The Brewers are still mathematically alive in the National League Central race -- and Alex Rodriguez doesn't have an ownership stake in the Cubs just yet, as far as we know -- so beleaguered Milwaukee fans should have lots of reasons to be enthused about this season's climactic final homestand.
The Brewers are on the verge of finishing above .500 for the first time since 1992. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, both 23 years old, lead the majors in combined home runs by two teammates with 81. And Milwaukee drew another sellout crowd Monday night in a 13-5 victory over St. Louis on its way to a franchise record 2.8 million in attendance.
Still, beleaguered Brewers supporters can't help but look back to June 23, when their team was 43-31 and leading the division by 8½ games, and agonize over the missed opportunity to put the Cubs out of their misery.
In light of the rampant sense of disappointment in Milwaukee, it's no surprise that manager Ned Yost is taking some heat. Between the booing and the second-guessing, Yost recently said that he's stopped reading the papers and visiting his favorite local coffee shop. Yost half-jokingly referred to the information crackdown as his "nuclear winter."
There are whispers of clubhouse discord, particularly among the Milwaukee veterans, over Yost's frequent lineup changes and penchant for riding the hot hand. Yost also has clashed with segments of the local media and been testy and defensive at times.
As a victim of flogging-by-blogging, Yost is a casualty of the new media age. With so much statistical information available, every game on television and so many experts frequenting the Internet these days, it's become easier than ever to focus on the manager as a source of a team's problems. Just ask Willie Randolph, Grady Little, Terry Francona and Charlie Manuel.
The Brewers have blown a major-league-high 16 leads of three runs or more, which has fueled criticism of Yost's bullpen management. He has also been second-guessed for habitually lifting Braun (he of the .994 OPS and .900 fielding percentage) for a defensive replacement in the late innings.
Of course, the Brewers might not be in scramble mode right now if some players had performed to expectations. Ben Sheets has pitched a total of 141 1/3 innings because of injury. Bill Hall's home run output has spiraled from 35 to 13. Jeff Suppan is 3-9 with a 5.38 ERA on the road, and Chris Capuano is winless since May 7. If some veterans had played better, the Brewers might be fending off the Cubs rather than frantically chasing Chicago in the final week.
Owner Mark Attanasio, who recently gave Yost a vote of confidence, dropped by the broadcast booth during Monday's game and waxed optimistic about 2008.
"As good as this year has been, I think next year is going to be better," Attanasio said.
The Brewers' inspired performance against Adam Wainwright on Monday was a sign that they haven't quit. Yost has a year left on the two-year, $2 million extension he signed in February 2006. But it can only help his cause if the team continues to play well before those packed Miller Park houses in this final week.
Outfield intrigue in San Diego
Sure, the loss of Milton Bradley to a knee injury is a blow to the San Diego offense. But in Bradley's final 40 starts before he got hurt, the Padres were 20-20. That includes an 0-6 mark in his last six starts.
With Mike Cameron shut down because of a thumb injury, San Diego manager Bud Black is scrambling to find a productive outfield alignment. The Padres also have lost utilityman Rob Mackowiak for the season with a double sports hernia.
General manager Kevin Towers tried to fill the short-term void Monday by picking up Jason Lane from Houston. Lane has a .367 career average against Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo, David Bush and Jeff Suppan, the four starters that San Diego will face this weekend in its season-ending series in Milwaukee, so look for him to see action against the Brewers.
September also has been an audition of sorts for Scott Hairston, a career .322 minor-league hitter who couldn't break through with Arizona because of defensive issues and the Diamondbacks' surplus of young talent.
Hairston is batting .313 with a .594 slugging percentage in September, and he's contributed some huge hits down the stretch. With Bradley now out of the picture in San Diego next season, Hairston might be playing for the Padres' left field job in 2008.
This and that
Some things seen and heard while flipping the dial on our MLB Extra Innings package Monday:
Opponents are now 42-for-42 in stolen base attempts against San Diego starter Chris Young, who is to holding baserunners what Earl Boykins is to offensive rebounding. "Things to work on in the offseason? Well, that would be a consideration," said Giants color man Mike Krukow. In the fifth inning of Monday night's game, San Francisco's Fred Lewis got a late jump and the Padres guessed right on a pitchout, and Lewis still stole second base with ease on Young and catcher Josh Bard.
When Angels manager Mike Scioscia says his team lives to put pressure on the opposition, that means no one is immune and no time is the wrong time. The Angels were trailing Texas 4-0 in the fifth inning when Juan Rivera went first to third on a successful hit and run by Maicer Izturis. That's the same Juan Rivera who just returned from a broken leg three weeks ago.
The Giants' Omar Vizquel displays more energy and passion than you could possibly expect from a 40-year-old middle infielder with a last-place club. He drove in four runs, legged out a triple -- his orange shoelaces flapping all the way -- and laid down a terrific suicide squeeze bunt in San Francisco's 9-4 win over San Diego. Vizquel ranks second in the major leagues in fielding percentage and first among shortstops with an .896 zone rating, so he still can play the position in spite of a suspect arm. But his offense has regressed noticeably this season. Vizquel ranks 25th among baseball's 26 regular shortstops with a .614 OPS. Only Kansas City's Tony Pena is worse.
Gary Cohen, the Mets' unfailingly candid play-by-play man, said outfielder Carlos Gomez looked "overmatched" at the plate against the Nationals' Matt Chico on Monday. Gomez followed with a sacrifice fly, but he's 1-for-12 since rejoining the big club in early September.
Mike Mussina, who seems a lot more comfortable in the role of team spokesman when he's pitching well, told the New York Post that the Yankees should be ready to take the kid gloves off rookie Joba Chamberlain in the postseason. But the YES telecast team of Michael Kay, Al Leiter and Bobby Murcer defended the "Joba rules" during the team's 4-1 loss to Toronto. "The kid is pretty special, and they're not going to take a chance on hurting his future and the Yankees' future, too," Murcer said.
Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, who tied Adam Dunn's single-season strikeout record with his 195th whiff Sunday, might not take long to crack 200. Howard is hitting .071 (1 for 14) with seven strikeouts against lefty Chuck James, who'll start Tuesday night for Atlanta.
Think those numbers are ugly? Pat Burrell, such an integral part of Philadelphia's second-half run, is batting .040 (2 for 25) with 13 whiffs against John Smoltz, who will pitch Thursday for the Braves.
Mets outfielder Moises Alou, who has played only 81 games this season, extended his hitting streak to 28 straight games with a double off Washington's Matt Chico on Monday. Alou is only the second player with a streak that long in a season in which he played fewer than 100 games. The other was Rowland Office, who appeared in only 99 games for the 1976 Atlanta Braves, but still managed to hit safely in 29 straight.
The Rockies are bucking some odds as they try to hang around the NL wild-card race: They have a 20-49 record since 2000 at Dodger Stadium, where they open a three-game series Tuesday night.
Belated apologies from here for excluding the Yankees' Melky Cabrera from a June "Starting 9" column on baseball's best outfield arms. Cabrera's 16 assists this season are the most by a Yankees outfielder since Jesse Barfield notched 16 in 1990. Cabrera is no Barfield, but he still has a hose in center.
It's official: This season will mark the second straight year that Major League Baseball will not have a 100-win team. Over the last 12 seasons, 18 teams have won 100 or more games. Only one, the 1998 Yankees, went on to win the World Series.