It is time to get back to Great American Ball Park.
After a nice four full days off, the Cincinnati Reds will get back in action at GABP Friday evening against the Milwaukee Brewers. As you probably remember, the Reds just won three out of four games against the Brew Crew heading into the All-Star break to cut the National League Central gap to four games. Now, they will have a pivotal series on the other end of the break that will immediately set the tone for the second half of the season.
Before diving into a preview of the Brewers and a few storylines for the rest of the season, we would be remiss not to mention Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker starting in the MLB All-Star Game. It was a tough night at the plate in Denver for Castellanos who popped up to first base and then grounded into an inning-ending double play. Winker would finish 0-1 with a walk. While it wasn’t the storybook performance for either All-Star in the National League’s 5-2 losing effort, it was still refreshing to see a couple of Reds get recognized on the national stage.
Playoff Picture: 4 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, 3.5 games behind the San Diego Padres for the second National League Wild Card spot.
Key Performers: Nick Castellanos- .331 batting average, 18 home runs, 59 runs batted in. Jesse Winker- .301 batting average, 19 home runs, 50 runs batted in. Wade Miley- 7-4 record, 2.80 earned run average.
Milwaukee Brewers Preview
Fresh off of a four game series heading into the All-Star break, the Redlegs should be familiar with this opponent. An 11-game winning streak that spanned from June 22nd through July 3rd helped Milwaukee open up a sizable lead in the NL Central before giving all of it back by losing six of their last eight games. Obviously three of those losses came to the Reds as well which cut their advantage in the division to just four games. Still, the Brewers are in the driver’s seat thanks to elite pitching.
As a staff, the Brewers pitchers lead the major leagues with 935 strikeouts. The three-headed monster of Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes has led the way for the Brew Crew as arguably the best trio in baseball. Woodruff is 7-4 with a dazzling 2.06 ERA and 129 strikeouts. Peralta is 7-3 with a team-high 135 K’s and a 2.39 ERA while Burnes is 4-4 with a 2.36 ERA and 128 punch outs. All three pitchers average over 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
Of course, when facing the Brewers things don’t get a whole lot easier once you get by the starting pitching. Coming out of the bullpen is one of the best lefty-righty duos in the league between Josh Hader and Devin Williams. Veteran Brad Boxberger has been excellent out of the ‘pen as well.
With as good as the pitching has been for the Brewers, the offense has been at the other end of the spectrum. Milwaukee comes in at 29th in Major League Baseball with a .220 batting average and have struck out the third most times with 891. Much like the Reds of last season, with an offense that doesn’t consistently put pressure on the opponent there is only so much your pitching staff can do with so little margin for error.
This weekend the Brewers will go against Tyler Mahle Friday night, Luis Castillo on Saturday, and then Sonny Gray making his return from the Injured List on Sunday. The Reds are rolling the big guns out to start the second half. Milwaukee skipper Craig Counsell has yet to announce his pitching rotation.
Second Half Storylines
Getting Healthy: Sonny Gray returns from the Injured List Sunday. Michael Lorenzen should be back very soon to solidify the bullpen a bit and Jeff Hoffman continues his rehab and should be set to rejoin the team “soon.” Can we expect anything out of Mike Moustakas? Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims will eventually rejoin the bullpen as the Reds two most reliable relievers. Being able to count on contributions from some of these guys that have missed significant time will be key in the second half of the season.
Rookie of the Year: Tyler Stephenson and Jonathan India have been incredible all season long. If they can keep it up in the second half both of them will be in contention for the National League Rookie of the Year award. Stephenson and India have exceeded anyone’s expectations, but with a struggling Eugenio Suarez and missing Mike Moustakas for almost the entire season, Cincy can’t really afford much of a drop-off.
MVP race: Will Nick Castellanos actually make a run at National League Most Valuable Player? To do so the Reds will need to win the division and Castellanos will need to win the batting crown. If both of those things happen then there is a realistic shot. However, the long ball rules and Castellanos will probably need to get to the 35-40 range to compete with those who may hit 50.
Wade Miley: The veteran left-hander saved the Reds at times when Luis Castillo was pitching poorly and when Sonny Gray had to go on the injured list. It would be understandable if there was some second half regression from Miley, but for the Reds to truly contend they probably need more of the same from him down the stretch.