Brewers, Cubs Ready for Key Series

Brewers, Suppan look to rebound after losing two of three to last-place Houston, while Cubs hope to get offense going during huge four-game series at Miller Park.

Inside pitch

When describing his team's offense, Brewers manager Ned Yost often says, "We are what we are."

What the Brewers are is a team that usually wins when it hits home runs and loses when it doesn't.

In games in which the Brewers have hit a home run, they are 50-27. When they haven't hit a home run, they are 10-18. The last time the Brewers won a game without hitting a homer was June 28 in Minnesota, a 5-1 victory. Asked if it concerned him that his team was so homer-reliant, Yost opted for a barnyard analogy.

"Have you ever seen anybody try to turn a pig into a horse?" said Yost. "It is what it is. We're happy with our offense. Our team is a power-hitting team. We score a lot of runs by the home run, but we're also capable of manufacturing runs, here and there. As long as we're scoring runs, who cares? People want to get a little too creative at times with a team's offense. Do what you do best and stick with it. That's what we do."

Astros 11, Brewers 6

On the eve of their biggest series of the year--four games against the Cubs--the Brewers took a big pratfall. In particular, right-hander Jeff Suppan was awful, getting tagged for seven runs in the fifth inning. Overall, Suppan allowed 11 hits and eight runs in six innings. Thus, after coming back from a scintillating 7-0 trip to San Francisco and St. Louis, the Brewers lost two of three at home to the Astros. They disappointed their seventh consecutive sellout crowd, which ties a franchise record.

Inside edge

Suppan is in the second year of a four-year, $42 million contract, so he's going to keep getting the ball, no matter how bad he is. And lately, he has been pretty bad. Over his last five outings, Suppan is 0-4 with a 9.10 ERA. He is the definite weak link in the rotation right now. But despite the howls of upset fans, Suppan won't be removed from the rotation. When you're making that kind of money, that's the way it works.

Notes

--Second baseman Ray Durham played his first game in front of the home fans Saturday night against Houston and made a big splash, pounding two doubles, drawing a walk and scoring three runs. Durham was acquired from San Francisco a week ago and had made just one start, on the road.

--Left fielder Ryan Braun has been on fire in July. In his last 20 games, he is batting .407 (33-for-81) with eight homers and 22 RBI. He has hit home runs in four of his last five games.

--The Brewers are 8-2 since the All-Star break despite a dearth of hitting with runners in scoring position. Over those 10 games, they batted a mere .178 (19-for -07) with RISP.

--Shortstop J.J. Hardy extended his hitting streak to nine games with an RBI single in the sixth inning Sunday.

--The Brewers tied a franchise record Sunday by drawing their seventh consecutive sellout crowd (41,565) to Miller Park. With all four games of their upcoming series against the Cubs sold out, the Brewers are guaranteed to smash that team mark.

By the numbers

20--Victories in the Brewers' last at-bat this season, tops in the major leagues.

Quote of the day

"I was well-rested, obviously."—Dave Bush after pitching for the first time in 16 days in the unusual home-away platoon with fellow right-hander Seth McClung.

Chicago Cubs

Inside pitch

For Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs believe it's just a matter of time and timing. Soriano came off the disabled list last Wednesday in Arizona after missing six weeks with a broken left hand. With only a couple of rehab games in the minor leagues under his belt, Soriano naturally saw his timing suffer.

Heading into Sunday's game against the Marlins, Soriano was 3-for-18 with four strikeouts before going 3-for-5 with a homer in the series finale. Cubs manager Lou Piniella will continue running Soriano out every day in the leadoff spot.

Piniella said he believes Soriano's hand is fine, but he termed Soriano's hitting style "unorthodox" and one that requires timing. When Soriano is hot, he can carry a club. He hit 14 home runs last September to help the Cubs win the NL Central.

Cubs 9, Marlins 6

Derrek Lee tied the game at 6-all with a leadoff homer in the seventh, and pinch hitter Mike Fontenot hit a three-run double later in the inning to put the Cubs ahead and spark a come-from-behind victory. Righty Jason Marquis spotted the Marlins a 5-0 lead by the third inning. Chad Gaudin earned the victory in relief, and Jeff Samardzija earned his first major league save, working two hitless innings, striking out three.

Inside edge

Unless something comes along that knocks his socks off, general manager Jim Hendry probably won't make a major move before Thursday's non-waiver trading deadline. Hendry pulled off a huge trade earlier this month, getting pitchers Rich Harden and Gaudin from Oakland. If the Cubs do something, it probably will be in the area of adding a bullpen arm or a right-handed hitter off the bench.

Notes

--Righty Kerry Wood won't be available for the four-game series at Milwaukee because the blister on his right index finger remains slow to heal. Wood is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday, but that won't happen as the Cubs want to make sure the blister is completely healed. Wood has 24 saves in 29 chances this season.

--Harden became the first pitcher to strike out at least 10 in each of his first three starts for a club in the modern era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Harden struck out 10 in five innings Saturday in getting a no-decision in the Cubs' 3-2 loss.

--Samardzija pitched in his second game situation, working a 1-2-3 eighth inning after working two innings Friday. If Samardzija continues to pitch effectively, look for Piniella to keep turning to him in game situations and moving fellow righty Bob Howry to the sixth and seventh.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Piniella said. "We've been looking for one more good arm in the bullpen, and I think we found it."

--Soriano hit his 16th homer of the season and his first since June 7 when he connected off Florida's Rick VandenHurk with two on in the fourth. Soriano was out from June 12 through last Wednesday with a broken left hand. He went 3-for-5, marking his first game with at least three hits since May 17.

--Lefty Ted Lilly, who starts tonight, has a better ERA (3.84) on the road than he does at home (5.34). Lilly has three straight road victories.

By the numbers

7--The Cubs entered this week with seven quality starts since the All-Star break. The starters' ERA over those games was 2.10. But with the offense slumping, the Cubs' record over those games was just 3-4.

Quote of the day

"We're just not scoring runs, period. And if we continue to swing the bats like this the rest of the year, we ain't going to win that many either."--Piniella on his team's slumping offense.


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