CENTRAL DIVISION SHOWDOWNS HEAT UP
Milwaukee’s visit to St. Louis seems guaranteed to be marked by testiness. The Brewers won two of three from St. Loo in Miller Park at this time last week, a series remembered for the Brewers coming inside on Albert Pujols and the Cards retaliating by plunking Ryan Braun. With nine more games still to go between the two rivals some kind of fight(s) seems inevitable.
What would also seem inevitable when these two teams play is some fireworks at the plate. Even with Albert Pujols having a down year for him, it’s still a good year by any other human standard, and both Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are having MVP seasons. John Jay has taken advantage of the playing time availed to him when Colby Rasmus was traded and is playing well in centerfield. Milwaukee’s tandem of Braun and Prince Fielder is also MVP-caliber, but playing without Rickie Weeks for this month means the Brewers have the most versatile player on their team out, and St. Louis needs to take advantage.
Over the last two seasons, St. Louis has acquired Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook at the trade deadline and those two take the mound tonight and tomorrow. Chris Carpenter gets the ball on Wednesday. The Cards get a break in that Zack Greinke’s spot isn’t up but at the same time they also miss #5 starter Chris Narveson. Milwaukee will send the consistent Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf to the mound the first two games and then send out Yovani Gallardo to battle Carpenter in Thursday’s finale.
Detroit seems to be gaining control in the AL Central and this visit to Cleveland is the chance for them to start taking the air out of this race. The Tigers are very complete offensively, with Miguel Cabrera leading the way and getting a lot of help from Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta and now Wilson Betemeit. The Indians can’t match up with that firepower and their bullpen, a strength all year long is starting to show some cracks.
We won’t get to see a Ubaldo Jiminez-Justin Verlander battle in this series, as Jiminez goes Wednesday and Verlander in the Thursday finale. Tonight’s opener should be a good one though, as Detroit sends new acquisition Doug Fister out to face Justin Masterson, whom the Notebook believes is still the best pitcher in the Indian rotation. A lot of pressure rides on Cleveland right now—they need to win this series, which means they either need to win Tuesday and Wednesday, or somehow beat Verlander. Even with Fausto Carmona, the Cleveland starter for the finale pitching better of late, that’s not a spot you want to be in. So the biggest game of the next two nights will be in eastern Ohio.
The finales of both series will televised by the MLB Network on Thursday, with coverage splitting across the country.
ARIZONA CARDINALS PREVIEW
After two straight NFC West titles, including a 2008 Super Bowl appearance, Arizona fell hard last year after Kurt Warner retired. The Cards had instability at quarterback all year and now have placed their bets on Kevin Kolb, once the heir apparent to Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia but nudged out by injuries and Michael Vick. Kolb is being thrown right into the fire on a team with holes almost everywhere.
At the very least one of those holes isn’t primary receiver. Larry Fitzgerald is as good a target as there is anywhere in the game, but there aren’t options to go to if he’s taken away, especially if Early Doucet can’t stay healthy. The interior of the offensive line is a big problem. It wasn’t that good last year and it’s being remade after the retirement of Alan Faneca. Kolb is going to have to get to use to bodies flying directly in his face. The tackles are a little better, but Levi Brown still hasn’t fulfilled his tremendous potential since he was drafted out of Penn State four years ago.
If the defense were on a baseball team, head coach Ken Wisenhunt would have reason to be happy, because they’re strong up the middle. Nose tackle Dan Williams is solid, as are inside linebackers Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon, along with free safety Kerry Rhodes. But since this is football winning the battle on the perimeter is of paramount importance and Wisenhunt only has the potential of rookie corner Patrick Peterson to comfort him there. The outside linebackers, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are again and there’s no reason to think the big plays that define a successful a 3-4 defense can be made by this group.
It adds up to what’s going to be a long year in Arizona. The one saving grace is that they play in the NFC West, won last year with a 7-9 record by Seattle, so the bar isn’t exactly set very high
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