Gregg Hoffmann

Midwest Diamond Report - 8/24

Next weekend is Labor Day weekend. Now it’s become time to watch the standings.

Anything prior to this time, while entertaining, has been premature. Pennants are won, and lost, in September.

That’s even more true this season. Schedule makers have matched up divisional foes throughout most of baseball for the final month. With the exception of three games against the Marlins, for example, the Brewers will play all NL Central teams in September.

The Brewers have led the division since very early April, but as of this writing had only a half game edge. In part, that’s because the Cardinals have gotten hot. The Pirates, who had a bad losing streak, have come to Miller Park and taken two straight.

Pitching and defense win anytime in the season, but they’re even more important in September. The Brewers need to get back to doing both well to hang on to first place. They did neither very well in the first two games of the series with Pittsburgh.

The bullpen has been a legitimate concern for a while now. Manager Ron Roenicke has a tendency to ride the hot reliever. That works for the short term, but can lead to burnout and arm fatigue long term.

Will Smith, so good in the first half, has shown signs of both in recent weeks. So have Zach Duke and Brandon Kintzler. The prolonged absence of Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson has not helped.

There might be an opportunity for a starter, either Mike Fiers or Jimmy Nelson, to bolster the bullpen when Matt Garza returns. They should follow the example set by Marco Estrada, go to the pen and do their best to contribute.

The Brewers also could use Ryan Braun to return to MVP caliber play. Braun is on his way to a 100 RBI season, which is very good, but his batting average has been around 30 points lower than what we came to expect and he has struck out a lot.

Some will say this is the “post steroid Braun.” They could be right, but that’s a discussion for another day when it can be looked at in more depth. A hot final month of the season would be welcomed for Braun, who in the past could carry a team at times.

Jean Segura also needs to step up his offense the final month. Second winds for Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy, who have had MVP-like seasons so far, also would help.

The Brewers should still have a good shot at a Wild Card berth if they fall out of first place, but there are a lot of advantages to finishing on the top of the heap. If they’re going to do that, the Brewers need to heat up in the final month.

Player of the Week

The Twins’ Kennys Vargas had eight hits and seven RBIs in four games. Six of his RBIs came in a doubleheader against the Tigers on Saturday. For this, he earns the MDR Player of the Week honor.

At 6-5, 275 pounds, Vargas also might end up playing in the defensive line of the Vikings after the baseball season is over.

Other MDR teams’ Players of the Week included:

** the Brewers’ Khris Davis, who hit .357 in five games with three doubles.

** the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena, who hit .400 with two homers in seven games.

** the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, who hit .333 and drove in five runs to reach 94 for the season.

Updated Notes

Brewers

** RHP Kyle Lohse returns to the mound Monday in the Brewers’ first game at San Diego.

** RHP Wily Peralta, going for his 16th win, allowed seven hits, three walks and eight runs (seven earned), including three home runs, Saturday in a loss to the Pirates.

** SS Jean Segura did not start Saturday after making two errors Friday and showing a “lack of focus.”

Cubs

** RHP Justin Grimm pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in relief Saturday.

** Javier Baez homered Friday and Saturday.  His seven homers are the most by Cub through 19 games since Mandy Brooks in 1925.

** RHP Kyle Hendricks' streak of quality starts ended at six Saturday due to a rain delay.

Twins

** The Twins scored 20 runs on Friday and 32 in their first two games against the Tigers this weekend.

** Eduardo Escobar picked up three hits Saturday,  after setting a career-high with five hits on Friday.

**  LHP Glen Perkins was picked to the preliminary roster of the U.S. team that will play Japan.

White Sox

** INF Gordon Beckham was traded to the Angels on Thursday.

** The White Sox optioned reliever Eric Surkamp to Triple-A Charlotte following Friday night's 4-3 loss.

** OF Adam Eaton started a rehab assignment for an oblique injury in the minors.

What’s Ahead

The Brewers head to the West Coast to play the Padres and Giants this week before starting that predominantly NLC schedule.

The Cubs, looking to play the role of spoilers, travel to play the Reds and Cardinals.

In the AL, the White Sox match up against the Indians and Tigers. The Twins go on the road to play the Royals and Orioles.

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