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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs @ Milwaukee Brewers

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The Brewers and Cubs meet for the first time in two months, and things look much different than they did in April

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers and Cubs played nine times in April, but haven’t seen each other since.

It’s probably a good thing it’s been that long, since tempers were starting to flare by the last meeting between these two, like two siblings being irritated about the other always being around. The Brewers ended up winning 6 of those first 9 meetings while both teams were trying to find an identity early in the season.

Now, we have a better idea of what these teams are — pretty clearly the two best teams in the NL Central. Chicago found a groove in May while the Brewers struggled with injuries and a tougher schedule. Now that the schedule has turned more favorable for the Brewers, they’ve been capitalizing while the Cubs start to scuffle against tougher competition.

That leads us to where we are this week: the Brewers with a three-game lead over the Cubs ahead of their first series in a couple months, and some of Milwaukee’s best starters lined up for the next three games.

The Lineup

Kris Bryant has cooled off a bit after a hot start to the year, when he looked like an early-season MVP candidate. He comes into the week still hitting pretty well overall at .265/.351/.508 with 15 home runs and 16 doubles, but he’s struggled mightily in June, hitting just .120/.214/.253 for the month while striking out in 28.6% of his at-bats.

Willson Contreras has also appeared to use so much energy complaining about getting pitched inside that he’s appeared sluggish in the last month. He’s hitting .194/.256/.444 with a 30.8% K% in June. Still, he ranks second on the team in WAR despite seeing his season line slip to .227/.321/.425.

Javier Baez continues to get the superstar treatment despite hitting just .228/.267/.472 this year as he appears to be selling out for power in a contract year. He does lead the Cubs with 18 home runs to this point, but he’s also racked up 103 strikeouts in just 9 walks in 254 at-bats. Like the Cubs’ other two marquee players, Baez has been dreadful in June, hitting .151/.195/.370 in 21 games. The Cubs may also be getting sick of his “Javy Magic,” as he was immediately pulled from a game in the last week after not taking a lead off of first base before ultimately getting doubled off of first on a flyout because he wasn’t paying attention to how many outs there were.

With those three main cogs in the offense struggling, it’s no wonder the Cubs’ box scores have started to resemble the Brewers’ from May, struggling to scrape together more than a few runs every night. Their high total for runs in a game this month is 8, which happened in an 8-5 win over the Cardinals on June 11th. The offensive slump has been especially pronounced in the second half of the month, though — starting with their next series after that outburst, a four-game series in New York against the Mets beginning June 14, they’ve scored more than 3 runs in a game just twice: a 7-1 win over Cleveland on June 22 and a 4-0 win over the Dodgers on June 24.

The Probable Pitchers

Monday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Kyle Hendricks vs. Freddy Peralta

The first game of the series could be another low-scoring game, considering the Cubs’ offensive struggles, Peralta’s hot streak, and Hendricks’ tendency to stifle the Brewers. Hendricks hasn’t been as sharp as we’ve become accustomed to this year, though, coming into this start with a FIP of 5.07 (despite an ERA of 3.84) due to giving up a league-leading 19 home runs in 15 starts so far. That’s a very high total considering the depressed offensive environment around the league and just 3 off his career high of 22 home runs allowed. Hendricks has been hot lately, though, throwing back-to-back 6-inning scoreless outings, allowing just 8 baserunners over his last 12 innings (6 hits and 2 walks).

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Zach Davies vs. Brandon Woodruff

Our old friend helped contribute to a combined no-hitter in his last start, throwing six hitless innings against the Dodgers before being replaced. While that’s sort of cool, it’s hard to shake the thought that the Brewers could have a couple of those cheap combined no-hitters if they decided to pull the Zach Davies and Dave Bushes of the world after 6 innings before handing things over to their bullpen.

Never a strikeout pitcher, this year Davies ranks in the bottom 2% of the league in K% and has not been doing a great job of limiting hard contact, either. He comes in to this start with a 4.31 ERA that like Hendricks should be a lot worse — Statcast has his xERA (expected ERA) at 6.12. The Cubs would be better off — and may still be in first place — if they still had Yu Darvish.

Wednesday, 1:10 p.m. CDT - Jake Arrieta vs. TBA

This is Corbin Burnes’ spot in the rotation, but the Brewers may try to steal an extra day of rest for Burnes here. Chicago has Arrieta going in the series finale, and the sentimental return tour may be nearing its end. The former ace is mostly just taking up space in the rotation these days, coming into this start with a 5.32 ERA in 15 starts. He did hold the Brewers to 1 run over 6 innings the last time we saw him, but that was back on April 25th. He fell apart almost immediately after that, and has largely had to pray for his solid outings this year as he isn’t missing any bats.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Statcast