Even with good start after All-Star break, Brewers open series with San Diego eyeing improvement

August 8, 2018

Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Matt Albers delivers a pitch during a MLB game between the Milwaukee Brewers.

MILWAUKEE — Things are looking a lot better for the Milwaukee Brewers than they did just two weeks ago.

After slumping into the All-Star break with a six-game losing streak, the Brewers (65-50) have started the second half strong, winning 10 of 17 games and three of their past four series. Milwaukee starts Tuesday 1½ games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central and 1½ games ahead of the Atlanta Braves for the NL’s top wild card spot.

“I feel good about how we’ve started the second half,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Sunday, after the Brewers missed out on a sweep of the Colorado Rockies with an 11-inning, 5-4 loss. “We’ve played 17 in a row against teams with winning records and we’ve come out of it in a good place.”

Milwaukee won’t have to wait long to face its postseason challengers. The Brewers begin a three-game series against San Diego Tuesday night at Miller Park, then go to Atlanta for three games starting Friday. Then it’s on to Chicago for a two-game set against the Cubs next Tuesday and Wednesday before wrapping up the trip with a three-game weekend series in St. Louis.

Here are three Brewers story lines to watch as the week begins:

Knebel’s role

Counsell said during the Brewers’ recent West Coast trip that he’d use right-handed reliever Corey Knebel in non-save situations as he tries to get Knebel back to his 2017 form — when he saved 39 games and struck out 126 hitters in 76 innings.

Knebel, who got the loss Sunday after giving up a home run to Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, admitted his six-week stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury early in the season may have hindered him a bit since returning.

“When I first came off the DL, it took me a little while to get going before I got into the swing of things,” he said. “I got back going, then I lost it again, then got back in it. It’s been an up-and-down road. Hey, I wish I hadn’t gone on the DL but you can’t control it. It’s a long season. Guys get hurt.”

Knebel doesn’t anticipate things being too different in his new role. The job will be the same, the preparation might just take some adjustment.

“My mindset is always the same,” Knebel said. “I get prepared early, just to be safe so I’m not caught off guard. ... I’m always ready to go, now it’s just a matter of being ready for every single inning.”

Schoop’s slump

The early returns have not been good for second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who was acquired in a non-waiver trade deadline deal with the Baltimore Orioles last Tuesday. Schoop was hitting .244 with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs at the time of the trade, but he is 2-for-21 with 10 strikeouts since joining the Brewers.

Schoop admitted he may have been pressing and trying to do too much to contribute right away, and Counsell said he wasn’t concerned with Schoop’s’ slow start.

“He hasn’t gotten the big results yet but he’s going to swing the bat and we’re going to get good action,” Counsell said. “He’ll be a big contributor.”

Albers’ issues

Both Matt Albers and Counsell were adamant that Albers’ struggles of the last few weeks were not connected to the strained right shoulder that kept the relief pitcher on the disabled list for 40 games.

Albers went 3-1 with a 1.08 ERA through his first 21 appearances and was placed on the DL after a five-run outing against the Cubs on June 11. Since returning July 29, Albers has allowed 10 runs over 1⅔ innings for a 54.00 ERA and has given up four home runs in his last three appearances.

“(Albers) has got to make pitches. It’s as simple as that,” Counsell said. “His velocity has been good. When a guy is missing around the plate, they get hit. A lot of times, it comes down to a little bit better execution. He’s throwing strikes, he’s getting ahead in the count ... with two strikes, he’s struggling to put away guys.”

Albers’ status could change quickly, though. The Brewers picked up another veteran reliever over the weekend when they claimed Jordan Lyles off waivers from San Diego.

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