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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs @ Milwaukee Brewers

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It’s hard to consider a series in July must-win, but this weekend might come close

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Realistically, the Brewers’ entire 2019 season won’t come down to this weekend. Regardless of what happens, there’s still two months to play for a team that’s well within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But it sure feels like a make-or-break weekend, right? Especially with only one trade deadline this year, and one that’s less than a week away.

Some of us might have felt better about this series if it weren’t for one fateful inning against the Reds that turned a series win -- and a nice streak of series wins -- into a home series loss. But the Brewers still come into this series just 2 games back of first place, which is now a tie between the Cubs and Cardinals.

The Cubs got off to a hot start to the second half before running into the sudden juggernaut in San Francisco, losing 2 of 3 to the Giants and needing a win on Wednesday to avoid a sweep.

Chicago’s offense is as strong as ever, and we may be in for another slugfest of a series like we saw in early April, especially since the signing of Craig Kimbrel hasn’t helped solidify the bullpen quite as much as the Cubs would have hoped. Kimbrel has picked up 7 saves in his 11 appearances as a Cub, but has also allowed 5 runs in 10.2 innings and has shown plenty of rust, walking 7 batters and allowing 8 hits, including 2 home runs. The runs that scored against him came within his first three outings and he hasn’t allowed a run since July 3rd, but there have been plenty of tense 9th innings -- including his last outing on Wednesday, when he allowed 2 hits to bring the tying run to the plate.

In terms of the bats, the Cubs already have four players with 20 or more home runs, and will likely get a 5th sometime this weekend if patterns hold, with catcher Willson Contreras sitting on 19. Five players in their lineup have an OPS+ of 110 or higher.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, July 26th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Kyle Hendricks vs. Gio Gonzalez

Hendricks is pitching better than he has since his Cy Young finalist season of 2016, even if the ERA doesn’t quite reflect it. His 3.41 ERA isn’t bad, especially in baseball’s hitting environment this year. He’s put up an ERA+ of 131 so far this year, and hasn’t allowed more than 2 runs in a start since June 14th.

Saturday, July 27th - 6:10 p.m. CDT
Jon Lester vs. Chase Anderson

Lester refuses to age, putting up a 115 ERA+ so far this year in 19 starts at age 35. He’s done it this year by cutting down his walks to career-low levels, with a BB% of just 5% and only 1.9 BB/9. That’s helped him largely stay out of trouble even as he’s allowed more base hits and usual. He’s coming off a start in which he allowed 12 hits in 6 innings against the Padres but only gave up 4 runs.

Sunday, July 28th - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Jose Quintana vs. Zach Davies

You didn’t think we’d get a Brewers-Cubs series without seeing Jose Quintana, did you? By now you know the lefty has a long history of success against the Brewers, with a career ERA of 2.63 in 13 starts, covering 82 innings. The Brewers have started to get to him in recent outings, though, including tagging him for 8 runs in 3 innings the last time he pitched in Miller Park.

Previous Series

The Cubs took 2 of 3 from the Brewers at Wrigley Field in mid-May, with the deciding game being a 15-inning marathon in the middle of the series, which the Cubs won on a Contreras home run off of Burch Smith. The season series is tied at 3 games apiece, after the Brewers took 2 of 3 at Miller Park on April 5-7.

Player to Watch

Kris Bryant is finally healthy after the shoulder injury that plagued him all of last year, and he’s back to looking like his old MVP self.

He’s been a driving force behind the Cubs kicking things into gear in the past month, hitting .354/.440/.677 in July with 5 home runs and 6 doubles in 17 games. He’s been held hitless in just 4 games this month, and enters this series on a small 5-game hit streak.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference