Believe it or not, your Milwaukee Brewers are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now. At 31-19, they’re off to their best start after 50 games ever (EVER), and their 3-game lead in the NL Central is the largest of any division leader at this point. They followed up a 7-3 road trip with a 3-game sweep of the Diamondbacks at home.
In a lot of ways, they’re playing like the Mets were the first time these two teams matched up in mid-April. In case you don’t remember, back then the Mets were 10-1 to start the year and had everything going right for them. But the Brewers played them tough in Queens, losing the opening game of the series by just 1 run, winning the second 5-1, and nearly stealing the finale before Wilmer Flores hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 9th.
Since then, New York has cooled off considerably, coming into this series at 24-21 after that 12-2 start. The injuries have piled up -- Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier, who killed the Brewers in the first series -- are both on the disabled list, along with seemingly every catcher they put behind the plate. The guys who are healthy have been ineffective -- Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce both have OPSes under .700, and they recently signed a 37-year-old Jose Bautista who has just released by Atlanta in a desperate attempt to get any kind of power into the lineup.
Thursday - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Steven Matz vs. Zach Davies
Friday - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Noah Syndergaard vs. Junior Guerra
Saturday - 3:10 p.m. CDT
Jason Vargas vs. Chase Anderson
Sunday - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Zack Wheeler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Matz has had an up and down season to this point in the year, mostly because of an uncharacteristically high walk rate. He’s given a free pass to 3.9 batters per 9 innings, significantly up from his career rate of 2.5 BB/9. Even when he’s been good, he hasn’t been working deep into games -- he’s been credited with all of one “quality start” this year (May 5th against Colorado) and has pitched long enough into a game to get a win just once (against the Brewers on April 13, when he barely made it through 5 innings and left in the 6th).
Syndergaard dominated the Brewers the last time these teams met, striking out 11 and allowing just one unearned run off of 2 hits, taking advantage of a windy day to put some extra movement on his 90 mph whiffleball changeup. He’s been that good all year and hasn’t allowed more than 2 runs in a start since May 1st.
With the Mets’ history of pitching injuries, their fans were looking for the team to sign a big name starting pitcher to round out the rotation and push the team toward playoff contention. They got Jason Vargas instead, and he promptly broke his hand in spring training. That means he’s only made 4 starts with the Mets so far, and they haven’t been good -- he’s allowed 19 runs on 28 hits in 17.1 innings. It was a lot worse, because he’s coming off a start in which he through 5 shutout innings and allowed just 2 hits, but that was against the Marlins. He faced San Diego, Atlanta and Cincinnati in his first three outings.
Wheeler, you may remember, is a former Almost Brewer who has nearly traded to Milwaukee along with Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez. Thankfully, for a lot of reasons -- namely Josh Hader and Domingo Santana, but also Wheeler’s complete inability to stay healthy -- that deal didn’t go through. He missed two full seasons in 2015 and 2016 and has been pretty bad while struggling with injury ever since, getting hit for a 5.21 ERA (and 5.03 FIP) in 17 starts last year and off to another rough start this year, with a 5.32 ERA in 8 games started.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference