The Brewers and Cardinals will play the rubber match of their three-game series this afternoon in Milwaukee. Today’s game features a fascinating matchup of two starting pitchers who have polar-opposite journeys. A 23-year-old phenom making his first start after Tommy John surgery vs. a 33-year-old who didn’t make his first MLB start until he was 31 years old.
Both teams have also had successful starts to the season, but they’ve done so in drastically different ways. The Brewers’ starting rotation has the 21st-highest ERA in baseball at 4.30, but their bullpen has more than compensated from that lack of effectiveness. Milwaukee’s bullpen leads the league with a sparkling 2.44 ERA. Meanwhile, the Cardinals starting rotation has the third-lowest ERA (despite injuries) at 3.06, but their bullpen ranks 21st with a 4.29 ERA. If you’re considering a fade of the Brewers or a play on the Cardinals, you may want to consider just the first five innings.
Let’s take a quicker look at this fascinating starting pitching matchup to see if the first-place Brew Crew can win its sixth straight series or if the Redbirds can get to within three games in the NL Central.
St. Louis Cardinals (-120) at Milwaukee Brewers (+110) | O/U: 9
Alex Reyes (0-0, -.-) vs. Junior Guerra (3-3, 2.98 ERA)
1:10 p.m. ET
A. Rey is Ready: The Cardinals seem to have a never-ending pipeline of pitching prospects at their disposal. Young guns Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty have held down the fort for the Cards and look very promising, but neither has the ceiling of Alex Reyes.
Like seemingly every other young pitcher, Reyes underwent Tommy John surgery last spring and has worked his way back since. He’s made four rehab starts with laughable results.
Yeah, I think he’s ready to return…
Reyes dazzled in his 2016 MLB stint, compiling a 1.57 ERA with a K/9 rate north of 10. His weakness in the eyes of scouts (and based on his stats) throughout his career has been command and control, which can lead to free passes. The Brewers don’t take a ton of free passes, but it would serve them well to show more patience at the plate early against Reyes, who will surely be battling some nerves
Also, if anyone was wondering if he’s lost his elite velocity — he hasn’t. He’s been sitting in the high 90s and touching 100 down on the farm.
If Reyes can live up to his potential, the Cardinals can certainly make noise in the National League. Remember that they will soon get ace Carlos Martinez back in the rotation as well. If both pitchers can stay healthy, it will essentially come down to the performance of their pen.
Reyes posted a 1.57 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 46 innings in five games in 2016. The Cardinals went 5-0 in the first five innings in his starts, and the first five innings under was 3-1-1 as well.
Journeyman Junior: Guerra has gotten off to a very solid start in 2018. His ERA sits below 3.00 and he has allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his nine starts this season. One of those starts (his first of the year) came against the Cardinals, who plated only one run against Junior over 5.1 innings.
While his surface numbers look decent, regression looms for the Venezuelan. His 4.63 xFIP (a more predictive measure of performance) suggests he has not pitched nearly as well as his 2.98 ERA. You simply can’t expect him to maintain a .250 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and an 81.1% LOB% (Left On-Base) over the course of an entire season. Both rank in the top 25 among starters with at least 40 innings pitched.
It’s not like batters haven’t barreled him up, as he owns the seventh-highest hard-hit percentage (43.9%) among all MLB starters (min. 40 innings) in 2018.
Eighteen of Junior Guerra’s 43 career starts for the Brewers have had a total of 9 or higher. In those 18 starts, the under has gone 14-4 (and 7-0 over the last seven) — going under by an average of 2.7 runs per game. Not to mention, when the total is 9 or higher in a division start for Guerra, the under is 7-1, cashing by 3.1 runs per game.