With the Milwaukee Brewers surging as they approach a weekend showdown with the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, here are five things the Brewers must do to stay in the division race.
More Control from the Ax Man
Armed with a 95 MPH fastball and a phenomenal 'stache to boot, Milwaukee closer John Axford certainly looks the part. But for the Brewers to take Axford's mustache ride all the way to the playoffs, he is going to need to clean up his 1.52 WHIP and avoid continuing to tempt fate by allowing so many baserunners.
Axford has not authored a 1-2-3 inning since May 16, a span of 12 appearances, and has walked at least one batter in six of his last eight outings. The Ax Man needs to limit his walks or risk blowing the kind of tight, late-inning battles the Brewers will need to win to continue their playoff push.
Solidify the Setup Role
Sticking with the bullpen, the Brewers have struggled to find an effective bridge to Axford of late. Kameron Loe has been getting lit up after a strong start, with his ERA ballooning to 5.46 after surrendering five earned runs in his outing on Wednesday.
Who should be the Brewers Setup Man?
The return of Takashi Saito from the DL should help solidify the 'pen, but the Brewers will likely need either lefty Zach Braddock (2.31 ERA) or veteran LaTroy Hawkins (0.59 ERA) to assume the setup role and make sure that Axford gets his chances to slam the door shut on the opposition.
McGehee Needs to Find His Power Stroke
It's been well documented, but Casey McGehee will need to rediscover his power stroke and provide some protection behind Prince Fielder in order to keep the Brewers offense thriving. McGehee is batting just .231 with four home runs and has hit an alarming 54.2 percent of his batted balls on the ground this season. The Brewers will need McGehee to start driving the ball like it's 2010 (or 2009) to ensure that their middle-of-the-order sluggers keep seeing quality pitches.
More At-Bats for Morgan
In limited at-bats, center fielder Nyjer Morgan has provided the Brewers everything they had always hoped Carlos Gomez would produce. Morgan has given Milwaukee a spark when healthy this season, batting .343, including a walk-off double to beat the New York Mets 7-6 on Wednesday.
So what if he doesn't always know what inning it is? Morgan can hit (career .286 average), field and steal bases (58 in the last two seasons). It's time to bench the light-hitting, strikeout-prone Gomez and give Morgan the lion's share of at-bats in center.
Brewer Bats Must Travel
Lost in the Brewers' dismal 13-19 start on the road this season is the fact that Milwaukee's ERA is actually lower on the road (3.77 at Miller Park compared to 3.54 on the road). It's the Brewer bats that haven't been making the trip. Milwaukee is batting just .228 away from the Brew City, down a whopping 56 points from its home average. Slugger Ryan Braun has been the main culprit, hitting a pedestrian .269 on the road, 89 points lower than at home.
Other than Prince Fielder, who hits everywhere, the Brewers need to haul the heavy lumber on the road in order to improve their putrid road mark.