A surprising challenger and division favorite meet for the first time when the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Cincinnati Reds in the opener of a four-game series Friday evening.
The Reds, who lost 100 games in 2022, enter the four-game set having completed a 5-1 road trip through Wrigley Field andFenway Park, missing a six-game sweep with an 8-2 loss to Boston on Thursday night.
The third-place Reds, who trail the first-place Brewers by three games and the Pittsburgh Pirates by 2 1/2 games in the National League Central, came up with timely hits and numerous two-out rallies in the five-game win streak that ended Thursday.
"It's all about the at-bats and competing," Reds manager David Bell said. "You're not always going to get hits in those situations. It's nice when you do and obviously leads to a lot of runs. But when you don't, looking for that opportunity next time is really important. Because a lot of the hits with runners in scoring position is a big confidence thing, you have to want to be up in that spot."
The Reds send left-hander Brandon Williamson (0-0, 5.02 ERA) to the mound in his fourth major league start. Williamson was tagged for four runs on six hits over 4 1/3 innings last Saturday at Wrigley Field.
The Reds beat the Cubs 8-5 and have won Williamson's first three starts in the majors, averaging just under six runs of support in each start. Williamson will look to refine his control, having walked nine in just 14 1/3 innings.
The Brewers counter with right-hander Corbin Burnes (4-4, 3.68), making his 12th start of the season. Last Saturday against San Francisco, Burnes took a tough-luck no-decision in a 3-1 loss to the Giants.
Burnes limited the Giants to one run and four hits over seven innings, striking out eight and walking three to post his sixth quality start of 2023.
Burnes is 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 14 career appearances (four starts) against the Reds. As a starter, Burnes has been dominant against Cincinnati, going 2-0 with a 2.36 ERA. Burnes is 2-1 with an 0.95 ERA in seven career games (two starts) at Great American Ball Park.
The Brewers, the defending NL Central champions, lead the division again but have struggled to find consistency. They lost 3-1 in Toronto on Thursday afternoon, a fifth loss in seven games that dropped them to 29-27.
Milwaukee starter Freddy Peralta gave up three runs in the first inning on a pair of home runs but recovered for a quality six-inning start.
"He got burned on middle pitches and pitches that good and strong hitters did damage with," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "So, that's the way the game goes. You've got to try to stay out of those situations if you can. That's why you have to control good lineups. That's what's tough about good lineups and guys that can leave the park anywhere."
With the loss Thursday, Milwaukee has dropped five straight series on the road and has won just four of its last 15 games away from home.
The series also marks the return of Milwaukee outfielder Jesse Winker to Cincinnati. He began his career in the organization before being traded to Seattle after the 2021 season.
Cincinnati rookie Matt McLain, fresh from earning National League Player of the Week honors, enters with a 10-game hitting streak. The shortstop extended Cincinnati's longest hitting streak this season in his final at-bat Thursday, hitting an RBI single that tied the game at 2-2 before Boston's six-run eruption in the bottom of the eighth.
--Field Level Media