Last season, Ben Sheets and the Milwaukee Brewers blew a large lead in the NL Central. A similar collapse helped the Philadelphia Phillies make the playoffs, and they’re going to need more help to qualify again.
Sheets, whose late-season struggles hurt the Brewers last season, looks to extend a 20-inning scoreless streak when he faces the struggling Phillies in the opener of a four-game series Thursday night.
This is a key series for both teams, with Milwaukee (83-63) four games ahead of Philadelphia (79-67) for the NL wild card while trailing the Chicago Cubs by 4 1/2 games in the Central. The Phillies, meanwhile, are 3 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the East.
Each club is struggling, however, with Milwaukee having won three of its last 10 games and Philadelphia dropping three of its last four.
“It’s going to be an exciting four games here, but we’ve got to start winning some games,” Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said.
Milwaukee is trying to avoid another letdown after coughing up an 8 1/2-game lead in the Central last summer. The Brewers had a 7 1/2-game lead over Chicago on June 29, 2007, but Sheets (13-7, 2.82 ERA) went 3-2 with a 5.72 ERA in his last eight starts and they ended up missing the playoffs.
“This is horribly fun, if you can understand what I am saying. It’s a lot, a lot of fun, but it’s a grind and there’s a lot of pressure that goes with it,” Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. “We know what we’re doing. We know what we’re up against.”
It helps that Sheets is showing no signs of breaking down this year, going 2-0 without allowing a run in his last three outings.
The veteran right-hander earned his career-high 13th win Saturday night, throwing a five-hitter in Milwaukee’s 1-0 victory over San Diego. He struck out seven and walked one en route to his fifth complete game of the season.
Sheets is 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in his last seven starts versus the Phillies.
Philadelphia will try to use this series to boost its hopes for a postseason return. The Phillies were in an even tougher spot last season, trailing the Mets by six games a year ago before winning the division on the final day.
Philadelphia, though, will need to avoid a prolonged losing streak to catch New York, which has won three straight and seven of nine. Jamie Moyer (13-7, 3.64) will be trying to serve as stopper for the Phillies as he starts on three days’ rest.
The 45-year-old left-hander has won two straight starts, posting a 1.46 ERA. He gave up two hits in seven shutout innings as Philadelphia beat the Mets 6-2 in the opener of a doubleheader Sunday.
Moyer is 8-5 with a 3.57 ERA in 16 starts and five relief appearances against the Brewers.
Philadelphia allowed 12 hits in a 7-3 loss to Florida on Wednesday.
Now, the Phillies will face a Brewers lineup that has been struggling, failing to score more than four runs in any of its last eight contests.
Milwaukee needed a clutch hit from Mike Cameron to beat Cincinnati 4-3 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep. Cameron singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.
After a terrible 10-game homestand, the Brewers are starting a 10-game, 11-day road trip.
“A change of scenery does people good, too,” Yost said. “Now we’ll go elsewhere and see if we can’t get on a big roll.”