The Brewers' 11-2 thumping of the Cubs on Thursday was just one game out of 162, but there's no doubt there was an added symbolic meaning for that game. With much of the league still reluctant to buy into Milwaukee as a legitimate contender in the NL Central, a thorough and public thrashing of the defending World Series champions went a long way in establishing some credibility to those outside of Wisconsin.
The Brewers have another chance to get noticed this weekend with a trip to New York to close out the first half. The Yankees come into this series at 44-39. Despite having one of baseball's biggest breakout stars this season in Aaron Judge, the Yankees are stumbling into the All-Star break a bit. After starting the year 30-20, the Yankees went just 13-15 in June and have started July 1-4.
Still, a strong performance from the Brewers this weekend would go a long way in convincing people they're for real.
Judge has dominated the first half headlines, and for good reason. He'll come into this series hitting .331/.449/.697 with a league-high 29 home runs. Perhaps more impressive than the home run total -- which has already surpassed Joe freaking DiMaggio's Yankees rookie record -- is Judge's patience at the plate. He's already walked 59 times in 352 plate appearances. If you extended Eric Thames' April over the entire first half, you'd basically have Aaron Judge's season so far.
He's not the only Yankee that's hitting well to start the year, though. Old rival Starlin Castro has found a second life in the Bronx, hitting .313/.348/.486 so far (yeah, he still doesn't walk, but he earned an All-Star nod this year). Fellow infielder Didi Gregorious is hitting .301/.329/.477. Former Twins top prospect Aaron Hicks is finally living up to that promise at age 27, hitting .290/.398/.515. Gary Sanchez has an .893 OPS behind the plate. Matt Holliday is still around and has hit 15 home runs this year. This is a scary lineup.
Friday, 6:05 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Junior Guerra vs. Jordan Montgomery
From one Montgomery to another for the Brewers. The Yankees' Montgomery is a 24-year-old rookie who's put together a solid first half to this point, with a 3.62 ERA/4.04 FIP in 15 starts. He's struck out 83 in 87 innings, only walking 28. He works in the low 90s and has been a flyball pitcher to this point (despite throwing a sinker), with a 41.3% groundball rate. He's also given up 12 home runs so far this year. Combine all of that with a hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, and the recipe is there for the Brewers to continue their heavy hitting.
Saturday, 12:05 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Brent Suter vs. Luis Severino
I'm not going to lie to you. The Brewers are going to strike out a lot on Saturday. A lot. The 23-year-old Severino is in the midst of a breakout season, being named to his first All-Star Game after striking out 114 and walking just 25 in 99.2 innings. He does have a 3.52 ERA, but that's in large part due to the 11 home runs he's given up so far -- FIP (3.14) and xFIP (3.05) paint him more like the breakout ace he's been. Despite being only 23, he already has a good amount of big league experience, having appeared in 33 games (22 starts) since debuting at the age of 21. He is coming off of a rough start, though, giving up 6 runs on 9 hits in 5.1 innings against the Astros on Sunday.
Sunday, 12:05 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Jimmy Nelson vs. Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka has had a rough go of it so far this year, coming into this series with a 5.25 ERA/4.89 FIP. He's still striking out 9 batters per 9 innings, but he's walking more batters than he ever has in his major league career -- his 6.2% BB% is 1.6% higher than his career average. He's also getting hit more often, with opponents hitting .273 against him this season, backed by a .315 BABIP (his career BABIP is nearly 40 points lower at .277). There are signs he's starting to turn it around, though -- in his last three starts, Tanaka has allowed just 3 earned runs in 21 innings, striking out 22 and walking 5 in 21 innings.
Statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs