season. Even offensively, the team is not the greatest, but still pretty decent. Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche have been huge with the offense of the Nationals. Even Michael Morse looks to return to his 2011 form. The Nationals are a scary team, and a team the Brewers must overcome if they want to look at October on the field rather than on a TV.
July is a crucial month for the Brew Crew. It will show us a lot about how our Brewers can play under pressure. The bullpen will have to step it up tremendously and perhaps the second half will be much better for them, especially for John Axford. Whenever it is that Shaun Marcum comes back, that’ll add a mighty kick to the rotation and hopefully place Estrada in the bullpen to where he can help calm down the rest of the guys in there. Lucroy’s return will mean a lot as well. Provided he can pick up where he left off with the bat, the offensive, now with guys like Aramis Ramirez, Norichika Aoki, Corey Hart and even Martin Maldonado (with that four hit game) helping Ryan Braun out, the offense is back to normal. The biggest hurdle for the Brewers to get over is July 31. If Greinke is traded, then we must rebound. If he isn’t traded, then we continue on with our game plan. This is no time to fool around anymore, the Brewers are at the do or die point now so let’s see what they can do. Until next time, go Brew Crew!