Fresh off their first series win since the first set after the All-Star break, the Brewers head back out on the road, hoping for a better trip than their last one.
It begins in the Tampa Bay area, facing a Rays team that comes in with a 57-53 record, a half-game back in the AL Wildcard race after taking 3 of 4 from the best team in the American League, the Houston Astros.
The Rays, as usual, might lead the league in guys having surprising seasons that make you double check your sources to make sure the stats are right. For one, Logan Morrison has hit 28 home runs this year. Yes, the same Logan Morrison who seemed kind of cool on Twitter a few year ago before everyone realized he wasn't good enough at baseball to be that much of a jerk. He's still roughly a .250 hitter, but he's started walking at a much higher rate and hitting for a power, to the point where now he's basically Tampa's version of Eric Thames, hitting .248/.363/.541 (.904 OPS) heading into this series. 2017 is weird.
Another name Brewers fans might not be familiar with: Steven Souza, Jr. After hitting .234/.308/.404 (.712 OPS) in the first 251 games of his career, Souza is breaking out at the age of 28. He's hitting .249/.372/.508 in 101 games this year, belting 22 home runs and leading the Rays in WAR (3.3 bWAR, 3.2 fWAR).
All-Star Corey Dickerson is hitting .304/.349/.532 on the season, and has also already topped the 20-HR plateau, with 21 bombs. Evan Longoria, like fellow franchise cornerstone Ryan Braun, isn't what he used to be, but is still a pretty good hitter, coming into the series with a .273/.324/.463 line. Not content with that lineup full of dingers, the Rays also recently traded for former Met Lucas Duda, who has already hit 3 home runs in 7 games as a Ray.
One player Tampa doesn't have anymore is Rickie Weeks, who was released after hitting .216/.321/.340 in 37 games. Just for the record, Jonathan Villar is hitting .214/.274/.335. I'm just saying, David Stearns.
The Brewers are 9-4 so far against the AL East in interleague play this year, having swept the Baltimore Orioles, splitting 4 games with the Toronto Blue Jays and taking 2 of 3 from the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Friday, 6:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Brandon Woodruff vs. Jacob Faria
Faria entered the year as Tampa Bay's 8th-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, but was considered fairly average with an OFP grade of 50. He's exceeded those expectations this year, starting the season with 11 starts in Triple-A Durham in which he put up a 3.07 ERA and struck out 84 in 58.2 innings -- which works out to 12.9 K/9. He made his big league debut in June, and has done well for himself, with a 2.93 ERA in 10 starts, striking out 58 and walking 22 in 61.1 innings. Faria doesn't throw especially hard -- usually in the low-90s -- but mixes in a change, curveball and slider to keep hitters off balance. He has had bouts with wildness in the majors, though, having walked 17 batters over 29 innings in his last 5 starts.
Saturday, 5:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Zach Davies vs. Alex Cobb
Cobb has managed to find success this year despite a complete lack of strikeout stuff. In 22 starts this year, he's only struck out 90 batters in 141 innings -- a 5.7 K/9 -- but he's kept the walks down. That's led to a 3.89 ERA (4.42 FIP) for the year, even after the Astros destroyed him for 8 runs in 3 innings during his last start in Houston. He's been a different pitcher at home, though, with a 2.59 ERA in 9 starts in Tampa Bay with a .620 OPS allowed (as opposed to .802 on the road) and a 0.941 WHIP.
Sunday, 12:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Jimmy Nelson vs. Chris Archer
I'm just going to warn you right now -- the Brewers will strike out a lot in this game. Archer comes in nearing 200 strikeouts already this year, with 182 in 148 innings. He's struck out 29.3% of the batters he's faced this year while also trimming down the walks. If there's a weakness in his game, though, it's the tendency to give up home runs -- he gave up 30 homers in 33 starts last season, and has given up 17 in 23 starts this year. That's driven up his ERA to 3.89, but his FIP is a much more impressive 3.19. This will be an old-fashioned ace battle.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs