The first series against the Reds saw the Brewers drop 3 out of 4. The second saw the Brewers drop 2 out of 3. The Brewers also lost 2 of 3 in the third series earlier this month. It's cliched now to say all wins are created equal, but I wonder if it's even true. With games against division rivals you directly impact their standings. At this point in the season I'd say that's more important than a win against the Blue Jays or the Dodgers.
The Brewers are tied with the Cardinals, the Pirates are 1.5 games back, and the Reds are 2.5 games back. The wrong end of a sweep here could theoretically see the Brewers drop to 4th in the division. With a little over two months left in the season I'm not ready to call any game "must win," but this series is about as close as it gets.
Fortunately for us, the Reds haven't been very good lately and were just swept by the middling Yankees. It's understandable. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are both on the disabled list and will be for a while. The Reds are currently 25th in MLB with a 90 wRC+. Todd Frazier remains a threat (136 wRC+) but after that only Devin Mesoraco has been hitting well all season (163) and as a catcher he might not play every game of the series.
Their bullpen is pretty top heavy. Aroldis Chapman has been excellent and Jonathan Broxton has been pretty good. After that you start to see a drop-off, though not a steep decline. Sam LeCure has been okay and so has Manny Parra. JJ Hoover has been pretty bad and while Logan Ondrusek has nice peripherals, he's getting hit a lot. Jumbo Diaz also has pretty nice peripherals in the 9 innings he's pitched, but the long ball has been an issue and 9 innings isn't a reliable set of data. We also don't have a lot of data on Carlos Contreras. That's an 8 man bullpen which means the bench is short. It'll be interesting to see if that becomes a factor.
Monday July 21st, 7:10 pm CT: Wily Peralta vs Mat Latos
Latos has been solid since returning from the DL. His strikeout numbers are down significantly from previous years (15.1 K% this year down from an average in the low 20's). One would expect that to go up. It might not make a meaningful difference in his results though. His opponent batting average this year (.174) is well below his career average (.226). That should also rise eventually along with his WHIP. Most notably, his average fastball velocity has dropped from 92.5 last year to 90.5 this year. If he were on my team, I'd be worried about his future. Still, I think he'll be solid the rest of this season.
Tuesday July 22nd, 7:10 pm CT: Jimmy Nelson vs Homer Bailey
Poor Homer Bailey. Beside some minor changes in pitch usage, he doesn't appear to be doing anything drastically different from last year. However, instead of a 3.49 ERA he has a 4.21. The only real difference is that he's getting hit more. Last year his BAA was .231. This year it's .259 which is more in line with his career average. It's looking more and more like 2013's breakout was just an aberration. That being said, I think Bailey is better than his 4.21 ERA suggests. He has a decent K% and his SwStr% is the highest of his career. The important thing for the Brewers is going to be laying off pitches outside the strike zone (but it kind of always is).
Wednesday July 23rd, 1:10 pm CT: Kyle Lohse vs Mike Leake
Mike Leake is arguably the best pitcher the Brewers are going to be facing this series (so it's fitting Kyle Lohse gets the start). FIP doesn't like him that much, but I think he's solid. He has 5 pitches that he mixes pretty well. His low-90's fastball is complemented by a slider, cutter, curve, and change. He has a .262 BAA which isn't very good, but his low BB% helps keep his WHIP down. He has a below average K% as well, but he gets a lot of ground balls. Ground ball pitchers and pitchers with large repertoires often give the Brewers hitters fits, but in their last meeting the Brewers tagged him for 4 runs in 5 innings. Let's hope for a similar outcome.
I still don't know how the Reds have dominated the Brewers to the extent that they have. I don't think the Reds suck, but they're not that good either. Now with two of their most important position players out, they're even more vulnerable. The Brewers really need a series win here and I think they're capable of it. The Reds pitching is miles ahead of their hitting, but the starters the Brewers are facing are not without warts.
Of course, the same could be said about the three starters the Brewers will throw out there. Hopefully Jimmy Nelson can have a rebound outing after getting roasted by the Cardinals. Wily Peralta and Kyle Lohse are both coming off great starts so hopefully they're back on track. In the end I do think the Brewers win 2 out of 3, but I'd be lying if I said their recent play hasn't had me worried just a bit.
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Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs