Preview: Brewers vs. Indians
MILWAUKEE — After being shut out for the seventh time in 35 games this season, the Milwaukee Brewers got a day off Monday ahead of their two-game interleague set against Cleveland that begins Tuesday night at Miller Park.
And with reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber slated to start for the Indians, the Brewers’ slumping hitters certainly needed the break.
Offense was supposed to be a strength for the Brewers, especially after they added Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to top the lineup during the winter. Those two have done their part — Cain is reaching base at a .381 clip and Yelich at .356 — the rest of the order has failed to carry its share of the load.
Milwaukee is averaging just 3.8 runs per game this season and has been especially ineffective on offense in the last 10 games, crossing the plate 2.7 times per game.
The Brewers have gone 4-6 during that stretch but come into the series with a 20-15 record because their pitching — which most expected to be a weakness — has been solid, especially the bullpen.
Milwaukee’s relievers rank second in baseball with a 2.59 ERA this season, with 150 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings. In the last 10 games, the bullpen has a 2.97 ERA — even after Jacob Barnes and Jorge Lopez combined to allow three runs Sunday in a 9-0 loss to Pittsburgh.
The starters have a 4.26 ERA during that stretch, but that number is also inflated because of rough outings by Junior Guerra and Chase Anderson during the weekend. Take out the 10 runs they allowed in 10 1/3 combined innings and the rotation has a 3.16 ERA in the last 10 games.
“We’ve done a great job preventing runs,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There have been some other spots around the field that we’ve struggled to produce offense, but we’re winning baseball games.”
Left-hander Wade Miley will try to continue Milwaukee’s run of strong pitching as he takes the mound for the second time this season. The veteran was on track to for a starting spot with a strong showing in spring training but was sidelined by a groin injury.
He finally made his debut last week against Cincinnati, where he held the Reds to a run and struck out four in six innings.
“It was Day One, and we won,” Miley said. “Any time we win, I’m happy. I’d called it effectively wild. I’d like to be sharper, but I made the pitches when I needed to.”
Kluber, meanwhile, will be trying to extend his five-game winning streak. He has a 2.41 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .173 batting average during that stretch, striking out 39 with only six walks in 37 1/3 innings.
He allowed three solo home runs in seven innings during his last start but nine runs in the first two innings and a three-homer game from Edwin Encarnacion gave Kluber room to operate.
“Obviously, that’s a huge cushion,” said Kluber, whose team is 68-0 when scoring at least four runs in his starts. “It allows you to go out there and be aggressive and attack the zone and ideally get deep into the game.”
The Indians could use another deep outing from Kluber as well as a big offensive outburst.
Cleveland has scuffled a bit since that 12-4 rout, losing four of five, including a weekend sweep by the Yankees in New York as the team tries to manage the absence of reliever Andrew Miller.
The left-handed relief ace has been out since April 26 with a left hamstring injury. Despite being eligible to return Sunday, he remained sidelined.
Miller threw a weekend bullpen session without issue and is expected to throw off the mound Tuesday before the Indians face the Brewers, putting him on track for a return later this week.
But the Indians, who still lead the AL Central by two games despite a 17-17 record, have a 9.29 bullpen ERA in their last 14 games and can’t use his absence as an excuse.
“He’s not available right now,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said Sunday. “We’ve got to figure out ways to win games. We can’t just win when our full complement’s here. That’s never going to work.”
The teams were rivals in the AL East from 1972 to 1993, then in the AL Central from 1994 until the Brewers switched to the National League ahead of the 1998 season.
Since then, they’ve played six interleague series. Milwaukee holds a 12-10 advantage in those games, but since winning eight in a row from 2001 to 2015 the Brewers have dropped three straight meetings with the Indians.