Brewers / Cubs: Does It All Come Down To This?

Even though it shoots itself in the foot more than any other sport, you gotta give baseball some props right now (sorry for the Arsenio Hall-era slang, I don’t get out much): Whoever schedules these games did a brilliant job this week, as the number one team plays the number two team in five of the six divisions — and in the remaining division — the AL Central — the leader (Cleveland) is playing the not-quite-out-of-it-but-you-have-a-better-chance-of-marrying-Erin-Andrews Minnesota Twins.

But obviously the series that matters most around these Midwest parts is the Brewers at Cubs.

For fans that have had more to complain about in the last 25 years than PETA members at a rodeo, I have personally never heard Milwaukee Brewer backers more down on the team than I hear them now. And it’s understandable: After a 24-10 start that had fans saving money for World Series tickets, the team has imploded, posting the fourth-worst record in the majors (after the last-place Devil Rays, the last-place White Sox, and the last-place Marlins). In short, the Brewers have stunk.

But you don’t get beaten down over 25 years without being tough, and Brewer fans are a resilient bunch: One gets the feeling that if the Brewers can win two out of three that fans would start to believe again, and a series sweep (one that would put the Brewers back in first place) would nearly forgive the last few weeks of misery.

Problem is, it ain’t gonna happen.

Forget that the series is on the road, where the Brewers win as often as Lindsay Lohan stays sober. Forget that Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano will return to the Cubs lineup tonight (especially if he’s not 100% healthy, which he doesn’t appear to be) after being on the DL since August 6.

Barring a what now seems unlikely immediate return by Ben Sheets to the lineup, a look at the starting pitching matchups will tell you why the Brewers will be lucky to win one of these next three games.

In Tuesday’s opener, Jeff Suppan goes against Rich Hill. Hill, no Cy Young candidate certainly, is coming off a 10-strikeout game and he has given up two runs or less is six of his last eight starts. Meanwhile, Suppan hasn’t won a game since June 22 and his ERA is 7.05 in his last eight road games.

In Wednesday’s game, Claudio Vargas battles Carlos Zambrano. Vargas lasted exactly 0.2 innings in his last start, giving up 6 runs, 5 hits, walking one and hitting a batter, while seeing his ERA balloon to 5.13. Zambrano has fallen far short of expectations (especially his own), but with an ERA a full point below Vargas’s, he’s still a stronger bet. He’s also a jerk, so if Milwaukee can only win one game, here’s hoping it’s this one.

Thursday’s closing game (for the series and for the season — ain’t both these teams making the playoffs) sees Yovani Gallardo against Ted Lilly. Lilly has the best won-loss record of any Cubs pitcher (13-7), while Gallardo has been miserable in three of his last four starts, including that disastrous game against the Rockies on August 8 when he gave up 11 runs in 2.2 innings.

As has been the case for the last three months, look for the Brewers’ starting pitching to fail them again over these next three games. Let’s just hope that Houston can hold off the charging Cardinals, or the Brewers could be in third place when they return home (thankfully) on Thursday for their next series against the Pirates.

Brewer fans, take heart: It’s almost football season.

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