Tonight's Matchup: Brewers (Wolf) at Cardinals (Garcia)

I've mentioned it already today, but tonight's contest is more important than your typical May game. With a win tonight, the Brewers could take some of the sting off of a 1-6 start to the road trip and open play tomorrow 3.5 games out of the NL Central. A loss, of course, would be their seventh in a row and put them 5.5 back with two more to play against the Cardinals. I'm usually reluctant to call a May game "must win," but this is possibly the most important game the Brewers have played all season.

It's also another start against a really tough starting pitcher. Jaime Garcia (2.48 ERA, 2.60 FIP) has picked right back up where he left off last season, when he was a Rookie of the Year candidate and posted a 2.70 ERA in 28 starts. The one upside with Garcia is that he's been more hittable lately: He's allowed eight runs (six earned) in his last 11.1 innings, and hasn't recorded an out in the seventh in any of his last five starts. 

Garcia records a lot of strikeouts (8.9 per nine innings), which is probably bad news for a Brewer lineup that hasn't been making good contact lately. He also doesn't give up many home runs, allowing 0.5 per nine in both 2010 and 2011. He'll throw a fastball around 90 mph and mix in a fair amount of cutters and changeups, and FanGraphs rated all three pitches as above average this season. He'll also throw the occasional below-average curve. 

The Brewers faced Garcia five times last season (they were the only team to do so), and had mixed results. He posted a 3.10 ERA in 29 innings against them, striking out 26 and walking 12. They chased him from the game early in one September start, but mostly struggled against him in four others. Five Brewers have faced him ten times or more:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Ryan Braun 16 .250 .250 .438 .688
Prince Fielder 16 .250 .250 .313 .563
Rickie Weeks 16 .250 .438 .500 .938
Corey Hart 15 .429 .467 .429 .895
Casey McGehee 14 .333 .357 .667 1.024

Braun, Weeks and McGehee all have a home run against Garcia, while Corey Hart has six singles.

Meanwhile, the Brewers need another good start from Randy Wolf (2.39 ERA, 3.80 FIP), who has been excellent lately. Wolf was a Brewer of the Week candidate last week after pitching seven innings and allowing just one run against the Astros on Saturday, his fourth straight start where he's allowed one earned run or less. Since a rough outing his first time out, Wolf is carrying a 1.07 ERA and allowing opposing batters to hit just .182/.238/.298.

Wolf's peripheral numbers show some of the reason for his strong start. He's striking out 7.88 batters per nine, which is his highest rate since 2007. He's also only walking 2.39 per nine, which is his lowest since 2004. There's also some luck involved, though: He's stranding over 80% of baserunners, up 7% from his career average.

Wolf faced the Cardinals four times in 2011, with two excellent starts and two decent ones. All told, he posted a 2.89 ERA in 28 innings, walking nine and striking out 15. Five Cardinals have faced him ten times or more:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Albert Pujols 37 .300 .378 .567 .945
Matt Holliday 34 .241 .353 .483 .836
Lance Berkman 33 .111 .273 .185 .458
Ryan Theriot 24 .217 .250 .261 .511
Yadier Molina 23 .130 .130 .261 .391

Among pitchers Berkman has faced 30 times, he only has a lower OPS against Ted Lilly (.341) and Paul Maholm (.418).

With Nyjer Morgan being placed on the DL today, Carlos Gomez continues to give new meaning to the phrase "#2 spot:"

Rickie Weeks 2B
Carlos Gomez CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Corey Hart RF
Jonathan Lucroy C
Randy Wolf P

And in the bullpen:

Kameron Loe pitche one inning (11 pitches) last night.
Mitch Stetter pitched .2 innings (12 pitches) Wednesday in game one, and .1 innings (3 pitches) in game two.
Sergio Mitre pitched one inning (32 pitches) Wednesday.
Brandon Kintzler pitched one inning (27 pitches) Wednesday.
John Axford pitched one inning (22 pitches) Wednesday.
LaTroy Hawkins pitched .2 innings (25 pitches) Wednesday.
Mike McClendon last pitched on Monday for Nashville

Weather:

The weather could be a factor tonight. Weather.com is calling for isloated thunderstorms, with a 30% chance of rain.

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