As a rabid fan of both teams, I've been anticipating this series since I saw the 2007 schedule and learned that the two teams would NOT be facing each other in Interleague play until 2010. And today it's here! Woo!
In the interest of helping my fellow Angel fans truly appreciate the series, I thought I'd post a guide to the Brewers, seen through the eyes of someone who also appreciates the Halos.
You'll have to forgive me if this is somewhat rambling and stream-of-conciousness. I had planned to do a more thorough job, but my Father's Day present arrived early (PS3 + MLB The Show 10 bundle), so I'm a little preoccupied. I'm sure you understand.
Both teams have had their roster issues. (I'll see your Gary Matthews Jr. and I raise you a Jeff Suppan and Bill Hall!) Both teams have bullpen issues. (Brian FUentes? Try the 2010 flavor of Trevor Hoffman!) Both teams have had injury issues. (I'll see your Greg Zaun and I raise you a Kendry Morales!)
The Brewers have pretty much struggled all season. They tried to shore up the pitching rotation in the offseason, since it was their big weakness last year. But Randy Wolf has pitched poorly, Doug Davis has been Doug Davis (and is now injured), and Trevor Hoffman has been awful. They're coming off a 3-3 homestand, and come into the series 11 games under .500 at 26 - 37.
Given the depth in the Angels' rotation, and the fact that Yovanni Gallardo pitched yesterday, the Halos have a definite advantage in the pitching matchups. Tonight features Randy Wolf vs. Joe Saunders. Tuesday should see Dave Bush vs. Ervin Santana. And Wednesday afternoon's game will have Chris Narveson vs. Joel Piniero. Wolf and Narveson are both lefties, so look forward to seeing plenty of Quinlan!
Angel fans should be pretty familiar with Wolf, given his SoCal ties and previous seasons with the Doyers. He has not pitched well this season. He comes into the game at 4-6, 5.31 ERA, having given up 8 ER in under 5 innings of his last start against the Cubs (a loss, naturally). The Brewers are 3-7 in his last 10 starts, with Wolf having only 1 quality start in his last 6 appearances.
Tuesday's probable (he was skipped in the rotation once this month, and has some nagging injury issues) starter is Dave Bush, 1-5 with a 5.01 ERA. Yeah, that ain't good. Bush does have the distinction of beating the Phillies in the 2008 playoffs, so he's kind of like Jered Weaver was prior to last season -- the answer to the question "Who's the most recent pitcher to win a playoff game for your team?" He's had 5 quality starts this season, and given up fewer than 3 ER in 3 others (but didn't make it through 6 innings), so he's a guy who can get on a roll, but doesn't seem to get much run support and hasn't had a Win since April 20. (BTW, if Bush doesn't start for whatever reason, the Crew will probably look to Chris Capuano, another lefty who recently returned from his 2nd Tommy John surgery. Cappy went 18-12 in 2005, but didn't pitch in the majors in 2008 or 2009 after injuring his elbow during 2008's Spring Training.)
Chris Narveson pitched so well in Spring Training he essentially forced the Brewers to keep him, since he would have been snatched via waivers otherwise. He started the season in the bullpen, until even Ken Macha was forced to admit that Jeff Suppan sucks, giving Narveson his chance. Don't let the 5.46 ERA fool you -- he's pitched much better than that as a starter. 5.11 ERA. Okay, so it's not that much better. But it's still better. Opponents are only OPS-ing 0.832 against him. Oh, wait, that's not so good? Nevermind then. He's a lefty who tops out in the low 90s, so if Juan Rivera steps up there and looks middle-in, he has a good chance to go yard.
Here's a quick-and-dirty guide to most members of the Brewers' lineup:
2B (and usual leadoff man) Rickie Weeks was having a breakout 2009 when he went down with a wrist injury. He comes into this series with a .357 OBP and 10 HR, so he has the ability to get on base and has some power. He also has good speed. His glove, however, is mediocre. Think Howie, take away some AVG, add some walks and HR.
Quick: Who leads the NL in Homeruns? If you said "Pujols," kindly punch yourself in the groin. No, it's Corey Hart with 17. RF Hart (I'm listing him 2nd because Ken Macha has been batting him 2nd) was an All-Star in 2008. And he Never Surrenders. The 2nd half of his 2008 and all of his 2009 were pretty disappointing, though. After his poor 2009 and Spring Training 2010, he basically played himself into a platoon with some old guy named Edmonds (whom I'm sure no Angel fan has ever heard of). He's been on an absolute tear of late, with 10 HR in May and 4 more so far in June. His 0.920 OPS has made it obvious to even Macha that he needs to be an everyday player right now, so Edmonds has been shifted to platooning in CF with Carlos Gomez. If Mike Butcher is reading this, I advise you to throw Hart low 90s fastballs, middle-in. Trust me, there's a huge hole in his swing right there. For the love of all that is Holy, do not have Ervin throw him nasty sliders on the outside part of the plate. He never, ever, ever bites on those. Challenge him to pull the ball. Especially on Wednesday, when I'll be sitting out towards left field. (For the record, I'm going to advise the Brewers to pitch Juan Rivera the same way. Chicks, and kids, dig the long ball.)
