September 11, 2012
What You Need to Know
Tuesday, September 11
The Monday Takeaway
Milwaukee was 45-56 on July 29, and Philadelphia checked in at 45-57. Zack Greinke had gone from the Brewers to the Angels. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were divided among the National League West rivals. And now, their former teams are all even at 70-71, on the periphery of a wild-card race that 40 days ago seemed light-years away.
The Brewers have won five of their last seven games, 10 of their last 13, and 16 of their last 21, including a 4-1 victory over the Braves last night. The Phillies are riding a five-game winning streak, and they have won nine of 11, 13 of 17, and 16 of 22, a stretch that includes a sweep over the Nationals, series wins over the Braves and Reds, and a 3-1 decision over the Marlins on Monday.
Is it too little, too late? Probably, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is enjoying the ride, and Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel never gave up on his team’s ability to return to .500 and give its rivals a late-summer scare.
Roenicke’s squad lost Prince Fielder to the Tigers in free agency this past offseason, but general manager Doug Melvin found a capable replacement in Aramis Ramirez (3.2 WARP)—who has nearly equaled Fielder’s output of 3.6 WARP for Detroit—and an under-the-radar bargain in Norichika Aoki (1.6 WARP). Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Most Valuable Player candidate Ryan Braun (5.5 WARP), Milwaukee could not overcome Fielder’s departure, which has been compounded by a league-high 27 blown saves, a prolonged slump from Rickie Weeks (-0.3 WARP), and a long-term injury to Shaun Marcum, who missed 61 games with tightness in his elbow three seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Injuries were the culprit in Philadelphia, too, as Chase Utley (knee) and Ryan Howard (Achilles) missed the better part of the first half, leaving the right side of the infield in the hands of a replacement-level motley crew led by Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis. It has also been a long season for the once-vaunted Phillies pitching staff—especially for Roy Halladay, who missed 50 days with shoulder soreness and is still searching for his first complete game, and Cliff Lee, who had to wait 14 starts before the makeshift offense could muster enough runs to deliver his first win.
The Phillies are 33-23 since Utley and Howard joined forces for the first time on July 6, good for a .589 winning percentage that would put them in second place at 83-58, four games behind the Nationals and two ahead of the Braves, if projected over the entire season to date. The Brewers are 23-29 in one-run games and have a run differential of +28, commensurate with a 73-68 ledger that would push them ahead of the Pirates and into the thick of the chase for the second wild-card spot, two games behind the 75-66 Cardinals and one shy of the 74-67 Dodgers, were it not for a series of costly bullpen meltdowns.
But those ships have sailed, and barring several 2011-like collapses, despite their recent surges, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are playing for pride. Fortunately, after witnessing painful springs and disappointing first halves, the fans at Citizens Bank and Miller Parks now have plenty to be proud of.
What to Watch for on Tuesday
Yankees-Red Sox for 15 bucks? If you’re in the Boston area, you might as well go see if Nick Swisher can snap out of his 0-for-27 funk in today’s matchup with Jon Lester, whom he has owned to the tune of a .317/.420/.561 triple slash in 41 at-bats. The visitors will counter with Hiroki Kuroda (7:10 p.m. ET).