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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Cincinnati Reds

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Will the Brewers be able to put some distance between their only challenger for the division crown, or will the Reds make things uncomfortably close to start the second half?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always a little silly to make too much of a mid-season series, but there’s no doubting that this weekend’s set between the Brewers and Reds could have some big implications on how the rest of July — and the season — plays out.

These two are basically playing a home-and-home seven game series sandwiched around the All-Star break, and the Reds did what they needed to do in the first half of it to make this weekend very interesting. After taking 3 of 4 from the Brewers in Milwaukee last weekend, the Reds trimmed the Brewers’ division lead over them to just 4 games.

Milwaukee will still walk out of this series in first place no matter what happens, but a Brewers sweep could cause the Reds to have second thoughts about adding pieces at the trade deadline for a second half push. A Reds sweep would make things more interesting over the next couple months than the Brewers would care to see. If the first 13 games between these teams are any indication, every game will be close. More than half of these teams’ first 13 meetings — 7 games — have been decided by 2 runs or less.

The Lineup

We’re already pretty familiar with this group, aren’t we? The key will once again be to limit how much damage Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos can do. The Brewers at least kept Winker in the park last weekend, but Castellanos was a major factor in two Reds wins, hitting a three-run home run to give Cincinnati a 3-1 lead in the 6th inning of last Saturday’s game and delivering the go-ahead two-run single off Josh Hader in the 9th inning of Sunday’s game.

The Brewers did do a fairly good job of keeping the powerful Cincinnati offense from doing a ton of damage overall last weekend, but the blows came in crucial late-game situations and their own offense was stifled by a Reds pitching staff that has seemingly found its groove over the last month and a half.

The Probable Pitchers

Friday, 6:10 p.m. CDT - Adrian Houser vs. Tyler Mahle

Mahle also started the first game of last weekend’s series, and it was the only game of the four that the Brewers ended up winning. Mahle pitched well, but the Brewers were able to get to him more than they did in their first meeting, when Mahle racked up 12 strikeouts in 6 innings back in mid-June. Last Thursday, Mahle’s command continued to be a bit off, as he walked 4 batters for the second start in a row and that helped the Brewers scratch across 3 runs in 6 innings despite just 4 hits.

Saturday, 6:10 p.m. CDT - Brandon Woodruff vs. Luis Castillo

Castillo has been tough to hit in his last few outings against the Brewers, allowing just 7 combined hits in 18 innings, but the frustrating thing from Milwaukee’s perspective is he hasn’t been particularly sharp. Despite 12 walks in those 18 innings, the Brewers have only been able to score 4 times in that span, and just once in the last 12.1 innings against him. That’s not all on the Brewers’ below-average offense, as Castillo has genuinely been good at limiting hard contact and runs against him in June and July, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

Sunday, 12:10 p.m. CDT - Corbin Burnes vs. Sonny Gray

Gray is coming off the injured list from a rib cage strain to make this start, his third IL stint already this year as he’s only been able to make 12 starts. He’s once again been very good when healthy, though, putting up a 3.19 ERA and a 145 ERA+ in those outings while striking out 11.6 batters per 9 innings. He turned in a quality start against the Brewers on May 22, allowing 3 runs in 6 innings while striking out 8, but he also walked 4. He had to leave his start against the Brewers on June 8th early due to injury, though — unfortunate for the Reds, because he was cruising through the first 3 innings, allowing just 2 hits and striking out 5 without allowing a run or a walk. He returned on July 2nd and held the Cubs to 1 run over 5 innings while striking out 8 and followed that up with a 7-inning, 2-run outing against Kansas City on July 7 before landing back on the IL.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference