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Know Thy Enemy

As May dawned, the Brewers (and Brewer fans) must have been feeling pretty good. They'd just swept the Braves at home and then taken two of three from the Cubs at Wrigley, winning the final two games by a combined score of 27-2. They appeared to finally be righting what had been a rather uneven ship through most of April, finishing the month three games over .500 at 14-11.

The Padres, on the other hand, had just narrowly snapped a five-game losing streak, scoring five runs in the ninth and another in the tenth to beat the Dodgers, bringing their record to 9-15.

A scant week later, things have changed dramatically. The Brewers, despite winning on the first, lost Tomo Ohka to a torn rotator cuff. The next day, Ben Sheets was knocked around by the Astros amid concerns about his health and velocity. Jason Schmidt shut them out at home. Then they were swept by the underwhelming Dodgers in Dodger Stadium, twice coming back against closer Danys Baez only to lose in the bottom of the ninth on an opposite field single past a diving Prince Fielder by Nomar Garciaparra. In the final game, Milwaukee was blown out of the water by the Dodgers in a game that saw Fielder exit early due to a groin injury of unspecified severity.

The Padres, again on the other hand, have not lost in May, winning all eight games to run their streak to nine in a row. They now sport a 17-15 record, compared to the Brewers' 16-16.

The imminent three game series in San Diego would appear rather important with the powerful Mets up next on the schedule. It's hard to be optimistic with the Brewers and Padres streaking in opposite directions, but should we really be that scared of San Diego?

First of all, the Brewers are lucking out a bit with the rotational draw, getting to skip the Padres' best two pitchers thus far, Woody Williams and Chris Young. In the first two games, Milwaukee will be facing the Padres' fourth and fifth starters, Clay Hensley and Chan Ho Park. Hensley has a 3.22 RA in 22.1 innings as a starter this year, but has a 13/13 K/BB ratio in those four starts. Helping him is the fact that he's only allowed one home run. Park has resurrected his career with a 4.41 RA in 34.2 innings as a starter, pitching a 2-hit shutout in his last start. That said, after posting a 13/3 K/BB in his first three starts over 20.2, he's at 9/7 in his last two starts and 14 innings. He also threw 121 pitches in his shutout.

In those two games, the Brewers will oppose Hensley and Park with Doug Davis and Chris Capuano. I'd really love to believe Davis has turned the corner, but the 5/8 K/BB in his last two starts, over which he's somehow allowed only one run in 12.1 innings, belies his apparent resurgence. Capuano has simply been fantastic, even pitching well last time out despite an obvious lack of his "best stuff." I'm encouraged that, despite the 10 hits and only 3 K's, he walked only one.

As for that last game...Ben Sheets vs. Jake Peavy sounds pretty tasty, doesn't it? However, each has had their problems this year. Sheets certainly pitched like an ace in his first three starts off the DL, but he may very well be injured. Peavy has been healthy but a little lackluster so far this year. A 4.17 RA and 1.21 WHIP are certainly not bad, but I think everyone was expecting more, especially in the strikeout department, where Peavy has only 31 in 45.1 innings.

In the bullpen, the top three for each team are about a wash. Trevor Hoffman has been lights out, allowing only one run and striking out nine in 11 innings, slightly better than Derrick Turnbow. Top set-up men Scott Linebrink and Alan Embree compare pretty well to Matt Wise and Jose Capellan: pretty good but hittable. It's the back of the bullpen where San Diego really beats the Brewers; Sean Cassidy and Brian Sweeney are blowing away guys like Justin Lehr and Chris Demaria. At the very back of the bullpen, Jorge de la Rosa vs. Dewon Brazelton should at least be fun for the hitters.

Okay, so how about that fearsome Padres offense? They're hitting .240/.315/.362 as a team! The Brewers blow the Padres away at .275/.346/.467. Milwaukee is second in the NL behind Colorado in batting average, while San Diego is second-last, ahead of only Pittsburgh. On-base percentage? The Brewers are third in the league, behind Cincinnati and Colorado, while the Padres are third-last, ahead of the Cubs and Pirates. Slugging percentage? The Brewers lead the league and the Padres trail it. In fact, the Padres have the lowest SLG in baseball, even getting out-muscled by the Royals--the Royals! A quick glance at San Diego's stats shows their true mediocrity--Corey Koskie would lead their team in OPS.

So, the question remains: should we be scared? Well, even considering the fact that Petco Park depresses offense rather severely, when your best hitter is only the 98th-best in the baseball, you've got some problems. With the low run-scoring evironment, pitching will be at a premium, and while the Padres' pitching is certainly good, as long as the Brewers can keep from emptying their bullpen, they can hold their own. Due to the huge offensive mismatch, I think that expecting to win two out of three is reasonable.

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