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First Place!

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After yesterday's win, the Crew has the top spot all to themselves.  That's the first time the Brewers have been in first place this late in the season since...well, somebody go check retrosheet and figure it out.  Point being: it's been a while.

Can they hold on, especially with the mighty Cardinals coming to town?

Well...I'd like to think so.  Last year St. Louis's starting rotation was nearly impregnable, much to my surprise and chagrin.  I started predicting their eventual downfall in mid-April, and was still predicting that they'd implode in the World Series during the NLCS.  I believed!

Yet they were pretty solid.  But let's look at the three guys the Brewers will face.

  1. Jeff Suppan (Friday vs. Sheets).  Last year he went 16-9 with a 4.16 ERA.  Both wins and ERA were career bests.  On the other hand, his ERA+ numbers (consistently above 100 when in Kansas City from 1999-2002) suggest that his numbers would've been better in a more favorable stadium.  Maybe his "breakout" season was really just what he deserved all along, given a neutral park and a strong offense, two things he'd never really had before.  Suppan is 30, still theoretically in his prime; at worst he's a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater; at best he's a #2/#3 starter.  Let's hope the former comes to Milwaukee this weekend.
  2. Chris Carpenter (Saturday vs. Doug Davis).  In many ways Carpenter was key to the Cardinals outrageous success last year--previously just an injury reclamation project, he went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA for a career best ERA+ of 121.  Pretty much everything last year was a career best or close.  Carpenter is known to be fragile, and the Cards will be lucky to get another full season out of him.  
  3. Jason Marquis (Sunday vs. Victor Santos) was the real breakout pitcher last year--there was no success in his Major Leaague past to suggest he could step up to 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA.  I'm STILL predicting a big decline for him, and I'd love to see the Brewer bats start the bleeding.
The Cardinals rotation, such a key part of their success last year, is hardly like the Yankees in marquee (no pun intended) value, but last year the numbers it put up were just as solid.  Can guys like Marquis, Suppan, and Carpenter keep up this level of production?  I doubt it, but I doubted them last year, and they disappointed me all year long.  And here's a scary thought:  two of the better starting pitching prospects in the game, Adam Wainwright (acquired from the Braves in the Marquis/J.D. Drew deal last offseason) and Anthony Reyes, are sitting in AAA, waiting for the call.  Even the loss of Dan Haren, now in the rotation (and looking pretty solid) for the Athletics, hasn't seriously impacted the pitching depth in the St. Louis organization.

Nevertheless, if Chris Saenz can keep the Cardinals bats at bay for a game, I'll put my faith in Sheets, Davis and Santos, whether or not the three St. Louis starters decide to come back to earth this weekend.