When the last week started, the Cincinnati Reds were nine games back in the division. This week, they have moved within 7 1/2 games of first place. In the meantime, they have caught the San Diego Padres in the Wildcard race and now lead by a single game for the second spot. On Tuesday, the Reds will have a chance to make some huge progress in the divisional race, though. They travel to Milwaukee to take on the division-leading Brewers for a three-game set that could re-shape the whole division. Win all three, and the Reds move within 4 1/2 games of the lead. Lose all three, though, and they’ll all but hope to hang onto the wildcard position.
This is the biggest series in recent memory for the Cincinnati Reds. The only series that carried this same weight is the 2010 August series against St. Louis, which saw the Reds extend their division lead and get into a huge brawl with Tony La Russa’s former club. The Reds have been playing catch-up for the better part of the season, and now the Brewers are within striking distance. After this week, the Reds only have 11 games against a team better than .500 the rest of the year. The Brewers, on the other hand, have 20 games of that nature, including four in San Francisco and 10 against St. Louis.
If the Reds sweep the Brewers in Milwaukee, it would be like a skilled hunter landing a shot, leaving its prey limping for dear life, especially since Milwaukee will embark on a seven-game road trip to Minnesota, then to baseball’s best team in San Francisco. On the flip side, if Milwaukee sweeps Cincinnati, it’ll be like a boxer who lands the knockout blow in the late rounds. Win two of three for Cincinnati, and you’re still within striking distance. Lose two of three, and the Reds better hope the Brewers fall flat on their face.
Game One: Corbin Burnes (8-4, 2.13 ERA) vs. Tyler Mahle (10-4, 3.78 ERA)
Game one will be very interesting, to say the least. The last time Corbin Burnes threw against Cincinnati, he took a no-hitter into the 6th and completed the complete game shutout. The Reds looked completely lost against a pitcher who has been nothing short of dominant all year. If the Reds can jump on Burnes early, though, they can demoralize them. Tyler Mahle is due for another excellent start after struggling last time out. If the Reds can get Mahle a couple of runs early, he seems to settle in a little bit easier. During this series, this will likely feel like a playoff atmosphere, so the Reds’ starting pitching cannot afford to shy away from the spotlight.
Game Two: Brandon Woodruff (7-7, 2.48 ERA) vs. Luis Castillo (7-12, 4.38 ERA)
Game two features another tough pitcher for Cincinnati, but one they’ve put runs up on this year. Brandon Woodruff has been a fantastic number two all year for Milwaukee, so beating him AND Burnes is a tall task. The Reds, however, will send out one of the hottest pitchers in baseball over the last two and a half months. Luis Castillo has been nothing short of awesome since June began. He has vastly improved and become the pitcher we remember with the 100 mph fastball and the wicked changeup. This matchup will be a great duel between two of the top pitchers in baseball.
Game Three: Brett Anderson (4-7, 4.15 ERA) vs. Sonny Gray (5-6, 4.15 ERA)
The final game in the series features an intriguing matchup. Brett Anderson hasn’t been great for Milwaukee this year and definitely gives up his share of runs, but the intrigue doesn’t come from him. The intrigue comes from Sonny Gray, who hasn’t really gotten going since coming off the IL this year. He’s had his ups and downs but hasn’t yet given us a Sonny Gray type of game we’re used to. This means he’s due, and hopefully, he’s taking the bump to secure a series win or sweep.
The Cincinnati Reds are close to making the playoffs for the second straight season. They’d be traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers in the Wildcard Game as it stands right now. That is not the most favorable matchup, so they would love to make some noise within the division and even come out as a division winner. Doing that would allow the team to avoid the NL West heavyweights. The Reds would much rather face the NL East division winner who limps into the playoffs. First things first, though. The Reds need to move onto Milwaukee and take it game by game. That’s the only way they’ll have a chance to steal this division.