1B Prince Fielder can hit the longball. He comes into the series with 12 HR, after hitting two solo shots yesterday vs. the Rangers. He draws a lot of walks due to pitchers' unwillingness to throw him much to hit, so he sports a .398 OBP. Though he's not much of a stolen base threat. His splits against lefties (.749 OPS vs. .902 against righties) mean that Saunders should have an advantage, if he keeps the ball down. If you make a mistake pitch against Prince, there's a good chance you'll pay for it.
LF Ryan Braun is the kind of outfielder you wish the Angels had been able to bring up through their system. With a .926 career OPS, the boy can hit. The Brewers locked him up to a long-term contract after his RoY campaign of 2007, and he's pretty much the face of the franchise right now. After moving from 3B, where he struggled defensively, he's turning into a good corner outfielder. He's fast, and a threat to have a 30/30 year (though his SB numbers will probably tail off with Prince on base in front of him). He's actually having a bit of a down year by his standards, with "only" a .851 OPS and 9 HR to date. He's been in a slump of late, with a .588 OPS in June. He will break out of it at some point, so Angels fans just have to hope it doesn't start tonight.
3B Casey McGehee was leading the NL in RBI at the beginning of June. That's in part because of Fielder and Braun's ability to get on base, but McGehee can hit. The Brewers claimed him on waivers when the Cubs failed to protect him. Something about Aramis Ramirez being their 3B of the future. Casey responded with a great rookie campaign in 2009, and has continued to produce, with an OPS of .800 so far this season (he's also been in a slump in June, and while he's not a guaranteed slugger of Braun's caliber, he's still pretty good). McGehee can also play 1st or 2nd, but he's not real fast. So think Quinlan without the goofy swing and actual hitting ability.
CF is a platoon situation right now, with Edmonds and Carlos Gomez. Gomez came over in a trade with the Twins (JJ Hardy for Gomez, freeing up the SS position for Alcides Escobar). He's fast. Really fast. Unfortunately, he only has a .292 OBP, which kind of negates some of the speed. The Brewers would like him to bunt for hits. But he has trouble getting bunts down. But he's got a good glove. Think Bizarro Willits. There are similarities to their playing styles, but they're different in some odd ways. BTW, if he does manage to get on, I'd advise Mike Butcher and the Angels' pitchers to just ignore him. He's not going anywhere.
SS Alcides Escobar is a rookie, with a great glove. He wasn't expected to be a big offensive contributor this year...and he's not. He sports a .647 OPS, with little power. But he's fast. So think Aybar, better glove, minus some power and OBP.
C George Kottaras is batting .194. But he has a .361 OBP. So the guy can draw a walk. He has 18 hits...and 26 walks. To be fair to Kottaras, he wasn't expected to be the everyday starter, but Greg Zaun's season-ending injury has thrust Kottaras into the spotlight. His backup is Jonathan Lucroy, who was expected to be a September callup and the Brewers' catcher of the future, and has now been brought up to the Show earlier than projected.
3B/SS/2B Craig Counsell is a long-time veteran, and lefty, so I suspect he'll get to fill in (possibly spelling McGehee or (more likely) Escobar) Tuesday and Wednesday. He's from the upper Midwest, and has a goofy swing, so think of a left-handed Quinlan who can hit. And isn't so slow.
IF/OF Joe Inglett is another lefty, and his OPS-ing .914 in all of 47 AB (mostly pinch-hitting in the NL). He's coming off a foot injury, so he's unlikely to play in the field, but I suspect he'll get DH starts (.974 vs. righties) Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Brewers' bullpen, good last year, has been not-so-good this season. Trevor Hoffman started off horrible, and played himself out of the closer role. He's currently stuck on 596 career saves. John Axford and his mustache were called up from AAA and have taken over the back of the bulllpen. Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe, and Carlos Villanueva are the only other bright spots in the bullpen (though Todd Coffey may be activated this week). They finally cut ties with Jeff Suppan, so at least the bullpen isn't as bad as it was.
Ken Macha is not a good manager. There, I said it. Between Ned Yost and Macha, the Brewers' talent has been ill-served. Enjoy Scioscia, guys. There aren't that many out there as good as him. Apart from the starting pitching depth, the Angels also have a big advantage when it comes to decision-making.
I'll admit that I'm a bit torn, since I'd really like both teams to win, but I know that can't happen. I'd just like to see 3 good games, then we can all get back to areas of agreement -- things like a shared loathing of Jason Kendall, dislike of Scott Boras, and the knowledge that Ken Macha is just no good.
So that's my not-so-quick but dirty guide to the Brewers for you, my fellow Angel fans. The Brewers' best chance to win is to catch Saunders or Piniero on a bad day, when the sinker isn't working and the pitches stay elevated. The Angels should be able to jump all over the Brewers' starters, and just need to hope the bullpen doesn't have a meltdown. But remember to pitch Corey Hart fastballs, middle-in.