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Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds @ Milwaukee Brewers

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The Brewers are back in God’s time zone, ready to forget their trip out west

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When in doubt, go back to playing the NL Central.

That’s worked out for the Brewers just about every time they’ve fallen into a funk this year. Lose a series to Philadelphia and split with Minnesota? No problem, just win 3 of 4 from the Pirates. Lose a series to the Marlins? Sweep the Pirates, piece of cake. Lose 2 of 3 to Atlanta? Get the offense back on track against the Reds.

The Brewers will barely have to leave the Central time zone for the next month, and 14 of their next 17 games will be against the Reds and Pirates. The Brewers are a combined 10-2 against those teams so far this year and will hope to continue that starting tonight at Miller Park.

While the Brewers have managed to beat up on the Reds so far this year, they’ve actually continued to be a solid team. They come into this weekend 4 games under .500 at 34-38, but are only 5.5 games back in the NL Central race and carry the second-best run differential in the division at +41. They’ve won 4 straight games and are starting to pick up some love as a team that could make a potential run for a playoff spot in the second half with the right moves.

Those moves would likely be for a big bat or two, because pitching has not been the problem for the Reds. Luis Castillo has continued to pitch like an All-Star with a 2.26 ERA and 103 strikeouts already on the year, with his only loss coming against the Brewers. Sonny Gray has started to regain his form as a middle-rotation starter, and Tanner Roark continues to defy the odds and keep runs off the board.

If they could get their offense going, they could be dangerous in the second half -- and there may be signs of that starting to happen. After an extremely slow start to the year, Joey Votto is hitting .365/.429/.541 in the last four weeks, with 7 doubles and 2 home runs in those 20 games. Yasiel Puig, who got off to an even worse start, has also picked it up in that time frame, hitting .276/.315/.563 with 7 home runs and 4 doubles. Add those bats to Derek Dietrich, Brewer Killer Eugenio Suarez, and rookie Nick Senzel, and we could be in for four high-scoring games at Miller Park.

Probable Pitchers

Thursday, June 20th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Tanner Roark vs. Jimmy Nelson

For years, Roark has seemed to be the kind of junkballer whose ERA has always been much better than it should have been, but this year his FIP (3.30) is actually proving to be better than his real ERA (3.63). He’s been hittable lately, though, having given up 4 runs in each of his past 3 starts (although only 2 were earned in his most recent outing).

Friday, June 21st - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Sonny Gray vs. Chase Anderson

Gray is striking out more batters than he ever has in his career during his first year with the Reds, racking up 79 in 71.2 innings (good for 9.9 per 9 innings). Walks are still occasionally a problem, as we saw in his most recent outing against the Brewers when he walked 4 but tiptoed his way out of danger for 6 shutout innings.

Saturday, June 22nd - 3:10 p.m. CDT
Luis Castillo vs. Jhoulys Chacin

Castillo has been electric against just about everyone but the Brewers. After Freddy Peralta outdueled him in a 1-0 game at the start of the year, Castillo’s worst outing of the season came in the Reds’ last trip to Miller Park, when he gave up 4 runs on 5 hits in just 2.2 innings but was bailed out with a no decision in a crazy 11-9 game.

Sunday, June 23rd - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Anthony DeSclafani vs. Brandon Woodruff

After a rough month of May that saw him give up 18 earned runs and an opponent OPS of .918 in 6 starts, DeSclafani has corrected course in June, allowing a total of 3 runs in his 3 starts so far this month, covering 16 innings. He faced the Brewers on April 2nd, holding them to just 1 run and 3 hits over 5 innings, while striking out 8.

Player to Watch

After an absurdly hot month of May that saw him hit .304/.400/.841 with 12 home runs, Derek Dietrich has come crashing down to earth in the first half of June. In 13 games this month, he’s hit just .143/.280/.262 with all of one home run.

He was never going to keep up the torrid pace he was on last month, but a falloff that sudden can still be surprising -- especially since he’s still largely been hitting cleanup for the Reds during that 6-for-42 stretch.

Dietrich has historically hit well at Miller Park (.301/.393/.616 with 6 home runs in 20 games), and the short porch in right field could give him the opportunity to boost his power numbers again.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference