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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are coming off a sweep of the Cardinals and are a good week against the Brewers away from getting back in the NL Central race

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Your Milwaukee Brewers are officially alone in first place in the NL Central heading into another long stretch of games without a day off after an off-day Monday.

They’ll begin a stretch of 16 straight days of games tonight in Cincinnati against the Reds, who had cooled off considerably after a hot start to the season but are now just 4 games back of the Brewers at 28-29 after a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

These two teams met for the first time this year in Milwaukee just a few weeks ago, with the Brewers taking 2 of 3 after dropping the opener of the series.

The Lineup

Aside from Nick Castellanos, who continues to be an incredibly tough out with a .359/.415/.627 line heading into this week, it’s becoming pretty clear that you also shouldn’t pitch to Jesse Winker if you have the choice. The 27-year-old now leads the Reds in OPS+ thanks to a recent hot streak that has him hitting .350/.412/.665 for the season and is tied for the NL lead in home runs with 17. Castellanos and Winker also take up the top two spots on the NL’s batting title leaderboard, and it isn’t especially close right now. After those two, the nearest contender is Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier, who’s “only” hitting .332.

Winker has especially terrorized the Brewers in the past, hitting .345 against them with 8 home runs in just 58 at-bats. Most of that damage has come against Tuesday night’s starter, Adrian Houser, who has always struggled against left-handed hitters but has especially struggled with Winker, giving up 5 home runs in 13 at-bats against him. We would humbly suggest Mr. Houser stop giving up home runs to him.

Outside of those two, though, the Cincinnati offense has other potential landmines. Infamous Brewer Killer Eugenio Suarez is struggling mightily this year, entering the week hitting just .162/.234/.375, but he does have 13 home runs (along with 74 strikeouts in 216 AB). Outfielder Tyler Naquin has tended to be overlooked with all the attention on his fellow outfielders Castellanos and Winker, but he’s doing well for himself, too by hitting .257/.333/.509 with 11 home runs.

The Brewers will once again miss Old Friend Mike Moustakas this series, who is still on the IL, along with Joey Votto.

The Probable Pitchers

As mentioned, Houser has historically had some trouble against the Reds’ lineup (and Winker specifically) and took the lone Brewers loss in these teams’ first meeting, giving up 3 home runs as he walked 4 and ended up allowing 6 runs. He’ll have to be better than that if the Brewers are going to come away with a win against Sonny Gray in the first game of the new series. Gray hasn’t been as sharp as years past so far, entering this start with a 3.64 ERA and 4.14 FIP in his first 9 starts, but he has struck out 60 in his 47 innings while only walking 20. His issue has been more with allowing home runs this year — his current 1.5 HR/9 rate would be the highest of his career if it holds — although he’s otherwise been very good at limiting hard contact. Basically, in the rare occasions he has allowed something to be hit hard, it’s come at the worst possible times.

Brett Anderson will get the start in the second game for the Brewers against Vladimir Gutierrez, a rookie who is coming off his first Major League win in his last start. The 25-year-old righty from Cuba will be making his third career Major League start Wednesday night after a strong start to the year in the Triple-A, which saw him strike out 21 in 17 innings with a 2.65 ERA in 3 starts before getting the call-up. He’s continued that strong start with his first two MLB starts, limiting the Cubs and Cards to just 5 total hits in a pair of 5-inning outings.

Freddy Peralta will try to follow up his near-no-hitter in the series finale Thursday morning (first pitch for the series finale is at 11:35 a.m. Central) against Luis Castillo. Cincinnati is still hoping Castillo figures something out soon, as the former ace leads the league in runs allowed to this point in the year and has a 6.63 ERA through his first 12 starts while seeing his strikeout rate plunge. He did show some encouraging signs in his last outing, though, holding the Cardinals to just a single run on a solo home run over 6 innings, allowing just 3 hits total. The Brewers hung 5 runs over 5 innings on him in the series finale of their first meeting this year.

Statistics courtesy of Statcast and Baseball-Reference