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Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds @ Milwaukee Brewers

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The Brewers have a chance to essentially put the NL Central race on ice and force the Reds to focus on a wildcard push

MLB: Miami Marlins at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

When you lead your division by 7.5 games with 37 games left to play, there aren’t very many series you would consider “big,” but we’ve got one this week.

The second-place Cincinnati Reds come to town for their last chance to make up ground on the Brewers in a head-to-head matchup this year. A Reds sweep makes things interesting in the NL Central race heading into the final month — especially since Cincinnati has three series against Pittsburgh left to play in September — whereas a Brewers sweep might put the division race to bed.

This series has become slightly less critical for the Reds, thanks to the second-half collapse of the San Diego Padres. While Cincinnati has been frustrated about their red-hot stretch not translating into gaining ground in the division, it has allowed them to now take control of the second NL Wildcard spot, and PECOTA now has their playoff odds at about 46.8% — much higher than the last time we saw them.

The Lineup

Cincinnati still has one of, if not the, best lineup in the Central, as they come into this series having scored a total of 637 runs — good for second in the NL behind their possible NL Wildcard play-in game opponent in Los Angeles.

What’s changed since the last time we saw the Reds is Joey Votto starting to hit like it’s 2010 again. The 37-year-old recently picked up his 2,000th career hit and comes into this week hitting .280/.377/.575 with 28 home runs and 81 driven in — both tops on the team. He’s been a big factor in this second-half surge, giving the Reds another dangerous bat to pair with All-Stars Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker.

Castellanos has cooled somewhat, but is still hitting .319/.377/.568 for the year with 22 home runs and 31 doubles, while Winker still leads the team in total hits and OBP with a .307/.395/.560 line with 24 home runs and 32 doubles.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Jonathan India is looking like the possible NL Rookie of the Year, coming into this series with a .276/.387/.462 line with 16 home runs and 22 doubles while also playing very good defense. All of that has him right behind Castellanos and Winker in terms of team WAR leaders.

Tyler Naquin is also swinging a hot bat right now, having hit 4 home runs in the last week — including 2 in the Reds’ four-game sweep-clinching win over the Marlins on Sunday.

The Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Tyler Mahle vs. Corbin Burnes

The Brewers touched up Mahle for 5 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 5.1 innings the last time they saw him during that post-All-Star Brewers sweep. It was the start of a slightly bumpier second half for him, although he’s been pretty consistently solid-to-good at the bottom of the Cincinnati rotation. He’s striking out 28% of the batters he’s facing this year, which would be good for a full-season career-high (if we discount the shortened 2020 season’s 29.9% K%). A splitter may be the key to what’s unlocked that strikeout stuff, and it’s not terribly surprising to think that Derek Johnson may have something to do with that. He’s coming off a rough start in which he gave up 5 runs to a depleted Chicago Cubs lineup, but most of that damage was in the second inning and he bounced back to throw three scoreless after that.

Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Luis Castillo vs. Brandon Woodruff

Castillo has had a weird season. After absolutely brutal months of April and May, he played a significant role in getting the Reds back in the division race in the summer months, putting up a 1.71 ERA in June and a 2.15 ERA in July, finally starting to look like the ace he’s been for years for Cincinnati. But August has brought another ugly stat line, as he’s been hit to the tune of a 5.09 ERA in 4 starts this month. We maybe shouldn’t read too much into that, though, as the ERA is largely influenced by a disaster outing he had against Cleveland on August 9th that saw him give up 8 runs in 3.1 innings. He responded by allowing 3 runs in 6.2 innings against the Phillies and was excellent in his last start against Miami, holding them to just 1 run despite 8 hits in 7 innings. He shut out the Brewers over 6 innings the last time he saw them during that excellent month of July, and this will be his 6th start against Milwaukee this year.

Thursday, 1:10 p.m. CDT - Sonny Gray vs. Brett Anderson

It took Gray awhile to get going this year, especially after missing most of June, but it appears he may have found his groove in his last 5 starts, and it has helped the Reds through this extended hot streak. The Brewers scored on him 5 times on 6 hits and 4 walks in just 4.2 innings the last time he faced them on July 18, and he followed that up with an even bigger blowup, allowing 8 runs on 8 hits and a walk over just 3.1 innings against the Cardinals on July 25. Over the last month, though, he’s looked like the Sonny Gray of old and looked especially sharp in his most recent start, when he held the Marlins to a single hit over 7 scoreless innings on Sunday. Facing Brett Anderson, it would appear the Reds have the advantage if Thursday afternoon’s game becomes the series-deciding one.

Statistics courtesy of Statcast