With a 1-0 victory over the dwindling Bucs and a St. Louis loss to Colorado, the Milwaukee Brewers pushed their NL Central lead to five games. The Brewers have won 15 of 17 ballgames and are 18 games above .500 (69-51). Yuniesky Betancourt’s second inning solo blast was all Milwaukee needed Saturday as Marco Estrada (3-7, 4.46) pitched five scoreless innings in his first start since May 4. Brew Crew closer John Axford locked up his 34th save in 36 chances, working around a lead-off triple to earn his 31st save in a row. In case you haven’t noticed, Brewer hitters who reach base safely have recently begun to incorporate a new celebration — an arms out bear hug gesture paired with a gnarly, monstrous scream. Nyjer Morgan calls it “Beast Mode,” yet the origins are a bit more innocent. The actual story behind the grand display of fierceness comes courtesy of Prince Fielder. “It’s from Monsters, Inc.,” states Prince; “That’s my kids’ favorite movie. The whole team does it now. It’s something that I saw my kids do, and I thought it was funny, so I thought I might as well do it, too.” The whole team seems to have caught on, and turning to the dugout and waving your arms in a “scary” manner has become second nature to Milwaukee’s heavy hitters.
Milwaukee scratched out another one-run victory at Miller Park courtesy of Casey McGehee’s first inning, two-out, two-RBI triple which was sliced sharply down the right field line. Prior to McGehee’s triple, Ryan Braun saw his bat split in two and the ball drop just inside the foul line in right field, scoring Corey Hart who smacked a double off of Cubs’ starter Ryan Dempster to lead off the game. Chris Narveson earned the victory, allowing two runs on eight hits over five innings. He left in the sixth with the bases loaded and nobody out, but Kameron Loe would pick up his teammate by getting consecutive ground balls to get Milwaukee out of the inning unscathed. K-Rod was sharp in his Miller Park debut and Axford closed the door for his franchise record tying 25th save in a row. On another note, with the Florida Marlins late scratch of first basemen Gaby Sanchez, Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder became the only player in baseball to start each and every game for his respective squad. Prince has been in the starting nine for all 104 games for the Brew Crew, as well as the All-Star game (in which he earned MVP honors). Ryan Braun notched three base hits in Tuesday’s game, raising his batting average to .326 on the season, second in the National League. The Mets’ Jose Reyes, the senior circuit’s leading hitter, went 0-for-5 Tuesday, lowering his average to .346. The Brewers’ send Zack Greinke to the hill tomorrow to face Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano. As of now, the Brewers sit a half game back in the tightly contested NL Central.
2B: Braun (21).
HR: Braun (18).
RBI: Braun 2 (66); Lucroy (37); Morgan (22); Weeks (43).
Outfield Assist: Braun (Drew at home).
SB: Weeks (8).
CS: Betancourt (3).
What a thriller in the desert. Milwaukee starter Chris Narveson pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing only four base hits while striking out four and walking none in a no-decision. He was staked an early 1-0 lead thanks to Ryan Braun’s first inning solo shot, his second in the past two games. Jonathan Lucroy added an RBI double in the seventh, however Arizona would rally to score twice and tie the game in the bottom of the eighth thanks to Willie Bloomquist’s double off of Francisco Rodriguez. Milwaukee reliever Takashi Saito entered the game in the bottom of the ninth looking to push the Brewers into extra innings. After a lead off double and wild pitch, Arizona found themselves with the winning run – Justin Upton – on third base with no outs. Saito escaped the jam with two groundouts to Casey McGehee and a flyout to Nyjer Morgan. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson decided to go with Ryan Cook in the top of the tenth, a 24-year-old making his major league debut. Veteran Mark Kotsay started Cook’s career off with a single which was followed by a Corey Hart walk and a balk. Nyjer Morgan promptly sliced a single into right field giving Milwaukee a 3-2 lead. With runners on first and third and nobody out, Ryan Braun slapped a sharp single into right scoring Hart and putting the Crew up 4-2. Cook was lifted in favor of Alberto Castillo who got Prince Fielder to ground into a double play. D-backs reliever Sam Demel then gave up an RBI-single to Rickie Weeks, scoring Morgan and giving Milwaukee a three-run cushion in the tenth. McGehee was called out on strikes for the third out but the damage was done. Brewers’ closer John Axford secured the win, earning his 26th save in the process. Overall, an improbable win for the Brew Crew who moved into sole possession of first place and once again showed why they are the NL Central favorites. Milwaukee won their second consecutive game without a hit from Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun, with three base knocks, pushed his batting average to .320. Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew left in the fourth inning with a fractured right ankle. Carlos Gomez also left in the fourth with a broken collarbone and could miss the remainder of the year. Regardless, the Brewers look to be serious contenders who could make a deep postseason run. Zack Greinke will start game four of the series as Milwaukee looks to take 3 of 4 at Chase Field.
