The Brewers travel to Cincinnati to face the division rival Reds for the first time this year. If you go by Fangraphs' WAR, then you should be happy to know the Reds' pitching ranks 28th overall. However, I'm not sure that tells an accurate story here. The Reds team ERA is 3.29 and it's FIP is 4.22. It might be that they've been getting lucky or it might have more to do with the Reds' excellent defense which ranks 3rd overall. The real culprit might simply be their bullpen which has been atrocious. As a whole their pen has a 4.61 ERA and an even worse 4.94 FIP. The good new for the Reds is that Aroldis Chapman begins his minor league rehab stint Thursday. The good news for the Brewers is that means he'll still miss this series. The Reds offense has been about as good as the Brewers in the first month. They rank two spots lower with a 96 wRC+.
There are so many "Homer" based puns I can think of, but I'll stow them for now as I actually think Bailey is a great pitcher. So far this year he's striking out 23.8% of batters faced and walking a modest 6.6%. However despite those numbers he has an opponent batting average of .345 and a 1.78 WHIP! He's also getting killed by home runs which is something the Brewers happen to be pretty good at hitting. They're currently (or were when I wrote this) 10th in the majors. Sooner or later Homer Bailey is going to figure things out. I'm hoping it won't be Thursday.
Leake doesn't strike guys out and home runs have typically been an issue with him. His HR/9 is pretty high right now at 1.53. He just seems like a guy that the Brewers are going to have trouble with. His fastball is only around 90 mph but he complements it with a slider, cutter, curveball, and change-up. I expect to see a lot of ground balls hit Friday night. The Reds defense might very well be the difference here.
Johnny Cueto. Wow. He is killing it this year. He's striking out 28.3% of batters faced. His opponent batting average is .135 (best in MLB) and he has a 0.77 WHIP (2nd best after Jason Hammel...)!!! He's crazy good. Brewers are really going to need their mojo if they want to win this game.
Simon seems like another guy that's really being helped out by his defense. He isn't striking guys out but he has a 48.4% ground ball rate and he's stingy with home runs. His .182 BAA and 0.98 seem due for some negative regression, but otherwise he's looking like a pretty solid starter.
The Reds have a solid rotation and runs are going to be hard to come by. The key is probably going to be getting to the bullpen, but that's easier said than done. The Reds pen has pitched the fewest innings in all of baseball. I think this series is going to be all about the Brewers pitching which has been pretty damn good itself. Billy Hamilton has started to heat up the last week and the Reds are accidentally doing the right thing by batting Joey Votto second. If the Brewers can find a way to keep those two bats quiet it'll go a long way to suppressing runs, as the Reds seem to think Brandon Phillips and his 63 wRC+ batting third isn't incredibly stupid. If the Brewers starters can keep it close and make it a bullpen game, the advantage is theirs. I think 3 out of 4 is a real possibility.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs