The Milwaukee Brewers are back to .500 after a weekend sweep of the Kansas City Royals, but their 2020 season will be decided in the next week, starting with their final series against the surging Cincinnati Reds.
After winning the Offseason Championship with their high-profile additions of Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and others, the Reds were largely disappointing for the first month and a half of the shortened 2020 season, despite their excellent pitching. They’ve caught fire recently, though, including a 6-game winning streak last week.
Like the Brewers, that has them back at .500 and in the playoff race, whether it’s the 8th seed in the NL field — which they currently hold by percentage points over the Brewers and Giants — or the automatic qualifier as the NL Central’s 2nd place finisher.
The Reds have largely built this run on the back of playing the Pirates a bunch in September, but selling them short would be a mistake, considering they just took 2 of 3 from the AL-leading Chicago White Sox over the weekend. Their pitching means they’re in every game they play, and a couple lucky bounces in their favor over the next few days could drastically affect the way the playoff race shakes out.
The Reds are one of the few teams in the majors who have played worse than the Brewers over the last couple months, scoring just 214 runs compared to the Brewers 229. Joey Votto leads the team in batting average — at .235. Moustakas has been a disappointment, not hitting much better than the hodgepodge crew the Brewers have been playing at third base with a line of .207/.326/.379 in 38 games. Castellanos has at least hit for power, but has also struggled to make contact consistently, with a .230/.306/.500 line with 13 strikeouts and 10 doubles — but also 60 strikeouts in 196 at-bats. Brewer Killer Eugenio Suarez is tied with Castellanos for the team lead with 13 home runs, but is also hitting below .200 with a .195/.312/.460 line and 58 strikeouts in 174 at-bats.
Overall, this is a group that can strike for a home run at any time, but has struggled to get runners on base for those homers, and many times they’ve been left hoping a couple solo home runs was enough to hold up behind their excellent pitching staff.
Monday, September 21st - 5:40 p.m. CDT
Brandon Woodruff vs. Luis Castillo
Tuesday, September 22nd - 5:40 p.m. CDT
Brett Anderson vs. Sonny Gray
Wednesday, September 23rd - 5:40 p.m. CDT
Adrian Houser vs. Trevor Bauer
The Reds are making sure if they fall out of the playoff race, they’ll do it with the arms that got them here on the mound.
Gray is coming off the Injured List to start the second game in this series, while the Reds are pitching Bauer in the series finale on three days’ rest. That’s something the Brewers can’t really do, given the fact they have to play 5 games in 4 days to close the season in St. Louis (the opponent that’s more important to the Brewers’ playoff interests at the moment, anyway).
Bauer’s gotten most of the attention out of those three as a possible NL Cy Young candidate, but Castillo has put together another excellent season. After 10 starts, he’ll enter this series with a 3.03 ERA that’s actually a bit unlucky, according to his 2.61 FIP. He’s struck out 76 batters in 59.1 innings, thanks to a changeup that was regarded as one of the best in the league until Devin Williams showed up. He’s also allowed only 4 home runs all year, an impressive feat considering the bandbox in which he plays his home games. He’s been impressive in September, albeit against a pair of inept offenses in Pittsburgh and St. Louis — he’s only allowed 3 earned runs over 3 starts on just 12 hits and 24 strikeouts over 22 innings.
Gray is coming off the IL after suffering a back strain, which may have contributed to his two bad starts before he landed on the shelf. Gray had a 1.94 ERA before getting singled to death by the Cardinals on September 1st, allowing 6 runs on 3 walks and 5 hits (and no home runs) before getting pulled after only recording 2 outs in the first inning. He followed that up by allowing 5 runs on 6 hits and 3 more walks in 3.1 innings against the Cubs on September 10th. Gray shut out the Brewers over 5 innings the last time they met in the first game of a double header on August 27th, but the Brewers were able to get to him in the outing before that, scoring 4 runs on him over 5.1 innings on August 9th.
Bauer is insufferable and will only become more insufferable if he’s allowed to win a Cy Young award, even in an asterisked shortened season. Because of that, it’s imperative the Brewers do something to prevent that from happening. He’ll enter his start in the series finale with a 1.80 ERA in 10 starts (no longer the lowest in the league thanks to Corbin Burnes’ hot streak), with an NL-leading 88 strikeouts and an MLB-leading 271 ERA+. Bauer allowed 2 runs over 7 innings against the White Sox on Saturday night, with both runs coming on solo homers. The Brewers did get to Bauer the last time they met, scoring 4 runs on 7 hits against him over 6.1 innings on August 24th at Miller Park.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference