Perhaps the most important series remaining on the Brewers' schedule begins Monday between two in-state rivals.
The Brewers' Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds, hosts St. Louis farm team Memphis in a four-game series with the first-place Redbirds holding a 1½-game lead (entering Sunday) over the Sounds and Iowa Cubs in the Pacific Coast League's American North Division.
It would be in the Crew's best interests to see the Sounds rally to make the PCL playoffs and go all the way to the Bricktown Showdown. If not, things could get awkward after this week around Miller Park.
That is because of J.J. Hardy. The former All-Star shortstop hasn't exactly been lighting it up with Nashville, hitting .233 with three homers and nine RBIs in 16 games since his demotion to Triple-A. Only Hardy really knows why he is still struggling: pouting, still out of sync, injured, lost all confidence.
If Hardy can snap out of his funk and help the Sounds to the postseason, that means Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ken Macha won't have to figure out a playing rotation with Hardy and top prospect Alcides Escobar, who is getting his feet wet as a regular major-leaguer, quite so soon. A Sounds failure will make the final three weeks of the Brewers' season less awkward.
A resurgence by Hardy would be good for the Crew and the shortstop. Hardy is a superb defender and should be a decent threat offensively. With Escobar seemingly ready to play every day, the Brewers will have the choice between Hardy and Escobar at short or whether to move one of those guys to another position of need — second or third base (depending on what happens with Rickie Weeks and Felipe Lopez).
With a major need to upgrade the starting rotation, Hardy might be the best option to trade, but he will only be attractive if he finishes with a flourish. The Red Sox have shown a lot of interest during the season, but will Melvin swallow hard and take a deal that may not equal Hardy's potential?
Hard to say. But it would be nice if Hardy starts to find his swing again this week and lead the Sounds to the playoffs.
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Written by Steve Drumwright