Tonight's Matchup: Brewers (Narveson) at Cubs (Maholm)

Chris Narveson is seen here congratulating teammates after an earlier win. Hopefully they'll be lining up to congratulate him later.

A few short hours from now the Brewers could be above .500 for the first time in 2012.

To do it they'll have to get past lefty Paul Maholm (1.84 ERA this spring, 3.66/3.78 ERA/FIP in 2011), making his first start as a Chicago Cub. Maholm is 29 years old and entering his eighth major league season: He pitched the previous seven as a member of the Pirates (where he posted a 4.36 ERA over 1143.2 innings). He last pitched on March 31, when he allowed two runs on three hits over 4.2 innings against the Angels in a spring training game.

The biggest knock on Maholm is that he relies heavily on his defense: He strikes out just 5.55 batters per nine. He does a reasonably good job of limiting walks, though (around three per nine for his career). He'll work in the high 80's with his fastball and mix in a heavy assortment of changeups, sliders and curves. The changeup was his best pitch in 2011, but the slider has been his best over his career.

As a career-long resident of the NL Central, Maholm has faced the Brewers 19 times over the last seven seasons. The Brewers beat him twice last year even though he didn't pitch that poorly: He allowed a combined five earned runs on eleven hits over 12 innings, walking three and striking out six. Six current Brewers have faced him ten times or more:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Corey Hart 51 .318 .392 .659 1.051
Rickie Weeks 50 .200 .360 .225 .585
Aramis Ramirez 41 .263 .317 .474 .791
Ryan Braun 40 .333 .425 .485 .910
Alex Gonzalez 15 .250 .400 .250 .650
Carlos Gomez 13 .417 .462 .750 1.212

He'll face fellow lefty Chris Narveson (4.01 ERA this spring, 4.45/4.06 ERA/FIP in 2011), also making his first start from the #5 spot in the rotation. Narveson closed out his spring with a rough stretch, allowing 14 runs (ten earned) in his final 15.1 innings and walking seven while striking out just five. He also last pitched on March 31, when he allowed seven runs (three earned) on seven hits over five innings against the Padres.

Narveson has said he's working on developing a cutter this spring, so it'll be interesting to see how that impacts his pitch selection this season. In 2011 more than one third of all of his pitches were changeups, and he threw his high-80's fastball less than half the time. According to FanGraphs, the fastball was actually his best pitch.

Narveson has faced the Cubs 13 times in his career, including four times in 2011:

Date IP H ER BB K Result
April 9 7 6 0 1 9 Brewers win, 6-0
June 15 5.1 6 4 3 5 Brewers win, 9-5
July 26 5 8 2 1 3 Brewers win, 3-2
September 19 4 4 2 3 1 Cubs win, 5-2

Six Cubs have faced him ten times or more:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Geovany Soto 21 .389 .476 .611 1.087
Jeff Baker 17 .333 .412 .533 .955
Starlin Castro 15 .286 .333 .286 .619
Marlon Byrd 14 .357 .357 .714 1.071
Alfonso Soriano 14 .077 .143 .077 .220
Reed Johnson 11 .182 .182 .545 .727

Here's tonight's lineup:

Rickie Weeks 2B
Carlos Gomez CF
Ryan Braun LF
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Corey Hart RF
Alex Gonzalez SS
Mat Gamel 1B
Jonathan Lucroy C
Chris Narveson P

And in the bullpen:

John Axford pitched .2 innings (26 pitches) last night and also pitched on Sunday.
Tim Dillard faced one batter (7 pitches) last night and also pitched on Sunday.
Jose Veras pitched one inning (15 pitches) last night.
Francisco Rodriguez pitched one inning (10 pitches) last night.
Manny Parra pitched .1 innings (7 pitches) last night.
Marco Estrada
pitched 2 innings (31 pitches) Sunday.

Kameron Loe pitched .1 inning (6 pitches) Sunday.

The weather likely won't delay tonight's game, but it will make it extra miserable. Forecasts call for temps around 45 degrees with strong winds from the WNW at game time, with the overnight low falling down into the mid 30's.

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