Brewers must survive August schedule that favors Cardinals

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By Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, August 3, 2014

If the Brewers are going to hold off St. Louis and others to win the National League Central crown, they will have to overcome an August schedule that decidedly favors the Cardinals.

The Brewers’ schedule in August can be described with one word: challenging.

Of the nine series the Brewers play this month, beginning with the weekend series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, seven are against teams with winning records for a total of 20 of their 27 games.

By contrast, the Cardinals have just four of nine series against winning teams for a total of 12 of their 29 games. Beyond the current series against the Brewers, the only other winning teams on St. Louis’ August schedule are the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds (one game over .500 entering Saturday).

The Brewers have home and away series this month against the two best teams in the NL West—the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants—both of which feature strong pitching staffs. The Dodgers are third in the NL with a 3.35 team earned run average and the Giants are fourth at 3.37.

Playing winning teams has been a challenge thus far for the Brewers. They were 28-29 against teams above .500 entering their Saturday contest against the Cardinals.

The Cardinals already have finished their season series against Los Angeles and San Francisco, giving them a decided scheduling edge over the Brewers. St. Louis went 3-4 against both clubs, an indication of the task that lies ahead for Milwaukee.

To have any chance of surviving August and remaining in the playoff hunt, the Brewers will have to pick up the pace considerably from their wretched 9-16 July. They were 12th in the NL with 88 runs scored, an average of 3.52 per game.

The Brewers were 14th in the NL that month with a .228 team batting average and 15th with a .279 on-base percentage. They were 10th with a .371 slugging percentage, a red flag for a team that relies greatly on home runs to score.

Pittsburgh also has a much tougher August schedule than St. Louis. The Pirates play five of nine series against winning clubs for a total of 16 of their 28 games.

All 16 of those games come during a rugged stretch in which the Pirates play four games against Detroit (two at home, two on the road), three in Washington, three at home against Atlanta, three in Milwaukee and three against St. Louis.

As they say, the games aren’t played on paper. St. Louis lost two of three last week in San Diego against the lowly Padres. But the Cardinals have to be licking their chops over a relatively easy August schedule, especially after fortifying their starting pitching with trades for Justin Masterson and John Lackey.

One good sign for the Brewers: Their starting pitching has been solid, especially in recent weeks. If that continues, they will have a chance to emerge from August in decent shape.

Not too late

Just because the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline passed doesn’t mean teams will stop wheeling and dealing. Last season, the Pirates picked up outfielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Justin Morneau at the end of August, moves that helped end their 20-year streak of not making the playoffs.

You can still make trades before the Sept. 1 deadline for postseason eligibility. Players have to pass through waivers, but that happens with regularity, particularly with those who have high salaries that other clubs would not want to pick up.

“People make a lot of the July deadline,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. “It’s a deadline, but that doesn’t mean things shut down at that point.

“Sometimes there are quality players that can be acquired in August, too. You can get some or those players later on after more teams fall out of the pennant race.”

Melvin tried furiously to pick up a late-inning reliever before the July 31 deadline but couldn’t find a match on what turned out to be a tough market for that commodity. But you can bet he will continue trying to acquire one.

“It’s got to make sense,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “You don’t do things just because you think you should do them. You do them because it makes sense.

“I know Doug was on the phone making calls, and I know what people were asking for in return. For me, it didn’t make sense.”

The Brewers’ bullpen would be fine had right-handers Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg not gone on the DL with shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively. There is no indication that either will be back any time soon—if at all this season—and right-hander Brandon Kintzler hasn’t been the same since suffering early-season shoulder issues.

Due to overwork, left-hander Will Smith has been running on fumes and is coming off a terrible July (14.54 ERA in 11 appearances). Part of Smith’s heavy workload can be linked to the Brewers keeping Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang on the active roster for the first three months of the season, when he was used mostly in blowout games.

So at some point, you have to figure Melvin will find a way to pick up another bullpen arm.

“Players will be put on waivers and if teams claim that player, the other team can just let him go if they want just the relief of salary,” Melvin said. “Or you have 72 hours to talk to that team and make a trade. That’s what happened with some of the trades last year.”

Young and restless

Roenicke has said time after time that one of the toughest jobs for a young player is adapting to irregular playing time. Exhibit A is outfielder Logan Schafer.

For two years, the Brewers have given Schafer, 27, the chance to be their fourth outfielder. Thus far, he has failed to meet that challenge.

After batting .211 with a .279 on-base percentage in 298 at-bats in 2013, Schafer struggled even more this season. In 104 at-bats, he batted .183 with a .267 OBP.

It was Schafer’s failure to be the left-handed hitting, backup outfielder at every position that finally prompted the Brewers to trade for Arizona’s Gerardo Parra, a more experienced player likely to adapt better to irregular play.

What happens with Schafer going forward remains to be seen, but Roenicke believes he has the talent to contribute in the majors.

“I did (expect more); he did, also,” Roenicke said. “It’s a tough role. Parra probably will be able to do that job better, but in saying that, Parra probably will get more playing time. The more playing time you get, the better you’ll do.

“It’s just a difficult job. (Schafer) didn’t play well when he started (.193), so his numbers really suffered. He needs to do the little things. Getting hits is more difficult, but he should be able to bunt; he should be able to run the bases well.”

What really counts

Right-hander Jorge Lopez is considered a pitcher to watch in the Brewers’ farm system. He has put together a solid season (8-7, 4.09) at Class A Brevard County and was the organization’s lone representative in the All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis.

But Lopez, 21, has been pitching with a heavy heart due to a serious health situation with 1-year-old son Mikael, who was born premature. After many tests and examinations by various doctors, it was determined that Mikael is in need of an intestinal transplant.

“He was getting sick a lot, and he wasn’t gaining any weight,” Lopez said in a recent interview with Florida Today. “He had bronchitis and pneumonia and was very bad. Finally, we brought him to a hospital in Miami.”

It was there that doctors determined the son’s intestines were not working at all due to an autoimmune disease.

As might be expected with a serious health problem, the Lopez family’s medical bills are getting out of hand. Accordingly, the Brevard County Manatees are holding a “18 for 18 Charity Golf Tourney” on Friday at the Turtle Creek Golf Club in nearby Rockledge, Florida.

Lopez, a second-round draft choice in 2011 out of Cayey, Puerto Rico, wears jersey No. 18, which explains the tournament title. All proceeds will go to help his family cover travel and medical expenses as they await the transplant needed to save young Mikael’s life.

“There are no words to express my gratitude for what the Manatees and Brewers have done and are doing for me and my family,” Lopez said in the interview with Florida Today. “Not everyone does this type of stuff. They have offered me their hand.”

As for how he has been able to focus on pitching while having his son’s condition constantly on his mind, Lopez said, “I always try to forget about everything when I get to work. With God’s help, I can forget, but it’s very difficult.

“My teammates have helped me very much. They tell me to keep going.”

Here’s hoping a whole bunch of folks sign up for that golf tournament and enough money is raised to give young Mikael a chance.


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