Milwaukee's stock is ticking back up, and a series win over a stacked Blue Jays team bodes well since they face the team below Toronto in their same division. Other than another rocky Adrian Houser start, the Brewers hovered between competent and masterful on both sides of the plate and enjoyed a day off before the brief series in Florida is set to begin. Facing the Rays for the first time since 2017 is only one of many hard-to-predict characteristics of a series marked by returns from injuries and recently recalled top prospects.
The enigmatic Rays don’t quite have the luster of years past. For a team who has spent recent years solidifying themselves as a thorn in the side for AL East leviathans in Boston and New York, being merely eight games above .500 is good for second to last place entering play on June 28th. But the mystique still can’t be wholly ignored. While fourth place doesn’t look like much, they do still stand 70.2% chance of making the new expanded playoffs compared to Milwaukee’s 51.7%. Does the Crew have what it takes to improve their odds in this brief series? Let’s look at the match-ups.
Tuesday June 28th
Brandon Woodruff (5-3 4.74 ERA)
As of 7:00 on Monday, the Rays had yet to announce their starter, but Brewers fans will be heartened to see the likes of Brandon Woodruff returning to the mound. For what it’s worth, Woodruff was sharp in his rehab start against Quad Cities River Bandits, retiring the first 12 batters in a row. Brewers fans will be hoping this portends further dominance in Tampa Bay.
Wednesday June 29th
Eric Lauer (6-3 3.89 ERA)
Shane Baz (0-1 4.51 ERA)
The Wednesday match-up feels consequential.
The focus on Eric Lauer has diminished a little bit after a few rough starts, but he’s been serviceable for the Crew to this point and is a reliable arm that can keep them in the game. The weakest spot for Lauer has been the longball with a frightening 1.9 HR/9, but the Rays are tied with the Reds for the fewest home runs in all of baseball.
Meanwhile, Shane Baz is an exciting young arm. I included a brief description for him below, but the concise version of it is that he’s got a blistering fastball and has figured out the release point well. He can live on the paint and free swinging dominate hitters.
Players To Watch
Shane Baz: A viral quote in the world of baseball geekdom is from Sam Miller, who famously tweeted "LOVE this trade for the Rays. Who'd they give up? And who'd they get?" In this case, Baz was one of many high value grabs in the now famously one-sided trade that sent Chris Archer from Tampa Bay to the Pirates. Before the start of the season he was ranked as the eighth overall prospect in baseball, building that prestige on the back of an elite fastball and profile that looks nearly identical to another former Pirate, Gerrit Cole .
Brandon Woodruff: It’s been an uncharacteristically unremarkable campaign for Woody. Between a sprained ankle in May and the recent diagnosis of Raynaud’s syndrome, fans hope to be able to point the finger at temporary or treatable ailments as the reason the two time All-Star looks flat compared to the pitcher who placed fifth in Cy Young voting just last year.
Hoby Milner : Because why not? The lanky lefty is having one of those charismatic dream seasons where at 31 he’s seemed to have found something that works. In what is already maybe the most fun bullpen in the league, Milner serves as a delightfully dominant cherry on top.
Facing the Rays is already a difficult proposition, but doing so on their turf with so many question marks, and against a team that is 10-1 in interleague play so far this season just doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. If the Crew can muster a split, they should be happy.
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