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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Chicago Cubs

The Brewers head into their second series against what’s been the hottest team in baseball

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers’ tough early-season stretch continues this weekend with a four-game set against the Chicago Cubs to start a 10-game road trip.

Milwaukee can stake claim to being one of the Cubs’ 3 losses to start the year, as Chicago has used a light early-season schedule to jump out to a 12-3 start. After taking 2 of 3 from the Brewers to start the year, Chicago has gone 10-2 since with series against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City before a two-game sweep in Cleveland against a team that appears to be at odds with eachother over how some teammates aren’t taking coronavirus precautions seriously.

All applicable asterisks aside (including getting a weekend off thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals, something the Brewers also got), it’s the best start to a Cubs season in 50 years. They’re also 7-1 at Wrigley Field, with the Brewers being the 1 in that 7-1.

They’ve done that thanks in large part to their pitching, while the offense — like everyone else — is off to a bit of a slow startoverall. There are some bright spots, though, and recent signs that things are turning around.

Anthony Rizzo has an OPS of .871 and hit his 4th home run of the season on Wednesday, but is still hitting just .235 (albeit with an OBP of .400). Kris Bryant was on his own Yelich-ian slow start to the season, hitting .196/.315/.391 overall coming into this series, but like Yelich, the long 0-fer to start the year is concealing the fact that he’s hit .313/.450/.625 with a home run and 2 doubles in August. Ian Happ, who hit the Brewers hard in the season’s opening series, has continued his hot hitting since then, coming into today with a line of .302/.434/.581 with 3 home runs and 3 doubles.

Once this series is over, the Brewers will have played 7 of their 10 allotted games against the Cubs — all of them at Wrigley. We can complain about the schedule another time.

Pitchers, Probably

Thursday, August 13th - 6:15 p.m. CDT on FOX
Brett Anderson vs. Yu Darvish

Friday, August 14th - 7:15 p.m. CDT on MLB Network (out-of-market)
Brandon Woodruff vs. Tyler Chatwood

Saturday, August 15th - 7:15 p.m. CDT
Adrian Houser vs. Alec Mills

Sunday, August 16th - 1:20 p.m. CDT
Josh Lindblom vs. Jon Lester

Darvish has settled down a great deal since the Brewers scored on him 3 times on 6 hits and a HBP in 4 innings during his first start of the year. He rebounded from that start to throw 6 shutout, 2-hit innings against the Pirates in his second outing, and held the Royals to 1 run over 7 innings last week. Sure, neither team provides a ton of resistance, but Darvish can be dangerous once he settles into a groove — as seen by his extremely good second half last year.

Chatwood mowed down the Brewers in their first meeting and followed that up with another exceptional outing against the Pirates in his second start, throwing 6.2 shutout innings while striking out 11. Things fell apart in his third start, though, as he allowed 8 runs on 11 hits over 2.1 innings against the Royals just as the Cubs were hoping he was becoming more consistent. It’ll be interesting to see if the Brewers learned anything after facing him the first time.

Mills has seen good results in his first two starts, allowing just 2 runs on 5 hits over 13 combined innings, but he hasn’t struck out many — just 7 — and he’s walked a total of 5 batters. He’s coming off 7 shutout innings against Kansas City, allowing just 3 hits. He’s done it by allowing almost no hard contact so far this year — according to Statcast, he’s in the 99th percentile in exit velocity (an average of just 79.8 mph) and in the 94th percentile in hard-hit percentage (16.7%). He’s never faced the Brewers in his career, which could also work in his favor.

Lester may not have the strikeout stuff he once had, but the 36-year-old is still off to a strong start this year. He’s only allowed a total of 2 runs over his first 3 starts, covering 17 innings. He started his season with 5 no-hit innings against the Reds on July 27th, and followed that up with nearly identical 6 inning, 1-run efforts against Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Chicago’s bullpen also appears to have rebounded a bit since we saw them last. Part of that is Craig Kimbrel only pitching a couple times a week, sure — and he has yet to make an appearance without giving up a run — but they have found at least a few steady hands since the first series of the year. Rowan Wick has locked down a couple of saves for the Cubs, throwing 3.2 scoreless innings, and Old Friend Jeremy Jeffress is in a groove, coming into this series throwing 7 hitless innings, finishing 4 games.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant