Playoff Obstacle

Cecil Cooper was a key member of the last Milwaukee Brewers team to reach the playoffs. Now as a manager 25 years later, his Houston Astros are trying to keep them from returning to the postseason.

Cooper and the Astros look to win their third straight game against the Brewers when the teams play the middle game of their series on Tuesday night.

Houston rallied for a 9-7 win on Monday, giving the Astros a 4-3 record since Cooper took over as interim manager last week after Phil Garner was fired.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Milwaukee -160 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 9.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 72% of bets for this game have been placed on Milwaukee -160 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Houston (62-76) now has won its last two games against Milwaukee (69-68), which trails the first-place Chicago Cubs by 1 1/2 games in the NL Central. The Brewers haven't been to the playoffs since 1982, when they played in the AL and Cooper helped them get within a win of beating St. Louis in the World Series.

After spending his first six seasons with Boston, Cooper played for the Brewers from 1977-87, was a bench coach for them in 2002 and manger of their Triple-A affiliate from 2003-04. Five of Milwaukee's final 25 regular-season games are against Houston.

"They're all good kids and good individuals,'' Cooper said of the Brewers. "I'm proud of them, to see them doing what they're doing. But we're going to try to beat the pants off them."

Milwaukee, which had an 8 1/2-game lead after beating Kansas City on June 22, had its three-game winning streak snapped Monday. The Brewers gave up a three-run lead in the eighth inning, giving them a major league-worst 15 losses in games they have led by at least three runs.

"We can't (give) any more games away, not in September," Milwaukee catcher Johnny Estrada said.

The Brewers have scored 26 runs in their last three games, but may be without left fielder Geoff Jenkins on Tuesday. Jenkins, who has 19 home runs and 56 RBIs, left the game after bruising his left foot in the fourth inning on Monday. X-rays were negative and Jenkins is day-to-day.

Milwaukee's rotation also has been hurting, with Claudio Vargas and Manny Parra each being placed on the disabled list in the past seven days. With his options limited, Brewers manager Ned Yost will give Carlos Villanueva (6-3, 4.68 ERA) his second start of the season.

Yost said Villanueva - who has made 53 relief appearances this season - will be limited to 75-80 pitches. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 3.67 ERA in seven career starts. Villanueva is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in five appearances - all in relief - against Houston.

The Astros will counter with Brandon Backe, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday and will make his first appearance in more than a year following elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Backe is 19-14 with a 4.71 ERA in 42 starts and 62 relief appearances in the majors. He is 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA in two starts and three relief appearances against the Brewers, whom he last faced on Aug. 18, 2006 before eventually undergoing surgery.

Backe will try and help Houston win a series against Milwaukee for the first time this season. The Brewers are 9-4 against the Astros in 2007.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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