You know how the NL Central was supposed to be one of the best divisions in baseball? It turns out the NL West might be what the Central was supposed to be.
Your First Place Milwaukee Brewers return home this weekend to host the Los Angeles Dodgers, who at 32-22, would have a three-game lead over the Brewers if they played in the Central. Instead, the Dodgers are in third place, trailing the 34-22 Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies by a half game.
The Dodgers come to town losers of two straight games in which the offense didn't show up, but don't let that fool you -- they're still in the middle of a stretch in which they've gone 11-4 over their last 15 games, including an easy sweep of the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers may be catching the Dodgers at a good time, though, with centerfielder Joc Pederson and Justin Turner -- who had been hitting .379/.453/.493 in 39 games -- landing on the disabled list in the past week.
After years of relying on veterans in the lineup, LA is now being powered by young stars. Second year shortstop Corey Seager comes into the weekend hitting .280/.383/.456 with 7 home runs and 13 doubles, while 21-year-old Cody Bellinger -- a.k.a. The Reason The Dodgers Don't Need Ryan Braun -- has come up and hit .252/.322/.565 with 11 home runs and 6 doubles in his first 35 games.
If the Brewers find themselves trailing late in the game, it may be difficult to build much of a rally. The Dodgers have one of the best-performing bullpens in the game, led by Josh Fields (0.81 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 22.1 innings), Pedro Baez (1.19 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22.2 innings) and of course, Kenley Jansen (1.35 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 20 innings). How good has Jensen been? He has a FIP of 0.19 (not a typo -- zero point one nine!) and an ERA+ of 300. He's allowed 3 runs all season, with 2 coming in the first week of the season and the third coming on a solo home run in a non-save opportunity appearance nearly two weeks ago.
Friday, 7:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Clayton Kershaw vs. Jimmy Nelson
Nothing like starting a new series off against the best pitcher alive. Kershaw comes into the series with a 2.37 ERA, but a much higher FIP of 3.09. What a bum. He was actually hit around a little bit by the Cubs in his last start, when he surrendered 4 runs on 11 hits -- 3 of which were home runs -- in just 4.1 innings. Of course, the start before that, he threw 9 innings of 1-run ball with no walks and 10 strikeouts in a game which the Dodgers eventually won in extra innings, lowering his ERA to 2.01 at the time. The Brewers haven't faced Kershaw since 2015, when he went 7.1 innings and struck out 8 while giving up 3 runs. Despite the strong outing, the Brewers won 4-3 in what was also Craig Counsell's managerial debut.
Saturday, 3:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Rich Hill vs. Matt Garza
Remember when Hill was the Cubs' next big pitching prospect? He's 37 now. After reviving his career with an incredible 20-start run last year, the Dodgers gave the lefty a 3-year, $48 million extension in the offseason -- partially out of desperation, since there were few options to replace him in their rotation. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the first year of that deal hasn't worked out well (who knew giving a 37-year-old pitcher $50 million was a bad idea?), with Hill missing a month with off-and-on blister problems. He's made just 5 starts this year, the last outing coming on Monday in St. Louis. He held the Cardinals to just 1 run on 2 hits over 5 innings, but needed 86 pitches to do it.
Sunday, 1:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Kenta Maeda vs. Zach Davies
Another Dodgers pitcher who recently came off the disabled list, Maeda has struggled to repeat the success he had last year after coming over from Japan. He comes into the series with a 5.21 ERA, but FIP is more kind, saying he deserves a mark about a run lower at 4.22. He's still striking batters out at a good rate -- 46 in 48.1 innings so far this year -- but more hits have been sneaking through. He's allowed 6 runs in 9 innings since coming off the disabled list, with most of the damage coming in the first inning. That could be a sign of good things to come for the Brewers, who just happen to be a pretty good first inning team.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs