Last year, the Brewers stumbled, fell on their face, and crawled the rest of the way to the All-Star break, capping it all off with a rare 5-game sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates to stretch their losing streak to 6 games.
They find themselves in a similar situation this year, wrapping up the nominal first half with a weekend series in Pittsburgh, already losers of three straight. If it’s any consolation, last year’s team ended up just fine and went on to tie the franchise record for wins in a season.
Of course, last year’s team went into the break 12 games over .500, even after that losing streak.
Nobody would confuse the two teams, but if there’s good news, it’s that the Brewers have been able to consistently come out on top against the Pirates this year, winning 8 of their first 10 meetings. There’s also the fact that nobody seems to want to end the first half in first place in the NL Central, so the Brewers haven’t found themselves falling behind in the race despite their June-and-early-July swoon.
It has allowed the rest of the division to get within a good weekend of first place, though. The Reds taking 3 of 4 from the Brewers means every team in the Central is now within 3.5 games of first place when no other second place team in baseball is closer than 6 games out. At 3 games out, a Pirates sweep this weekend could mean a virtual tie for first place for Pittsburgh (and at the very least a tie with the Brewers in the standings).
If it weren’t for the Brewers, the Pirates would already be over .500 and making a push for the top of the division. They had won 6 of 7, including taking 2 of 3 from the dangerous Houston Astros, before the Brewers stole another series from them last weekend. They responded by taking 3 of 4 from the Cubs (including an 18-5 drubbing in the series’ first game), effectively helping keep the Brewers in first place during that time.
While the Brewers are 8-2 against the Pirates so far, things could have looked drastically different with just a few extra bounces -- 5 of those games were decided by 2 runs or less, including all three games last weekend, and two of those being decided by a single run.
Friday, July 5th - 6:05 p.m. CDT
Zach Davies vs. Steven Brault
The Brewers made Brault work in his last start, but he still held them to just 1 run in 4.2 innings the last time they faced on June 30th. The lefty has allowed 2 runs or less in 6 straight starts since joining the rotation full-time.
Saturday, July 6th - 3:05 p.m. CDT
Adrian Houser vs. Trevor Williams
Not exactly what you want to see when the Brewers come into the serise without having scored in 23 innings -- Williams kept the Brewers scoreless in 19 innings against them last year.
Sunday, July 7th - 12:35 p.m. CDT
Chase Anderson vs. Joe Musgrove
Musgrove has only allowed one run in his last 16 innings pitched, but gave up 5 on 11 hits in 6 innings in his last start against the Brewers back on May 30th.
The Brewers scored all of 8 runs in 3 games last weekend but managed to win the series anyway thanks to impressive pitching and a bottom-of-the-8th home run from Eric Thames. The Brewers haven’t lost a series against the Pirates since September 14-16 last year and haven’t lost a series at PNC Park since the infamous five-gamer before last year’s All-Star break.
Player to Watch
After another poor showing against Brewers pitching last weekend, going 0-for-10, Josh Bell’s slump looks like it’s officially over. The All-Star first baseman went 6-for-15 with 4 home runs, a double and 11 RBI in the past four days against the Cubs.
For whatever reason, Bell has had problems against Milwaukee this year, though -- which is likely a big reason why the Brewers have been able to steal so many close games against the Pirates to this point. He’s hitting just .103/.200/.154 (4-for-39) in those 10 games against Brewers pitching, including 13 strikeouts.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference