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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ San Francisco Giants

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This could be a possible playoff preview, but the Giants have more to play for at this point

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers are coming off a frustrating weekend in the Twin Cities but will hope to shake things off with a potential playoff preview in the Bay Area.

The San Francisco Giants still lead the NL West as their surprising season continues, but their lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers is down to 2.5 games as the calendar turns to September. While the Brewers’ playoff spot is likely all but wrapped up, even if the team decides to take their foot off the gas pedal over the next month, they could still play a big role in helping decide the NL West between this series and the regular-season closing series against the Dodgers.

San Francisco likely needs these games more than the Brewers do, but as we saw earlier this month, these are two pretty evenly-matched teams where every game may be decided by just a single critical play.

The Lineup

While the Giants have largely been carried by their pitching this year, this is still a very experienced lineup that has been in the league’s Top 10 for most of the year. They may not hit for a high average — their .244 mark as a team ranks 10th in the majors — but they’ve slugged more than just about any Giants team in recent memory.

Mike Yastrzemski is a pretty good example of this with his .223/.306/.460 line on the year and his team-leading 21 home runs and 24 doubles, but there’s also Former Almost Brewer Wilmer Flores, who’s hit 16 home runs and 13 doubles in 117 games while hitting .249/.318/.434 and Alex Dickerson with 13 home runs while hitting .235/.305/.425. When your pitching is as good as San Francisco’s, those home runs from unexpected sources can be enough to steal games away, and that’s before you get to the longtime stars that are still in the middle of the lineup.

Buster Posey’s late-career resurgence has continued, as he’s hitting .312/.406/.520 with 16 home runs and 14 doubles in 86 games with a 4.1 fWAR, and Brandon Crawford may be in line for some down-ballot MVP votes with a .291/.360/.516 line with 19 home runs and 23 doubles and 3.8 fWAR. Aside from those two, there’s a bit of a surprising name on the Giants’ fWAR leaderboard — longtime journeyman 34-year-old Darin Ruf, who is hitting .277/.400/.545 with a 154 wRC+ in 97 games.

Kris Bryant has also played fairly well since coming over in a deadline deal. The free agent-to-be has slashed .268/.318/.549 with 6 home runs and 14 driven in since the trade.

The Probable Pitchers

Monday, 8:45 p.m. CDT - Corbin Burnes vs. Johnny Cueto

The Brewers actually hit Cueto well in these teams’ first meeting in early August, scoring 4 times on 5 hits in 5.1 innings in a game that got away from the Brewers late due to their then-COVID-depleted bullpen. Cueto landed on the injured list after that start with a minor flexor strain, but returned last week against the New York Mets, throwing 4.2 innings and allowing just one run, although he did walk more (3) than he struck out (2). As we covered earlier this month, Cueto’s not the big strikeout arm he was 10 years ago, but he’s still been a solid back-end starter for one of the best teams in the league — a sign of their great depth.

Tuesday, 8:45 p.m. CDT - Brandon Woodruff vs. Alex Wood

The left-handed Wood has bounced back from a couple of challenging years to regain his old form. Already in his 9th big league season despite being just 30 years old, he’s struck out 135 batters in 125.2 innings so far this year while preventing opponents from barreling him up at his best rate in years. His ERA climbed over 4 after back-to-back rocky starts against Arizona at the start of August, but he’s followed that up with three straight very solid starts in which he allowed only 2 runs. He won’t pitch very deep into games — he’s only got more than 6 innings four times all year — but he’s been very effective as Gabe Kapler has managed his outings well.

Wednesday, 8:45 p.m. CDT - Brett Anderson vs. Kevin Gausman

This is probably the most lopsided pitching matchup of the week, although Anderson did pitch very well in his first matchup against the Giants a few weeks ago, allowing just one run. Gausman, meanwhile, is a legitimate Cy Young award candidate, coming into this outing with a 2.49 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 152 innings with a WHIP on the verge of dipping below 1.0. He’s in the top 20% of the league in K% and chase rate while largely becoming a two-pitch pitcher with his fastball and changeup. The days of needing three pitches to be an effective starter are over, and Gausman is a good example of that, as the Giants’ still-relatively-new analytically-bent front office has gotten guys to focus on their best stuff. He was able to quiet down the red-hot Atlanta Braves in his last start, holding them to just 2 runs over 6 innings.

Thursday, 2:45 p.m. CDT - Eric Lauer vs. Logan Webb

Another one of the unsung heroes of this excellent Giants rotation, Webb comes into this outing with a 2.65 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) over 105.1 innings. He’s also been excellent at forcing opponents to chase out of the zone, with a chase rate in the 87th percentile, and that’s led to a lot of weak contact when he isn’t striking guys out (he has 111 punchouts to date). He held the Brewers to 1 run on just 3 hits while striking out 9 in 6 innings the last time they saw him on August 6th.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Statcast