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Brewers vs. Blue Jays: Consider The Following

Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie throws his helmet at umpire Bill Miller, before he returns to the dugout to have his panties unbunched.
If you had told me this time last week that the Brewers would go 2–4 on their roadtrip through the two cities whose teams sit at the bottom of the AL Central, I probably would have believed you. None of this team’s hardships surprise me much anymore, so at this point Ryan Braun could sprout a third arm or Tim Dillard develops a grotesquely swollen jaw from some nerve tonic and I’d shrug it off (just imagine all the Braun PED conspiracy theories and hate if that actually happened).

With that, welcome to Miller Park, Blue Jays. Toronto just swept the Phillies and now sit a game above .500, good for fourth and 6.5 back in the AL East bloodbath. It’s the team’s second visit to the park: the Brewers swept them at The Keg in 2008. Surprisingly, this is only the third time these two teams have faced since Milwaukee moved to the National League in 1998. The Brewers took 2 out of 3 in 2005 at what was then the Skydome, and hadn’t played each other since 1997 before that. Despite this, the two teams have made some notable trades over the years, which I will touch on after the jump.

In watching the series, please consider the following:

Toronto got a dose of Milwaukee-caliber injury luck last week. On Monday, Jays starter Brandon Morrow left the game after just six pitches, and has been placed on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique. On Wednesday, starter Kyle Drabek exited after 4.1 innings, and has been DL’d with a sprained elbow. On Friday, starter Drew Hutchinson was done after 12 pitches, and was also DL’d with a sprained elbow. Talk about a bad break. I mean, how many teams lose 3/5 of their rotation in a week? Not even the Brewers, that’s who. As such, the starters for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games are TBA (Henderson Alvarez starts tonight). The Jays only used two of the open roster spots on pitchers, and called up lefty Brett Cecil and righty Robert Coello. Cecil beat the Phillies yesterday, and the Jays’ only other healthy starter, Ricky Romero, pitched Saturday. So unless Romero gets bumped, I’d guess we’ll see Coello start one of the games and I would not be surprised at all to see our old friend Carlos Villanueva start the other. In his first year with Toronto last year he started 13 games while otherwise being a fine swingman in the ‘pen. I suspect he will be called on again as a spot-starter in his old park. Prepare for a Twitter-storm if he pitches well.

Bullpen reinforcements may be necessary. The Royals series was a gut-punch to a much-maligned ‘pen. Axford’s control problems are worrisome, but he is well-aware of them and working to correct them and his perfect ninth on Saturday was nice to see. The rest of the team’s relievers recovered nicely this weekend and threw six scoreless innings yesterday, but Sunday’s 15 inning marathon will mean that Brewer starters must continue to pitch deep into games as they have been (every starter since June 8th has gone 6+ innings, and in six of those eight games have gone 7+) and the offense must score more late-inning runs (they were shut out after the fifth yesterday) to get this team to Thursday’s off day. Toronto’s powerful lineup won’t make it easy on them, and with Jose Veras likely out a day or two with upper leg pain. Mike McClendon is usually the first guy up from Nashville if they need someone, but if it wouldn’t necessitate a roster move I would like to see the Brewers give Jim Henderson a shot (2.10 ERA, 35/16 K/BB, unfortunately not on the 40-man roster).

Brett Lawrie says Brewers series is “just another game to me”. Typical. Doug Melvin has made four trades with his homeland’s team over the years, involving notable Brewers like Dave Bush, Lyle Overbay, Gabe Gross, Corey Koskie, and Villanueva. The most prominent deal was obviously the Brett Lawrie-Shaun Marcum deal of December 2010, though. I’ll start by saying this about Lawrie: he’s a fine hitter and should be a solid run-producer for years to come. That being said, his character has often preceded him and I’m glad not to have a player of his disposition in Milwaukee. I was in favor of the trade at the time and still am: Milwaukee needed pitching, and without Marcum I don’t think the 2011 Brewers were a playoff team. While there’s no denying Lawrie’s bat would play well at third base and behind Braun in the Brewers’ lineup (note: Toronto converted him to third, in Milwaukee’s system he was drafted as a catcher and converted to second, where he made 25 errors in AA), I must remind you why Milwaukee sought fit to deal him. Despite the fact that he was essentially position-less, Milwaukee thought so highly of him that they selected him for the prestigious, prospect-rich Arizona Fall League after 2010. Lawrie mind-bogglingly refused, believing he deserved a September call-up. That was the nail in the coffin for a player whose attitude had already been questioned coming up through the organization and honestly, a player who would willingly pass up an opportunity to play in the AFL, an accolade that is on the resumes of countless big league All-Stars, deserves every bit of scrutiny. Finally, after a borderline third strike call last month, Lawrie had a tantrum where he threw his helmet at the ground, in the direction of the ump, which took an “unlucky bounce” and hit him. This conniption resulted in a four game suspension, and Lawrie wisely withdrew his appeal. Think about how much Cardinal fans hate Nyjer Morgan: what if this episode happened with Lawrie in a Brewer uniform? Be glad us fans aren’t forced to root for this clown.

Let’s all take solace in the fact that this is the third image that comes up when one searches for Brett Lawrie on Google Images, right after two images of the helmet-throwing incident. I wonder if our friends at Miller Park Drunk are to thank for this…