Brewers gear up for tough Interleague stretch

Brewers gear up for tough Interleague stretch

Brewers gear up for tough Interleague stretch
CHICAGO -- The Brewers are finally joining the Interleague party, though it does not look like much of a party at all.

Milwaukee was one of two National League teams to miss the first round of Interleague Play last month, when the Brewers instead hosted the Rockies at Miller Park. The club will make up for the late start by playing a series of American League powerhouses, beginning with three games in Boston this weekend.

That series at Fenway Park starts a brutal 15-game stretch of the schedule against the Red Sox, Rays, Twins, Yankees and Twins again. Boston, New York and Tampa Bay are the top three teams in the tough AL East, and the Twins are on a hot streak.

Thoughts from the manager?

"I have a lot of thoughts about it, but I'd rather not say anything," Ron Roenicke said. "You have to deal with it. We know it's a tough stretch. Even Minnesota, our rivals that we're going to play every year, is tough. I know they're not playing that well [this season] -- though lately, they're playing well -- but I know Minnesota, and I know they are going to play good ball somewhere. They are always a good team.

"It's a rough schedule. But the focus has really been on trying to play good baseball. We know we've got the tough stretch, but we feel like if we're playing this good baseball, we're going to be fine."

The first stop is perhaps the toughest of all. The Brewers last played the Red Sox in 2008 and were on the wrong end of a three-game sweep that prompted a 24-year-old Ryan Braun to declare the building Brewers "didn't expect to win" against the then-defending champions.

"I felt like we were competing, and I know everybody tried hard, but it's not about trying hard," Braun said in frustration. "You have to go out there and expect to win, and I almost feel like we didn't expect to win any of these games."

Asked about those comments this week, Braun called them irrelevant to the task ahead in 2011.

"That's so long ago, it's not something I'm even talking about," he said at Wrigley Field on Thursday. "That feels like a long time ago."

What about the prospect of playing a high-profile series against a very good Boston team?

"We've played a lot of good teams," Braun said. "And we don't need the national attention. It's not going to affect the way we prepare, the way we compete, the way we think about ourselves. It's just another series against a good team. It will definitely be challenging."

Outfielder Corey Hart remembers the aftermath of the Boston series more than that series itself. There was the false report that the Brewers were poised to fire manager Ned Yost that Yost and players had to respond to in Pittsburgh, then a particularly tough loss in the following series in Washington that promoted Yost to call a memorable team meeting before the series finale.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Prince Fielder, 1B (.264, 24 HRs, 51 RBIs): One home run shy of Geoff Jenkins' franchise record for Interleague homers.
Shaun Marcum, RHP (6-1, 3.34 ERA): Will start Brewers' first Interleague Game of '11.
Corey Hart, RF (.287, 17 HRs, 55 RBIs): Leads current Brewers in Interleague RBIs.
John Axford, RHP (4-for-4 in save OPPS): Took over for Trevor Hoffman at Minnesota last season and logged first '10 save

"We were playing really bad, he almost was crying. He thought that was it," Hart said. "But after that, we started playing really good."

The Brewers played well enough over the next three months to climb into the pennant race. They ended up holding on in September to win the NL Wild Card, though Yost was dismissed with 12 games left.

Hart was looking forward to his return to Fenway Park.

"I remember enjoying the experience there," he said. "We were still coming up then, and a lot of the same guys are still here. Obviously we want to go there and play better, but I don't think it's that big a factor. We just want to go there and play well."

Here's a look at some Brewers Interleague history:

Last year: The Brewers had their best Interleague season ever in 2010, going 9-6 against the Twins, Rangers, Angels and Mariners. After losing their first two series, the Brewers won the final three, including a sweep of the Twins at home in late June.

All-time: The Brewers are 93-106 in Interleague Play, and it's been a mixed bag. They have seven winning Interleague seasons and seven losing ones. The worst year was 2002, when the Brewers were 2-10.

The rundown: -- @ Red Sox, June 17-19: Milwaukee's last visit to Boston did not go well. They'll try to win a game this time.

-- Vs. Rays, June 20-22: The Brewers have not played the Rays since 2005, a three-game set in St. Petersburg memorable not just because it marked Tomo Ohka's Brewers debut, but also the arrival of a first-base prospect named Prince Fielder. He went 0-for-4 in his Major League debut on June 13, 2005, but collected his first two hits and his first career RBI two days later.

-- Vs. Twins, June 24-26: The Brewers swept their annual home series against the Twins last season, getting John Axford saves in the first two games and a Yovani Gallardo complete game in the finale.

-- @ Yankees, June 28-30: This marks the Brewers' first trip to new Yankee Stadium and their first series against the Yanks since hosting them in 2005. Milwaukee and New York used to be big rivals in the AL East and squared-off in a divisional playoff series in 1981, the Brewers' first-ever appearance in the postseason.

-- @ Twins, July 1-3: The Brewers' trip to new Target Field last season was not very pleasant, with a 15-3 loss in the opener and an 8-7 loss in 12 innings in Game 2. But the Brewers won the finale behind their new closer, Axford, who took over for a struggling Trevor Hoffman.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.