After a pair of lackluster games in Detroit that didn’t mean much of anything, the Brewers return to Milwaukee for their final home stand of the regular season.
The Cubs have long been eliminated from postseason contention, but a combination of wins and Cincinati losses this weekend could help the Brewers eliminate the Reds from the NL Central race. There’s also the possibility of setting up a scenario where the Brewers get the privilege of eliminating the Cardinals from the division race themselves next week.
First, they’ll have to take care of business against the Cubs, though. That’s something they’ve done very well this year, with 13 wins in 16 games against them so far. And after Chicago blew another 7-run lead on Thursday, the next Cubs loss will clinch their first losing season since 2014 — one final indicator that the most successful stretch in the long history of the Cubs has come to a close.
Predictably, an already disappointing offense has struggled even more since the deadline deals that sent away Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez. The Cubs now enter this weekend with the third-worst team batting average in baseball and the 6th-worst on-base percentage.
We all know batting average isn’t a very good indicator of offensive value, but when the current qualified team leader is Ian Happ at .221 — and his OBP of .311 also leads the team — it’s a pretty good sign things have stunk.
Willson Contreras would be leading those categories if he qualified, having put up a .228/.332/.418 line in 378 at-bats. Virtually the only star the Cubs didn’t deal away in July, he’ll likely continue to draw the ire of Brewers fans this weekend — especially once he inevitably dives into another pitch.
The trade deadline also left Patrick Wisdom as the Cubs’ biggest power threat remaining in the lineup. He leads the team with 26 home runs in 308 at-bats, but he’s also been all-or-nothing with the bat, coming into this series with a .237/.305/.532 line to this point in the season. He has killed the Brewers this year, though, going 8-for-17 with 3 home runs and 2 doubles.
The Probable Pitchers
Friday, 7:10 p.m. CDT - Zach Davies vs. Adrian Houser
The Brewers get to see their old friend Zach one last time as the summer comes to a close, but unfortunately, he has not earned many orange slices this year. He’s made 30 starts to this point, but availability has pretty much been his only asset. Statcast says his 5.40 ERA should actually be worse than it is, since his expected wOBA and expected Batting Average against rank in the bottom 5% of the league, pushing his expected ERA up to 6.27. He’s never missed many bats, but this year he hasn’t induced much soft contact, either. As a free agent at the end of the year, we may be seeing his last few major league starts for awhile.
Saturday, 6:15 p.m. CDT - Justin Steele vs. Corbin Burnes
Steele is one of the young arms the Cubs have given the opporunity to show what they can do in the rotation down the stretch. After starting the year as an effective reliever, the left-hander has had some ups-and-downs starting games. His first career start came against the Brewers on August 10th, with Milwaukee scoring 3 times against him in 5 innings, hitting two home runs. He’s coming off a start in which Bryant and the Giants hung 10 hits on him in 5 innings, with 5 runs (4 earned) coming across to score. Even as a starter, he’s largely relied on his fastball, throwing it 64% of the time.
Sunday, 1:10 p.m. CDT - Adrian Sampson vs. Eric Lauer
Sampson is a journeyman who’s largely worked in a swing role in the American League before this year, pitching most recently for the Texas Rangers in 2019 before joining the Cubs this year. He’s only thrown 21.1 big league innings to this point in 2021, and will be making his 4th start and 8th appearance overall. He’s largely maxed out at 5 innings as a starter, although he is coming off a solid outing against the Phillies in which he allowed just 2 runs in 5 innings. He’s basically a replacement-level arm with no noteworthy pitches.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Statcast