When you get into late August, just about every stretch of games is The Most Important Of The Season for a team with playoff aspirations.
But for the Brewers, this next stretch of games probably actually is The Most Important Of The Season. A total of 13 of their next 18 games come against the Cubs and the Cardinals, the two teams ahead of them in the NL Central (and also the wildcard standings, if you figure only one team from the Central is making the wildcard game).
This is going to be one of their best chances all year to make up ground and/or leapfrog at least one of Chicago or St. Louis, and it starts tonight against the Cardinals.
We haven’t seen the Cardinals since the end of April, after the Brewers played them three times in the season’s first month. The Brewers went 5-5 against the Cardinals in those games, with the Brewers accounting for half of the losses the Cardinals had at the end of April, when they were 19-10.
The Cards stumbled through May (9-18) and June (13-13) before turning it back on in July (16-9). Coming into this week, they’re 8-7 in August and needed a 5-game win streak against the Pirates and Royals to get to that point. They’re coming off a 4-game split against the Reds in Cincinnati.
Despite being in first place, St. Louis ranks 25th in the majors in runs scored, ahead of only Baltimore, Kansas City, the Chicago White Sox, Miami and Detroit. They rank 24th in home runs this year, with 153. 20 of those came against the Brewers, their second-most against a single team this year despite only playing 10 games against them (they’ve hit 25 in 16 games against Pittsburgh, 11 in 12 games against the Cubs). A total of 5 of those 20 came against Corbin Burnes.
Monday, August 19th - 6:45 p.m. CDT
Zach Davies vs. Dakota Hudson
Hudson comes into this start with a 3.82 ERA that has made him a solid back-end starter as a rookie, but his FIP of 5.21 would indicate there’s a good bit of luck involved in his success. He’s allowed a ton of baserunners this year with a 1.555 WHIP, allowing 9.8 hits per 9 innings and 4.2 walks per 9 innings. He does have a groundball rate of 57.2% this year, which is a big groundball rate in the Launch Angle Era has helped him strand 76.4% of the baserunners he’s allowed.
Tuesday, August 20th - 6:45 p.m. CDT
Gio Gonzalez vs. Michael Wacha
Wacha has lost his spot in the rotation a couple of times this year, which is not the best way to go into free agency this winter. He carries a 5.44 ERA/5.99 FIP into this start with a career-high WHIP of 1.633, but he had a pair of successful starts against the Brewers in the first month (6 IP, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 K on March 31st; 6 IP 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K on April 17th) before the wheels fell off his season.
Wednesday, August 21st - 6:45 p.m. CDT
Adrian Houser vs. Adam Wainwright
Wainwright isn’t much more than a #4 or #5 starter these days, but has looked better than he has the past couple seasons while entering this week with a 4.33 ERA/4.28 FIP in 23 starts. He’s striking out 8.8 batters per 9 innings this year, which would be his highest full-season mark of his career -- although he’s not going to finish anywhere near the 200+ strikeouts he was reaching when he was still capable of throwing 230+ innings per season. Wainwright has averaged a little more than 5 innings per start this year as a 37-year-old.
The Cardinals were at the peak of their April hot streak when they swept the Brewers in three games at Busch Stadium April 22-24.
Adrian Houser made his first start in the series’ first game, giving up 5 runs over 4+ innings. The Brewers actually got the game within one run, trailing just 5-4 before Jacob Barnes and Aaron Wilkerson teamed up to give up 7 runs in the bottom of the 7th, leading to a 13-5 St. Louis win.
The final two games of the series were much closer, with the Cardinals winning the second game 4-3 after scoring twice against Alex Wilson in the 8th inning and a rough start by Jhoulys Chacin (4 ER in 4 IP) being the difference in the 5-2 series finale.
You may have noticed of those names, only Wilkerson is on the Brewers’ 25-man roster for this series.
Player to Watch
Paul Goldschmidt is a card-carrying Brewers Killer and proved it again during his first few series against them as a Cardinal, racking up 6 home runs in the 10 games he’s seen them this year. That accounts for more than 20% of the home runs Goldschmidt has hit this season, which has actually been a bit of a disappointment.
Without those series against the Brewers, Goldschmidt’s .259/.348/.517 and 9-homer line would have looked a lot more pedestrian. He hit for better average in May, but barely had any power, hitting .293/.381/.364 with just 2 home runs before seeing his production crater in June -- his .181/.274/.309 line while still hitting in the middle of the lineup for 26 games (24 starts) was a big reason why the Cardinals’ season was nearly derailed before the halfway point.
But the big man rebounded in a big way in July -- without the benefit of playing the Brewers, even -- hitting .308/.360/.725 with 11 home runs after hitting just 14 home runs through June. He’s cooled off a bit since then, hitting .263/.295/.474 with 3 home runs in 15 games in August.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs