The Milwaukee Brewers are in first place, seven games ahead of the Reds.
And we have a message for them.
The Brewers Death Star is fully operational. And when they take time off from destroying planets, they can mash the baseball.
Among National League teams that don’t play their home games a mile above sea level, the Brewers are first in runs scored, first in power, third in weighted runs created and fourth in on-base-percentage. The Reds rank in the bottom half of the league in all those categories.
Milwaukee’s line-up is loaded with primary weapons. Carlos Gomez and Jonathan LuCroy rank third and fourth in WAR in the NL. Khris Davis and Ryan Braun are in the NL top ten in ISO (power). Two other players, Aramis Ramirez and Mark Reynolds have double-digit home runs. Scooter Gennett, their lead-off hitter, has an on-base-percentage of .351.
The Reds have an advantage overall in starting pitching. In ERA, SIERA, K% and Swinging Strike Percentage, the Brewers rotation is well below average in the National League. The Reds are in the top half. But the match-ups for this series are pretty close, with a slight edge to the Reds.
Probable Pitching Match-ups
The Reds miss Wily Peralta (good) and Marco Estrada (too bad) in this series. The Brewers miss Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto.
Friday, 7:10 p.m.
A fairly even match-up of two veteran pitchers, Kyle Loshe and Alfredo Simon have strong ERAs that aren’t fully supported by advanced pitching metrics. Lohse has kept his strikeout rate respectable, although it’s below NL average. His control has been outstanding.
Lohse and Simon faced each other on May 4. Lohse gave up two runs on eight hits and a walk and struck out two in 6.1 innings. Simon gave up three runs in seven innings, and didn’t strike out a single Brewer. The Reds came back to score two runs against the Milwaukee bullpen and won in the tenth inning on a walk-off double by Todd Frazier that scored Chris Heisey, who had walked with two outs.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
Matt Garza has been OK for the Brewers, but I’m sure they’d hoped for a starter with below-league-average ERA when they signed him to a $50 million/4 year contract this off-season. Homer Bailey is coming off his best start of the season, having shut out the Giants on three hits last Sunday. He threw 107 pitches over nine innings. After an April with a 6.15 ERA (.416 BABIP) he’s enjoyed two months of declining ERA, with a 3.35 mark (.279 BABIP) in his June starts.
Garza and Bailey squared off on June 13 in Milwaukee. Aided by four Brewer errors (this was the game that Garza threw the ball into the stands after fielding a sacrifice bunt), the Reds took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. But the Brewers scored four runs off of Bailey and three hits off Sam LeCure. The Reds won in the top of the ninth when Billy Hamilton knocked in Zack Cozart, who had singled to start the inning.
Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
Yovani Gallardo has been battling a decline in strikeout rate and swinging strikes. He barely misses any bats. But because of improved control, he has kept his ERA and ERA-forecaster stats within reason. Mat Latos will be making just his fifth start of the season, so his numbers really don’t mean much yet.
This is the third time Cincinnati will face Gallardo in 2014. The Reds beat him in May. In June, Gallardo and Latos were locked in an excellent pitching duel. It was Latos’ debut for the season and he shut the Brewers out for six innings, leaving the game with a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, the Reds bullpen. Logan Ondrusek (who, of course, walked the first batter he faced), Manny Parra and J.J. Hoover gave up four runs in three innings in a game the Reds lost 4-2.
Francisco Rodriguez, who seemed on the verge of being washed up as a closer at the age of 30 in 2012, leads the major leagues in saves, with 27. His conversion rate is 90%, which is a little bit above league average. Aroldis Chapman owns a conversion rate of 89%. Will Smith (RH) and Zack Duke (LH, yes that Zack Duke) have been strong in the set-up role. Other members of the Brewers bull-pen have been mediocre, at best.
Happy Independence Day.
The Reds have won five out of seven games against Milwaukee this year. In both series, the Reds were close to sweeping the Brewers, so they know their opponent’s weaknesses. To win this weekend, the Reds will have to amass and deploy every weapon they can find, including crop dusters and mushy Canadian quad muscles.
Gentlemen, let’s plow the road.