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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What a Difference a Week Can Make

I've been busy the last few days and haven't had time to post. I'm glad to be back at it today, but with everything that's gone on over the past week that also means that this will be a long one. Bear with me, though; there's a lot of good stuff in here that will make you feel great about the Brewers.

Last Tuesday Brewer fans found themselves lamenting an 0-4 start with their team facing the tough Atlanta Braves for three more games. Yovani Gallardo took the ball that day, put the team on his shoulders, and delivered a two-hit complete game shutout in which he also scored the Brewers' only run. That game started a stretch by the Brewers that left them 5-2 on the home stand and 5-5 overall, moving them back to .500 quicker than even the most optimistic Brewer fans likely hoped.

In addition to Gallardo's gem, several more highlights stand out over the past week. Chris Narveson made another excellent start on Saturday, pitching seven scoreless innings vs the Cubs, grabbing the win and making the case that he's better than a #5 starter.  He extended his consecutive scoreless innings pitched streak to 15.2 innings (going back to 2010), and holds the sixth spot in Brewers history for most consecutive innings pitched to start a season (13). Shaun Marcum's pitch command looked better on Thursday, issuing two walks in his win vs the Braves. The bullpen remained mostly strong, and John Axford notched saves in his next three attempts after that unfortunate Opening Day loss.

Tony Plush Makes the Catch
Ryan Braun continued a great start at the plate, reaching base safely in all ten games so far (.353/.476/.735, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 8 BB). Nyjer Morgan began his time with the Brewers with a bang, making a difference on the bases, in the outfield, and at the plate (.474/.524/.737, 1 2B, 2 3B, 2 BB, 1 RBI, 1 SB). His personality quirks inspired a fan to create an excellent twitter handle based on Morgan's alter-ego, Tony Plush (@Tony_Plush -- follow him). Yuniesky Betancourt also had a good week, overcoming his rough start and making positive contributions at the plate and in the field.

Casey McGehee has mostly underperformed to start the season, but he more than made up for that in the eighth inning of Sunday's game vs the Cubs. He entered as a pinch hitter and socked an opposite field, game-winning two-run home run off of Kerry Wood. That win was especially sweet not only because it capped a great home stand and delivered a series win against the Cubs, but also because the Brewers won despite the fact that Yovani Gallardo truly struggled on the mound.

On top of everything, Prince Fielder worked to shoot down lingering claims that he's somehow "unclutch" (despite posting a career .417 OBP with RISP) while also moving away from a history of slow starts. In seven games last week Fielder batted .440 (11-for-25) with two home runs, four doubles, 11 RBI, and 21 total bases. He slugged .840 with a .500 OBP and in the process earned NL Player of the Week honors. If he can keep producing anywhere near these levels he'll make true my prediction of a big year.

The Brewers and their fans surely felt great about that home stand, especially having ended it with a dramatic late-inning win vs the rival Cubs. More good news came on Monday as the Brewers announced that Jonathan Lucroy would join the team for the start of the Pirates series. The Brewers designated Jeremy Reed for assignment and will keep three catchers on the roster until Corey Hart returns, with George Kottaras serving as a late-inning power lefty. Speaking of Corey Hart, more good news came on Monday with the Brewers saying he'll likely start a rehab assignment sometime next week. Zack Greinke felt so good in a bullpen session that the team now thinks he may even start for the Brewers by the end of April. These developments reminded us that the Brewers managed a 5-5 record after an 0-4 start while missing a third of their expected Opening Day lineup. Not too shabby.

The team headed to Pittsburgh and enjoyed a day off Monday, followed by a second on Tuesday due to rain. The forecast looks better today as Shaun Marcum prepares to square off against Kevin Correia. The Brewers play two games in Pittsburgh, followed by three in Washington and three more in Philadelphia before returning home for three games each against the Astros and Reds. If they keep playing close the capabilities they showed last week we can be sure the series coming up against the Reds will be much more competitive than the first.

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