MLB Today: Prince Fielder Cooling Off
Edwin Jackson was undressed the last time he faced the Brewers, but Tuesday he turned the tables.
The Milwaukee Brewers, poised to wrap up the NL Central shortly, lost the opener of an important series with second-place St. Louis, 2-1 on Tuesday.
Uh oh. I bet the Brew Crew is sweating now, as its lead is down to 9.5 games with 27 games left.
To be honest, stranger things have happened, but as long as Milwaukee takes just one of three games at Miller Park this week, it will maintain its current lead. And let’s face it, the Brewers aren’t prone to losing at home, suffering just their 17th setback in 67 tries on Tuesday.
Overall, Milwaukee has gone 14-3 since it last faced the Cards, while St. Louis has won just seven of 16. That’s a 6.5-game swing for those of you keeping score at home.
Prince Fielder, who led the NL in RBI in late-June and is still on top, has been scuffling lately.
He was hitless on Tuesday for the second straight game and is just 4-for-32 in the past nine games after a hot start to the month. Fielder didn’t do much in July, and while his power barrage through most of August ensures that this has been a better month, it’s not ending on the right note.
Overall, Milwaukee’s clean-up hitter is having a nice comeback season after enduring a down campaign in 2010. It comes at just right the time as the big man is about to hit the free agent market, part of a big-name class this winter that should have a lot of teams frothing at the mouth. And once he hits the open market, Fielder is highly unlikely to return to the Brew Crew.
His extra-base power has returned and he’s doing a much better job of putting the ball in play, but what’s happened to his legendary speed? Okay, truth be told, Fielder has never been confused for a cheetah, but he’s never gone through a full season without at least one steal.
Left fielder Ryan Braun was also held hitless Tuesday, snapping a five-game hit streak during which he had recorded multiple hits four times. Back in early July, we identified Braun as an MVP candidate, and if anything, he’s been even better in the two months since.
In July, Braun mashed five homers in 61 at-bats en route to a .689 slugging percentage. This month, he has 24 runs, 10 doubles, a triple, four homers and 11 steals. He’s hitting .364 with a 1040 OPS in August. It’ll do.
Braun is one of several Brewers that endured a somewhat down season in 2010, but this year he’s putting up his best numbers since his abbreviated rookie campaign in 2007. His extra-base power has been off the charts, he’s put up a career-best 30 steals (leaving him just five dingers shy of joining Matt Kemp as 30-30 men this season), and he’s hitting over .330 for the first time in his career.
Yes, Milwaukee’s three-hole hitter is a legitimate MVP candidate, especially since the Brewers are coasting to the playoffs while the Dodgers are going nowhere fast.
Still in the Brewer outfielder, Corey Hart is heating up in a big way. He was 2-for-4 with a double and Milwaukee’s only run Tuesday, running his hit streak to 12 games, including four straight multi-hit games.
He had homered in consecutive games heading into action Tuesday and is up to .324 in August with 24 runs, 16 RBI and 10 walks.
We expected Hart to almost be a top 25 outfielder this year, but he’s barely been among the top 40. However his strong finish is definitely easing owners’ pain. Okay, after topping 100 RBI for the first time last year, his measly 50 ribbies this season is a massive letdown. However, his BA is up slightly and he’s getting on base at career-best levels. And he was one of the few Brewers that was able to muster anything against Edwin Jackson on Tuesday.
When we last checked in on Yovani Gallardo, he was enduring a horrific start to his season. Well, right on cue, he seemed to turn things around about the time we moaned about him, going 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 40 IP in May. Despite again averaging over a K per inning, he wasn’t as sharp in May (4.00 ERA), but he fanned another 30 in 38 IP in July with an ERA just over 3.00. And he’s been lights out this month, going 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 35 IP.
In his last three starts, Gallardo has been particularly dominant, going 2-0 with just 16 hits, four runs (three earned) and four walks allowed in 22 IP while fanning 25.
Any fear we had early on that Gallardo would be unable to build on his 2010 campaign has long since disappeared. For the second straight season, he’s upped his career high in wins by one, only this year he’s still got several weeks to add to his current total of 15. Gallardo has also reached new personal bests in ERA and WHIP, and has really developed into an ace this season.
Speaking of aces, how about Zack Greinke lately? Take away his start against the Pirates a week and a half ago, and he’s been on a major roll for about two months. How about a 10-0 record at home? Throw Shaun Marcum and even Randy Wolf into the mix, and you can bet that no team wants to face Milwaukee in the playoffs.