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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ St. Louis Cardinals

And here we go.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee’s “control our own destiny” line took a hit this week when they dropped 2 of 3 to the Cincinnati Reds, but it’s still largely true.

The Brewers head into St. Louis tonight just a game behind the Cardinals for the NL Central’s 2nd autobid into this year’s expanded postseason tournament, with the next 4 days either providing more clarity or providing more chaos, depending on who wins each game.

We did our best to sort that mess out in this morning’s look at the NL Playoff race.

The bottom line remains — just win as many as you can, and things will likely sort themselves out. While the Reds look primed to steal away that 2nd spot in the division — they enter the day in a virtual tie with the Cardinals, and now own a tiebreaker over the Brewers — Milwaukee still couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than 5 head-to-head games against a team they’re only a game behind in the standings.

While plenty of Brewers fans are likely nervous about this weekend, given a slew of bad memories in recent years at Busch Stadium, it’s worth remembering that this year’s Cardinals aren’t exactly world-beaters — they just lost 2 of 3 to a Royals team the Brewers swept last weekend — and are coming to the end of a daunting (self-inflicted) September schedule. Their pitching has kept them in a lot of those games, but St. Louis’ offense is still one of the few that could be considered as bad as Milwaukee’s.

As we saw last week (outside of the 18-3 outlier), we could be in for a lot of nerve-wracking, low-scoring games this weekend.

Pitchers, Probably

Thursday, September 24th - 7:15 p.m. CDT
Corbin Burnes vs. Kwang Hyun Kim

Friday, September 25th - 4:15 p.m. CDT and TBD
Jack Flaherty vs. Josh Lindblom or TBD
Daniel Ponce de Leon vs. Josh Lindblom or TBD

Saturday, September 26th - 6:07 p.m. CDT
Brandon Woodruff vs. Adam Wainwright

Sunday, September 27th - 2:15 p.m. CDT
Brett Anderson vs. TBD

Kim shut down the Brewers last week in their first meeting, shutting down a lineup that was still struggling to find confidence after being no-hit by Alec Mills the day before. Kim threw 7 shutout innings, allowing just 3 hits and 3 walks before the Brewers walked off the Cards in “extra” innings with an 8th-inning win in the first game of a doubleheader. The Brewers had trouble with the lefty’s off-speed stuff, and as we noted last week, Kim has exceled at inducing weak contact all year. He is coming off a rough start, though, having given up 4 runs on 6 hits (including just the 2nd and 3rd home runs he’s allowed all season) over 5.1 innings against the Pirates last Saturday.

Flaherty was having a great season until the Brewers blasted him for 9 runs on 8 hits over 3 innings in the 18-3 rout last week. That start was definitely an outlier — it’s the only time this year he’s allowed more than 3 runs in a start — and he responded by dominating Pittsburgh in his last outing, allowing just 2 hits and striking out 11 over 6 innings. Something tells me he’ll be motivated to rebound against the Brewers on Friday, and after seeing how the Cardinals approached last week’s doubleheaders, it wouldn’t be a surprise for it to be the plan for him to cover as much of the 7 innings as possible with their postseason hopes on the line.

Ponce de Leon may not have found the fountain of youth, but he’s found a pretty regular role in September in starting the back end of the Cardinals’ doubleheaders. All three of his starts in September have come in that role, and he’s been remarkably consistent, allowing just 2 earned runs in each of those three outings, including last Monday against the Brewers. That start and his most recent outing against Pittsburgh have been his best efforts all year, striking out 9 batters in both games.

Even though the doubleheader is Friday, we can probably circle Saturday’s showdown between Woodruff and Wainwright as the make-or-break game for either team in the series. It feels likely that the winner of Saturday’s game will either be taking an important lead in the series, or at the very least set things up to still have a chance at clinching a postseason spot on the last day of the season. It’s fitting that each team has one of their best going on that day.

Sunday’s starter is still up in the air for the Cardinals, and who pitches that game may depend on what the playoff situation calls for that afternoon — and whether the Cardinals still need to plan on playing one or two games in Detroit the next day. Austin Gomber, who threw 6 shutout innings against the Royals on Tuesday, would be a good bet if he isn’t needed to get through the doubleheader in a relief role on Friday.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference