Sweeps, cycles, and saves. And cowboys.
The Brewers have a lot of things working for them right now, even after a disappointing three-game sweep by St. Louis on the last homestand.
We’ll start with the sweep. The Brewers rebounded from their series loss to St. Louis in a big way, sweeping the Astros and gaining a game to push their lead to 9.5 games over the second-place Cards. Great pitching was the name of the game; the Brewers didn’t allow the Astros to score more than two runs in any game of the series at the historically difficult Minute Maid Park. On Friday the Brewers did all of their scoring late as the Astros bullpen melted down. For the game, Braun and Fielder combined to go six for nine with four RBI, enhancing their collective case for an NL MVP award. Chris Narveson rolled past the Astros on Saturday, holding the Texas team to two runs, and Shaun Marcum tossed an absolute gem on Sunday, striking out eight over seven innings of one-hit ball. But it was a Brewers position player that made the series highlight reels.
The Brewers’ backup catcher, George Kottaras, became the first major league player to hit for the cycle this year, accomplishing the feat on Saturday night during an 8-2 Brewers victory. Kottaras is the latest of unlikely Milwaukee players to hit for the cycle. Jody Gerut, a backup OF, did it last season; the Brewers cut him later in the year. Before him, catcher Chad Moeller did it on April 27, 2004, as the Brewers topped the Reds, 9-8. Mike Hegan did it in the ’70s, and Charlie Moore was the only Brewer to hit for the cycle during the ’80s; Hegan was a .242 career hitter, Moore, .261. In fact, the only cycle-hitters in franchise history that one would expect are Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.
Last on the list: saves. Is it too much to think that John Axford might be in the discussion for NL MVP, too? Axford saved his 41st game of the season today, tossing a scoreless ninth inning to preserve the 4-1 victory for starter Randy Wolf, who lasted eight innings against the difficult St. Louis Cardinals. The victory pushed the Cardinals to 10.5 games back, all but eliminating the Cardinals from the postseason. Axford hadn’t earned a save since finishing all three games against the Cubs between August 26-28, but he picked up right where he left off and now sports a nifty 2.23 ERA along with 75 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched.
Oh, and the team dressed like cowboys out in Houston just to liven things up a bit.
All these things – competitive starting pitching, historic hitting, a lockdown bullpen, and a loose and fun-loving ballclub – will be needed during the next six games. The remainder of the Cardinals series lies ahead, including a matchup of former Cy Young winners in Zack Greinke and Chris Carpenter on Wednesday. After that, the Brewers head off to Philadelphia in what could be a preview of the National League Championship Series. Game one will feature Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum in what is must-see television. And all eyes shift toward the postseason.
Magic Number Watch: 11