Only the newcomer has been pitching like one.
Tuesday would be an ideal time for the Brewers to see Sheets, hoping to avoid a fifth loss in six starts, regain his top form because they face the St. Louis Cardinals in the first of two games against their closest pursuers for the NL wild card.
While Milwaukee (76-55) has won four straight and 14 of 18, St. Louis (73-59) has stayed within striking distance by winning seven of 10. The Brewers’ wild-card lead is at 3 1/2 games over the Cardinals.
“Obviously, everyone knows they are two big games, they’re right behind us in this wild-card push,” Milwaukee center fielder Mike Cameron said. “They’ve played pretty good baseball, too. Two good teams playing good baseball.”
Milwaukee has won the last six meetings to take a 9-4 lead in the season series. Both clubs had Monday off leading up to this series, the last between these teams this year.
“How much more fun is it? October is the only thing more meaningful,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of facing the division rival Brewers in a playoff chase.
Milwaukee is 16-6 in August, and half of those defeats have been charged to Sheets (11-7, 3.75 ERA).
While Sabathia has gone 8-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 10 starts for the Brewers after being acquired from Cleveland on July 7, Sheets has won once in eight outings since that trade.
A lack of run support hasn’t helped his cause during that stretch, with Milwaukee providing him two runs or less in six of those games. Sheets, though, certainly is not pitching as well as he was before Sabathia arrived, having gone 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA through his first 17 starts. He pitched into the seventh inning 11 times in that span, but has since done so just three times.
Sheets is 1-4 with a 4.06 ERA in his last five starts. He gave up a home run for the first time in seven starts last Tuesday, when he allowed five runs in six innings of a 5-2 loss to Houston.
“I ain’t pitching great but I don’t think I’m pitching as bad as it’s made out to be,” Sheets said. “I’ve pitched plenty of winnable games and I’ve pitched plenty of losable games in that stretch.”
The right-hander has not received a decision in either of his two starts this year against the Cardinals, tossing seven innings of three-run ball both times. He’s 1-6 in his last 10 outings against them, but he’s received no more than two runs of support in nine of those games, and he’s 5-14 with a 4.20 ERA in 25 career starts versus Milwaukee.
Sabathia yielded one run in six innings on Sunday, but the Brewers needed J.J. Hardy’s RBI single in the 12th to beat Pittsburgh 4-3. It was their 23rd win in their last at-bat.
Hardy had three hits and is riding a 10-game hitting streak. He’s been particularly hot in the last eight, batting .412 (14-for-34) with three homers and 11 RBIs.
Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols also has been on a tear, going 10-for-15 with two homers and 10 RBIs in the last four games. He’s hit safely in eight straight while batting .563 (18-for-32) with four homers.
His 26 hits off Sheets are the most by any major leaguer and Pujols has hit .382 against him with four homers in 68 at-bats.
Sheets will be opposed by Todd Wellemeyer (11-4, 3.79), who has won three straight starts and is unbeaten in his last eight. The converted reliever has a 2.48 ERA in his last six outings.
Wellemeyer was in line to win both of his starts this season versus Milwaukee, allowing two earned runs in 11 innings, only to see the St. Louis bullpen blow ninth-inning leads.