This weekend the Milwaukee Brewers will battle the Kansas City Royals at Miller Park before embarking on their most important stretch of games this season to date - a two week, 10 game road trip that includes three critical games at Wrigley Field against the first-place Chicago Cubs.
This 10-game stretch could decide which direction the Brewers will go at the fast-approaching trade deadline. Should they come out of the trip with a positive 7-3 or 8-2 mark and are able to gain some ground on the Cubs, the Brewers may be moving to the buyers side of the trade market, looking to land that one pitcher that could take the team over the hump.
However, should the Brewers skid to a 5-5 trip or worse, the Brewers will likely land on the sellers side of the market, taking offers for players like Jose Hernandez, Devon White, Jimmy Haynes and David Weathers to strengthen the club for future seasons. White and Weathers would appear to have tremendous trade value at present, as they are proven playoff performers having excellent seasons. Haynes is becoming more expendable each time Nick Neugebauer blows away the competition in the minors, while Hernandez had a good enough bat and a cheap enough price for a team needing a DH or a middle infielder with some pop.
Or perhaps, if this team gets really hot and begins to run on all cylinders on this trip, Dean Taylor can stick with who he currently has on the club with confidence and hope that September callups can provide any missing pieces.
At the surface, this 10-game trip is a golden opportunity for Milwaukee that they need to take advantage of. Three games at Cinergy Field against the reeling Cincinnati Reds, followed by a three-game weekend series at Wrigley Field and a four-game series against the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates should have the Brewers salivating at their chances to get back to the top of the NL Central.
But it will also be a nail-biting trip for Davey Lopes and Taylor. They will find out if Jeff DAmico is back to form after spending two months on the shelf with nerve problems in his arm. They will also know the extent of Paul Rigdons elbow problems, and whether he may land on the disabled list. Lopes will also find out if the elbow injury to Raul Casanova has slowed down his hot bat off the bench, as well as the progress of Jeffrey Hammonds and his nagging shoulder problems that have hurt his production this year.
We will find out a lot about the makeup of this team over the next couple of weeks. Do they have what it takes to make a push toward the top of the standings against weaker competition? Can the Brewers prove to the Cubs in Wrigley Field that the they are a team to be taken seriously? There still is a long way to go in this baseball season, but we should know by July 1 what the future holds for the 2000 Milwaukee Brewers.