As the records sit three games into the season for the Brewers and all the NL Central teams, the two favorites to win the division are tied with the Pirates at the bottom of the standings.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and Reds both won the final two games of their three game series on the Opening Weekend, placing them atop the division. And while many are aware you certainly can’t win the division in April, you sure can lose it with a bad enough start.
Milwaukee will look to avoid such a start as the first 2021 rendition of the I-94 rivalry takes place this evening at Wrigley Field. The game time is slated for 6:40 PM CST and can be found on Bally Sports Wisconsin. Brett Anderson will be on the bump for the Brewers.
Here are three things to look for during the Brewers series with the Cubs:
1. More Contact From Brewers Hitters
The strikeout bug seems to have bit Milwaukee hitters once again. From the looks of things so far, the horror movie that was last season at the plate for Milwaukee hitters may have a sequel. The Crew’s bats currently are tied for the sixth-most strikeouts in all of the MLB (36) and second-most for teams that have only played three games (the most being the Minnesota Twins with 37).
Two of Milwaukee’s better hitters are once again leading the pack in a category that you don’t want to be the leader of. Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura both have six strikeouts to their name so far with Kolten Wong not far behind with four. These are good career hitters in Craig Counsell’s lineup and while the knee-jerk reaction might be to get ready for a repeat of last year, you need to remember it’s still early.
Yelich did only strike out six times total in Spring Training where he played in 14 games and Wong only four times in 16 games so maybe they’re just over-eager at the dish. Meanwhile, Hiura has had his struggles with the strikeout in his MLB career and had some similar problems this past Spring. Regardless, it is only three games in and we can’t push the panic button too fast.
From being punched out during a clutch situation with runners on base to simply being unable to put the bat on the ball to start some sort of rally, Milwaukee will need to see more consistent contact from its hitters against a quality team like the Cubs.
2. How Milwaukee Pitchers Will Look With A Lead
In the 28 innings that were played against the Twins over the weekend, the Brewers technically led for only one of those innings (walk-off hit by Arcia). No Milwaukee pitcher has pitched with a lead yet so it will be interesting to see if they feel a little more loose.
This isn’t a big thing, but it seemed as though the Brewer pitchers were a bit uptight and afraid to make a mistake in the series against Minnesota. To be fair, when there’s pressure on your team to make a comeback, the duty of that pitcher (reliever or starter) is to keep the game in reach…and Milwaukee pitchers failed to do that in a couple instances.
Whether it was Brent Suter who struggled a bit in his 1.2 innings pitched including surrendering a two-out RBI hit by Luis Arraez to give the Twins an insurance run, or Drew Rasmussen who gave up three earned runs in relief of Adrian Houser, the Crew’s pitchers haven’t started out the 2021 season particularly strong.
I think there may be a sense of uncertainty that these pitchers feel with the lack of run support that they saw last year, but I’m intrigued to see if they look more free flowing and show signs of their old selves with a lead.
3. Will the Real Christian Yelich Please Stand Up?
With three hits in 12 at-bats for the man with the keys to the car, he still hasn’t looked like his former self just yet. Christian Yelich could very well be 1-12 if it wasn’t for a ball that Max Kepler dropped after it was in his glove and him beating out an infield hit. Still, it’s very early but I’m excited to see what Yelich will do to Cubs pitching this week.
Yelich is a career .260 hitter against the Chicago Cubs but his last three years have been a rollercoaster ride of sorts against the I-94 rivals. In 2018 he posted a .213 average against the Cubs while in ‘19 he was scorching hot with a .315 average against them. Fast forward to last year and the rollercoaster took a steep dive down where he hit .132 against the Windy City foes.
Brewer fans know that Yelich is a gifted hitter, he’s one of the best in the game and we’re lucky to have him. This series could be an important one though as his regular season woes from last year could carry on or he could right the ship and really start a hot hitting streak.
Slated tonight for the Cubs is former Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams who Yelich is only 2-14 against in his career with five strikeouts.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the former MVP along with the rest of the guys in the Brewers lineup can get things figured out against a Cubs team that they’ll see a lot of in the near future.