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Series Preview/Discussion: Brewers at Phillies, Aug. 5-7

Aug. 5, 7:05pm: Brewers 3, Phillies 1 (10 inn) WP: B. Sheets (8-7) LP: G. Geary (0-1)
Aug. 6, 7:05pm: Brewers 2, Phillies 8 WP J. Lieber (10-10) LP: C. Capuano (12-7)
Aug. 7, 1:35pm: Brewers 2, Phillies 0 WP: T. Okha (7-6) LP: V. Padilla (5-11)

Recent History/Overview
In past years, the Phils and their phans might have regarded the prospect of an extra three games against the Milwaukee Brewers the way Kevin Millwood viewed a second cheesesteak: a tasty extra treat we maybe didn't deserve, but would nevertheless enjoy. This year, however, the Brew Crew is looking more formidable than at any time in more than a decade, led by a strong rotation, slugging outfielder Carlos Lee and a crop of exciting young position players. With more home-grown talent on the way and ace Ben Sheets locked up long-term, the Brewers could be poised to enjoy a run of small-budget success not unlike their westerly neighbors, the Minnesota Twins.

Milwaukee took two of three from the Phils in an early-May series at Miller Park, coming from behind in each victory. The Phils exacted revenge the next month, finishing their record-breaking 12-1 homestand with a three-game sweep. Since then, however, the Brewers have gone 26-21 and remain in the wild-card hunt, 5.5 games back of Houston and three behind the Phils.

Like pretty much every team in the NL, the Brewers have fared far better at home than away: Milwaukee brings a 24-35 road mark into Friday's game. They're 13-14 against NL East opponents, having improved both records by taking two of three from the Mets at Shea Stadium this week. The Phils are 35-23 at Citizens Bank Park and have gone 16-13 against NL Central foes.

Strengths and Weaknesses
The Brewers' 505 runs scored is good for fourth among the 16 NL teams, just three behind the Phils, and Milwaukee's 125 home runs is 3rd in the league. Milwaukee batters reach base at a .337 clip, the fifth-best mark in the league. Six Milwaukee regulars--leadoff man Brady Clark, infielders Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall, and sluggers Lee, Geoff Jenkins and Lyle Overbay--have turned in OPS marks of .800 or better. Lee's 90 RBI leads the NL, and he's tied for 9th in the league with 27 home runs. Clark, a late bloomer at age 32, is turning in a superb season from the leadoff spot: he leads the league in hits, has a .324 batting average (5th in the league), 75 runs scored (t-5th). He, Jenkins and catcher Damian Miller are the only Brewer regulars over 30 years of age.

Milwaukee's moundsmen aren't too shabby either: the staff has posted a collective 4.01 ERA, sixth-lowest in the league. Friday starter Ben Sheets missed time earlier this year, but his 3.26 ERA is the 10th best in the league and he's coming off a month of July in which he went 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 39 strikeouts (and just 5 walks) in 44 innings. For the year, Sheets is averaging nearly 8 strikeouts per 9 inning pitched. Chris Capuano, who starts Saturday, is tied for 5th in the NL with 12 wins on the season. The 26 year-old lefty also enjoyed a strong July, going 4-0 for the month. Tomo Okha takes the mound Sunday; since joining the Brewers in an early-June trade with the Washington Nationals, the Japanese native has gone 2-3 with a 4.76 ERA. The Phils have seen a lot of Okha from his years with the Montreal Expos--probably too much, considering he's gone 4-2 with a 2.50 ERA against them in nine career starts.

Milwaukee's bullpen is led by one-time Phils farmhand Derrick Turnbow, lost in a long-ago Rule V draft. Turnbow has taken to the closer's role, posting a 2.09 ERA and 23 saves this season. Another ex-Phil, Ricky Bottalico, was the Brewers' setup man before getting designated for assignment last week.

Brewers Regulars
C Damian Miller
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Ricky Weeks
3B Russell Branan/Wes Helms
SS Bill Hall
LF Carlos Lee
CF Brady Clark
RF Geoff Jenkins