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Nine games left: Pirates series preview

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Could this be the Brewers last stand? We've said that for about every series in the last month, but this time it might be true.

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Mike McGinnis

If the Brewers sweep the Pirates they'll leave Sunday half a game back of the 2nd Wild Card spot. If they just win the series (2 out of 3), they'll be 2.5 games back. If they only win 1 they'll drop to 4.5 games back. If they get swept they'll be 6.5 games back of the Pirates and then it'll just be a matter of time. It'll probably just be a matter of time if they drop 2 out of 3.

The Brewers face the Reds and the Cubs for their final 6 games. The Pirates have 4 against the Braves and 3 against the Reds (all road games). They each face the Reds in Cincinnati so that's more or less a wash. The Cubs have their exciting prospects playing, but they're still not that good.

The Braves, were hanging tough with the Brewers in pursuit of the Pirates and the 2nd Wild Card for a while, but they've dropped off significantly recently. That being said, I still think the Braves are a tougher opponent than the Cubs. At least they have a good rotation. If the Braves can take a couple of games from the Pirates it'll be a huge help to the Brewers. If they can do better than that, it could even be enough to give the Brewers the second wild card.

They definitely have to win this series, but while we keep telling ourselves this is a must sweep, not all hope is lost if they just take 2 out of 3.

Now, about Pittsburgh. I'll be perfectly frank with you all. The Pirates are the best team in the NL Central right now. Their pitching staff is decent, if not overwhelming. That offense though. That offense is pretty staggering right now. Check this out:

That's...gonna be a problem.

The Pirates bullpen has had it's ups and downs but it's probably at it's best right now. Mark Melancon has been lights out all season. Tony Watson has been just as good. Now they've added John Holdzkom to the mix who was not even pitching in affiliated ball last year. His story reminds me of the likes of John Axford and Brandon Kintzler. Holdzkom has a high 90's fastball and a palmball which acts similar to a change-up. In the 6 innings he's pitched for the Pirates' he's struck out 11 and walked 1, allowed 0 runs.

After those 3 there isn't much good in the pen, so if the Brewers can avoid these guys or find a way to neutralize them, they might be okay. That's asking a lot when you have to face 3 guys that are absolutely electric though. But who knows? Maybe Holdzkom is just an illusion? He has only pitched 6 innings.

Friday, September 19th - 6:10 pm CT: Yovani Gallardo vs Jeff Locke

By ERA and xFIP Jeff Locke has been an average pitcher this year. By FIP and SIERA he's been below average. That's good news for the Brewers. Or at least one would think. They've faced him twice this year and only have 5 hits in 13 innings. That's pretty crazy, but do you know what's insane? In their last meeting, in 6 IP Jeff Locke issued 6 walks to the Brewers. That's right. The Brewers, of all teams, drew more walks in their last game vs Locke than they have hits in total against him this year. They scored 2 runs that game. It's not like Jeff Locke has been good about limiting hits. He has a .248 BAA which is exactly average.

Of note for the Brewers: Locke is a lefty so the Brewers should have Khris Davis back in left field. They'll probably also have Jonathan Lucroy at first base and Martin Maldonado catching. This will also likely be 1 of 3 final starts for Rickie Weeks as a Milwaukee Brewer.

As lucky as Jeff Locke appeared to be in his previous outing against the Brewers, Yovani Gallardo was just as unlucky. He allowed 6 runs, but only 3 were earned. He did allow 8 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings pitched, so it's not like he was on his game. The start before that Gallardo pitched 7 shut out innings. Hopefully we see a game more similar to that. He's also had a start where he allowed 3 runs and two where he allowed 2 runs. These were all earlier in the season though.

Saturday, September 20th - 6:10 pm CT: Matt Garza vs Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez has been a surprise this year. I kept waiting for the bottom to drop out and I know I wasn't the only one. That never happened though and to date he's produced a 3.27 ERA. That's pretty darned good. He's basically been the Pirates' version of Yovani Gallardo this year (based on results not pitch repertoire). Neither is much of a strike out collector anymore, but they both now get a good amount of ground balls. So basically, they've both made or are in the process of making, the transition from strike out pitcher to ground ball contact pitcher.

While Yo has struck out and walked fewer, Volquez has a better HR/9 and BAA. One interesting difference is in their BABIP. Volquez's is about 0.020 points lower than Gallardo's. It's somewhat strange since the Brewers infield defense on a whole has been better this year, except for at SS. Perhaps Volquez has just been lucky?

Luck sure seems to explain his last outing versus the Brewers. He only pitched 5.2 innings but he gave up 11 hits including 1 HR, 2 walks, and got only 3 strike outs. Despite that, he only allowed 2 runs. He won that game too. It was the start where Peralta imploded and gave up 7 runs in 5 innings. The start before that, in June, Volquez allowed 4 runs, 3 earned. He also had one start where he allowed 1 run, and another where he allowed 2. Those came in back to back starts way back in April. So hopefully the trend continues in the Brewers direction and this time they not only get tons of hits, but capitalize on those hits.

Of note for the Brewers: Matt Garza has made 3 starts since coming back from an oblique injury. He was really bad in his first start, but part of that might be attributed to not being able to make a rehab start. In his second start he pitched well enough, but a limit on his pitch count forced him out of the game after 4 innings. Then in his last start he seemed to be mostly back to himself. In 6 IP he only allowed 4 hits, but he did walk 3 which is uncharacteristic. He struck out six and allowed just 1 run on a solo home run. The Brewers will really need him to have another good start like that.

Sunday, September 21st - 12:35 pm CT: Wily Peralta vs TBD (Charlie Morton?)

The Brewers have a chance to go out of this series strong on offense. Rated by ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, Charlie Morton has been eerily average this year. Seriously, I've never seen a pitcher be almost exactly equal in each stat: 3.72 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 3.73 SIERA. That's league average to a tee. Incredible. His K% and BB% are both a little worse than average. His BAA and WHIP are almost exactly equal. He does have an excellent 55.7 GB%.

The Brewers have faced Morton twice, but not since April. In the first start of the season he allowed 4 runs, 2 earned. In the second start he allowed 5 runs, all earned. It was so long ago, so we can't really make any conclusions based on these 2 games. And it's baseball so anything can happen.

Of note for the Brewers: Peralta's last start against the Pirates was pretty awful: 8 runs (7 earned) in 5 IP. He had another poor outing immediately following that one, but has had 3 pretty solid to great outings leading up to this game. Peralta has also pitched 2 very solid outings versus the Pirates earlier this season (both 7IP, 1 ER). I'm thinking Peralta's last outing vs the Pirates was part of a struggle he was having at the time instead of a Pirates team that had his number.

Conclusion

The Brewers have worked over the Pirates for much of the season. They have won 11 out of 16 games against them. However, in their last meeting the Pirates swept them took 2 out of 3. These aren't the same teams that faced each other in April so it would be a bad idea to simply look at that season record and expect or even hope for a sweep. But that's almost a necessity for the Brewers. Almost. We can still hope the Braves take it to the Pirates in that four game series. Still, it feels like the Brewers have their backs against the wall. Their opponent is strong and after that heartbreaking series loss to the Cardinals I'm just not confident the Brewers have it in them to fight back. I desperately hope I'm wrong.

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link!

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs