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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Cincinnati Reds

The Brewers play the Reds for 7 games in a row sandwiching the All-Star break, which could shape the NL Central race for the rest of the year.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Get ready to see a lot of the Cincinnati Reds.

The Brewers will close out the nominal first half of their season with a four-game set against the Reds this weekend at American Family Field, before turning around and playing three more against them in Cincinnati in their first series after the All-Star Break.

Considering the Reds are now sitting in second place in the NL Central, coming into this seven-game set trailing the Brewers by six games, this is a stretch that could swing a lot of fortunes. Will the Brewers be able to seemingly bury another division opponent like they did with the Cubs the other week? Or will the Reds, one of the few NL Central teams to have the Brewers’ number this year, be able to close the gap and make the second half of the season more interesting than we’d prefer it to be?

The Lineup

Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos have been the story here all year for these series, and they’ll continue to be over the next week. Since we saw them last, the duo secured starting spots in the All-Star game, joining Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna, Jr. in the National League outfield.

Castellanos is closing his first half with a line of .335/.388/.589 with 17 home runs and 54 runs driven in, adding 28 doubles as well. Winker leads the Reds in home runs with 19 while adding 16 doubles of his own with a .305/.386/.553 line. They’ve had plenty of opportunity to drive runners in thanks to guys like Jonathan India, who leads the team in OBP with a mark just shy of .400 at .392. Joey Votto has also found some midseason power and is putting up a respectable .259/.342/.473 line. Catcher Tyler Stephenson has also been an excellent offensive performer, hitting .280/.382/.429 in 69 games so far this year.

While the offense has dropped off slightly since it’s, well, red-hot start, it’s still been getting the job done as the pitching has turned itself around, leading to their current surge up the standings.

The Probable Pitchers

Thursday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Tyler Mahle vs. Adrian Houser

Mahle wasn’t necessarily known as a high-strikeout pitcher when he first debuted in the majors, but that’s turned around in the last year. He’s struck out nearly exactly 30% of the batters he’s faced to this point in 2021, racking up 112 punchouts in 89.1 innings. While he’s continued to strikeout stuff he found during last year’s abbreviated season, he’s dramatically cut down on the free passses. We saw both when he faced the Brewers back on June 16th, when he struck out 12 while only walking 2 in 6 innings, allowing just 3 hits and a single run. He’ll face off against Houser, who has historically struggled against Winker and the Reds.

Friday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Wade Miley vs. Eric Lauer

Old Friend Wade Miley faces Lauer in the second game of the four-game set. After it looked like the Derek Johnson magic on him may have worn off last year, he’s back to excelling again this year, throwing a no-hitter this season and ranking in the top 10% of the league in limiting hard contact with a hard-hit rate of just 32% this year. His average exit velocity of just 84.9 mph is also in the top 3% of the league. That all has translated into a 3.06 ERA through 15 starts in his age-35 season, even though he’s averaging just 90 mph on his fastball. He’s largely ditched that four-seam, though, favoring his 85 mph cutter and 82 mph changeup to get most of his outs.

Saturday, 6:15 p.m. CDT - Vladimir Gutierrez vs. Freddy Peralta

Gutierrez has had the Brewers’ number this year despite getting tagged with a 4.67 ERA and 5.12 xERA in his first 8 career starts overall. In back-to-back outings against Milwaukee in June, the 25-year-old held the Brewers to a combined 10 hits and 4 earned runs over 13 innings, striking out 13. In defense of the Brewers (and Gutierrez’s season-long stat line), much of the ERA damage came in just two bad starts, both against the San Diego Padres, who have scored 11 of the 22 runs against him this year in just 9.1 innings.

Sunday, 1:10 p.m. CDT - Luis Castillo vs. Brandon Woodruff

After getting off to a horrific start this year with a 6.29 ERA in April and an 8.04 ERA in May, Castillo caught fire in June and started to look like a former ace. He put up a 1.71 ERA last month, including 7 shutout innings against the Brewers on June 15th, helping right some of the Reds’ pitching woes. He’s continued that momentum in July, throwing a solid 6.1 innings with 3 runs allowed against the Padres last week and holding the Royals to a single run over 7 innings in his most recent start. He’s turned things around by allowing very little hard contact — he allowed just two balls to be barreled up against him in all of June — and cutting his walk rate down to 10% in the last month. Don’t get up upset if/when he pitches well in the series finale — he’s been a much different pitcher over the last 5 weeks.

Statistics courtesy of Statcast