After a strong finish to the first half of the season, the Milwaukee Brewers have their sights set on a playoff push in the second half.
In the opener of their three-game series against the San Francisco Giants on Friday, the Brewers give the ball to prized acquisition CC Sabathia, who they are counting on helping them reach the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
Milwaukee (52-43) is five games back of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs, and one game behind wild card-leading St. Louis. In an effort to make their first playoff appearance since 1982, the Brewers acquired Sabathia (2-0, 2.40 ERA) from Cleveland on July 7.
Sabathia, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, has made an immediate impact with Milwaukee, winning each of his first two starts. After allowing three runs and five hits in six innings of a 7-3 win over Colorado in his Brewers debut on July 8, the left-hander struck out nine and threw an eight-hitter in a 3-2 win over Cincinnati on Sunday - Milwaukee’s final game before the break. He also hit a homer.
“I knew it would be good to win a game before you get four days off,” Sabathia told the team’s official Web site. “That’s all I was trying to do, help this team win and be able to take the break and relax, so we can come back and be strong in San Francisco.”
In his only career start against the Giants (40-55) on June 10, 2005, Sabathia gave up two runs and five hits in eight innings of a 10-2 victory.
Sabathia has joined Ben Sheets, the starting pitcher for the NL in Tuesday’s All-Star game, to create a formidable 1-2 combination at the top of the Brewers’ starting rotation. Milwaukee is a NL-best 24-15 since June 1, but manager Ned Yost knows the team still has work to do to make the playoffs.
“I think (Sabathia’s) going to come in here and really be good, but don’t think that the National League called me today and said, ‘You’ve got a bye, you’re in the World Series,’” Yost said. “Forget it. I didn’t get that call. We all need to step up like we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks.”
The Brewers swept the Giants at Miller Park April 4-6, but they haven’t had much success at San Francisco lately. Milwaukee has dropped five straight games at AT&T Park, where it has lost nine of its last 13.
San Francisco has been awful at home this season, though. The Giants are a major league-worst 17-28 at home, and have dropped 18 of their last 24 at AT&T Park.
Despite its struggles, San Francisco is in third place in the NL West, seven games back of first-place Arizona.
“We still have to get to .500 and be more consistent, especially at home,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. “Effort’s not the problem. We need to start the second half off running.”
The Giants open up the second half of the season with Matt Cain (5-7, 4.06) on the mound.
Cain gave up three hits and struck out nine in seven scoreless innings of a 3-1 loss to Chicago on Friday, but was not a factor in the decision. The right-hander has alternated good and bad outing in his last four starts, yielding five hits with 19 strikeouts in 15 shutout innings in his two stellar games, but has been tagged for nine runs over 11 innings in losing the other two.
In his lone start against the Brewers on Sept. 24, 2006, Cain allowed five runs, five hits and five walks in seven innings of a 5-3 loss.