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Brewers Look to Keep Good Times Rolling Against Cliff Lee

Milwaukee Brewers starter Matt Garza had a bizarre outing on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, giving up eight hits, four runs and walking two, but he hung in there after some miscues on his part (a poor throw to second base and a balk among them) and some at-times shoddy defense behind him to pitch six complete innings.  That’s what the Brewers need their starters to do, even when they don’t have their best stuff, control or composure: hang in there.  Thursday evening, right-hander Marco Estrada will look to keep the Brewers in the lead or within striking distance against gritty left-hander Cliff Lee. 

The offense has revved up in the last week, including a whopping 27 hits, 13 extra-base hits and 19 runs in the first two games against the Phillies.  If the Milwaukee starters can keep the team in the game, say, within three runs, the Brewers have a great chance to win every night as long as they keep swinging the bats this way.  It was disheartening to see the team flail in the opening series at Miller Park against the Atlanta Braves, during which the team scored only four runs. 

Thankfully the Brew Crew has shaken that off and has started clobbering opponent pitching.  They are batting .280 (.290 when pitchers are excluded) as a team, which is the third-best in the NL.  Granted, all things must pass and it’s not likely that so many of Milwaukee’s hitters will stay as hot as they are indefinitely, but the team is composed of many players capable of hitting for good averages for the long haul (Braun, Lucroy, Segura, even Gomez), and good averages combined with a lot of power make the Brewers a serious threat for teams to try to bottle up. 

It’s been great to see the Brewers rebound and win so decisively on the road.  Road winning streaks are huge for a team’s confidence and swagger.  The Brewers have been aggressive, attacking opponent starters early and ambushing them in the beginning frames.  The Phillies have been able to score some runs against Milwaukee starters, but not enough to scare the Brewers or get Phillies fans into the game for long stretches.  Instead Milwaukee hasn’t fallen behind for long, and has quieted the crowds on this road trip with a solid on-base percentage (.324) and clutch hitting.  When the opposing team is hitting your pitcher and constantly threatening to score, it’s a nervous way to go about a ball game.

The Phillies will counter Estrada with Cliff Lee, who survived a contest against the Texas Rangers in which he gave up eight runs, and then shut down the Chicago Cubs.  He has so far posted a 6.00 ERA with a 1.83 WHIP, striking out only seven.  Many Brewers hitters who have seen Cliff Lee a fair amount have hit him well.  Ryan Braun has 23 at-bats against Lee and produced 10 hits, including three homers and a .435 average.  Carlos Gomez has 31 at-bats, with 10 hits and two homers against Lee, while Aramis Ramirez has 20 at-bats against Lee with only five hits but three home runs. 

Others haven’t fared as well, including Jonathan Lucroy, who is hitting .154 against Lee in 13 at-bats, Mark Reynolds at .111 in nine at-bats and Rickie Weeks at .200 in 15 at-bats.  Braun, Gomez, Lucroy, Ramirez, Weeks and Lyle Overbay are the current Brewers hitters with more than 10 at-bats against Lee in their careers.

It will be interesting to see which players Brewers manager Ron Roenicke plugs in today against Lee.  Will it be right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds, who has produced well for the Crew, getting another start at first base against the lefty Lee?  Will right-handed-hitting Rickie Weeks make his third start of 2014?  Roenicke has shown already that he may go with the hottest hitter instead of playing the traditional matchups.  Left-handed-hitting Scooter Gennett hasn’t exactly been scorching the baseball but his .286 batting average looks like Ted Williams’ compared to Weeks at .091, although Weeks has received 10 fewer at-bats so far in 2014.  

Cheers to the Brewers for their five-game winning streak.  It’s early, but this has been a nice treat compared to what many expected with this road trip.  Here’s hoping they can repeat the formula and get to Lee tonight, then come back home and keep the streak going against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Go Brewers!