Milwaukee.. 000 020 312 8 runs on 11 hits, 2 errors
Colorado….. 030 000 301 7 runs on 11 hits, 1 error
Batting – 2B: Weeks (23). HR: Hart (12); Weeks (18). RBI: Hart 2 (29); Morgan (20); Kotsay (19); Kottaras (9); Weeks 2 (41).
Fielding – E: Lucroy (6); Fielder (11).
K-Rod’s first appearance as a Brewer netted him a victory as Milwaukee came off the deck twice to defeat the Rockies at Coors Field Saturday night. Rickie Weeks, batting in his new spot in the lineup, delivered a clutch 2-run shot to deep center off of Colorado closer Huston Street in the top of the ninth to give the Crew a much needed road win. Hart, who swapped spots in the batting order with Weeks, also went yard to back starter Zack Greinke’s quality start. John Axford locked the door in the ninth, preserving the W for his fellow closer. Ryan Braun left the game in the seventh with tightness in his hamstring and is considered day-to-day. The Brewers improve to 50-45 and send Shaun Marcum to the hill tomorrow looking to leave Denver with a series split.
10. Casey McGehee, 3B
Batting behind Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2010, posting a .285 batting average along with 23 long balls and a whopping 104 runs batted in. However he’s struggled mightily out of the gate in 2011, hitting a paltry .234 with only 4 homers and 24 RBI. He’s also been a liability at third, routinely kicking the ball around and forcing manager Ron Roenicke to give him several “days off.” Hopefully he’ll find his swing again; but perhaps he’s not the long-term solution at third base that he seemed to be last season. Mat Gamel anyone?
9. John Axford, RP
The Axe Man gets the job done. Milwaukee always seems to find a closer out of nowhere (i.e. Kolb and Turnbow), but Axford looks like a long-term solution. Last year, as a rookie, Axford went 8-2, posting a 2.48 ERA and closing the door on 24 of his 27 save opportunities. He also struck out an impressive 76 batters in only 58 innings. After struggling early this season, the Axe Man has settled back down, converting 16 of 18 saves (including 13 straight) with a 3.29 ERA while fanning 36 hitters in 27.1 innings. Having stability at the back end of the bullpen can do wonders for a baseball club, and Axford provides that for the Brewers.
8. Jonathan Lucroy, C
Finally, it looks like the Brewers have found a catcher. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2007, Lucroy is one of the best young backstops in the league. He handles the pitching staff very well for his age (24) and has shown excellent pop in his bat – hitting .291 with 6 homers and 27 RBI so far in 2011. Ryan Braun has even gone as far as to say Lucroy should be an All-Star this year. With continued improvement, Lucroy could become one of the best catchers in the game, period.
7. Shaun Marcum, SP
In 2007, Shaun Marcum began to show flashes of his dominating stuff – going 12-6 with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.245 WHIP in the AL East, commonly known as the toughest division in baseball. He improved on those numbers the following year, posting a 9-7 record with a solid 3.39 ERA and 1.163 WHIP before his season was cut short as he underwent Tommy John surgery. After missing all of 2009, Marcum came back strong in 2010, going 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA and a tidy 1.147 WHIP. Marcum made the switch from AL to NL after the Brewers departed with their top prospect, Brett Lawrie, in order to acquire his services. So far he’s pitched like a Cy Young candidate for Milwaukee, posting a 6-2 record with a sparkling 2.78 ERA and an even more impressive 1.017 WHIP. Marcum is a true professional who toes the rubber every fifth day and gives the Crew a chance to win each time. He’ll be a key cog in Milwaukee’s rotation this year and next, and should be handed the ball should the Brewers make the postseason.
6. Corey Hart, RF
The 6’6″ Hart is still one of the best kept secrets around the majors. Hart is a vintage five-tool ballplayer and is a class act as well. The two time All-Star smacked 31 homers to go along with 102 RBI and a .283 batting average in 2010. The Brewers wisely locked him up through the 2013 season, and he’ll become even more valuable to the team should Prince Fielder leave the club to explore his options as a free agent. He bats productively out of the 2 and 5 spots in the lineup, and has even had success leading off. He can steal bags, hit for power and average, has a cannon out in right field, and also sports some of the coolest tattoos in the Bigs. He’s a fan favorite in Milwaukee who should continue to be a monster run producer for the Brewers, giving them the best tandem of corner outfielders in the majors.
Sitting out the game due to his ailing shoulder, Ryan Braun came off the bench in the 9th inning and smacked a Leo Nunez fastball deep into the left field bleachers at Sun Life Stadium to give Milwaukee a 6-5 lead. It was Braun’s first career pinch-hit homer, his first since May 15th, and his 13th on the season. John Axford came on in the bottom of the 9th and walked three batters before closing out the game, giving the Brewers a win to remember over the Marlins. After the game, Braun admitted that he had not swung the bat at all before the pinch-hit at-bat. Now that is the Brawn of Braun. Milwaukee improved to 31-25 on the season; and Braun should be back in the lineup tomorrow.