Series 3 Preview: Milwaukee at Cubs
Marco Estrada will take the ball Monday for the Brewers. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Year after year, there’s little question the Brewers can slug—in their first season without Prince Fielder, Milwaukee ranked third with 4.8 runs per game. But the departures of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum have left some questions in the starting rotation, forcing GM Doug Melvin to cobble together pitching depth right until the end of Spring Training.
Just days before Opening Day, Melvin dipped into the organization’s spending money to sign veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse to a three-year deal (and thus forfeiting the team’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft). Coming off a great start against the Diamondbacks, Lohse is slated to take the mound Wednesday at Wrigley Field. He’s coming off an age-33 season in which he set career bests with a 2.86 ERA, 211 innings, a .234 batting average against, and a 4.4 percent walk rate. His 16.6 percent strikeout rate was also the second best of his career. It’s an open question of which categories Lohse will maintain or regress as he gets another year into his 30s.
The Cubs will also see right-handers Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta. A 2010 waiver claim from the Nationals, Estrada had exceptional command of all three of his pitches last year: fastball, curve and change. It’s not often you see a pitcher with a 90-mph heater striking out a quarter of the hitters he faced—and walking just five percent of all hitters. Meanwhile, Peralta is regarded as one of the Brewers’ top prospects and made the roster after an impressive September call-up. The 23-year-old Dominican pitches with gas, sitting in the mid-90s and able to touch above that. His slider also is a sharp, hard breaker that will get plenty of K’s. But his command and pitching feel are still works in progress that the Cubs will do well to plan against on Tuesday.
With Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart both on the DL at least for the next few weeks, the offense will be headed by the homegrown core of 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy. Leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki overcame the doubters in his transition from Japan last year. He’s an all-around threat who will take a walk, steal bases efficiently, find the gaps and even take the ball out of the park from time to time. Lucroy is coming off a tremendous year (.320 AVG/.368 OBP/.513 SLG) from behind the dish, while Weeks hopes to bounce back from a career-worst season (.230/.328/.400). Either way, the Brewers should put up crooked numbers as ever in the NL Central.
Monday, April 8—RHP Marco Estrada vs. RHP Edwin Jackson
Tuesday, April 9—RHP Wily Peralta vs. LHP Travis Wood
Wednesday, April 10—RHP Kyle Lohse vs. RHP Scott Feldman