The Milwaukee Brewers, the hottest team in the major leagues, winners of eight straight games, will head to Chicago Thursday, to play the Cubs in game one of a four-game series. This matchup features two teams battling for the National League Central title this season. Four out of the five teams in the Central are above .500 in what is looking like what could be the most competitive division in all of baseball. The Brewers come in on a roll, having swept their last two series, and look to stay hot tonight with Chase Anderson (2-1 3.26 ERA) on the mound. The Cubs are starting to heat up themselves as they have won four of their last six games and will start Kyle Hendricks (1-1 4.09 ERA). The Cubs are big -156 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at eight and a half runs. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 PM PST from Wrigley Field in Chicago.
I don’t think the Milwaukee Brewers are as good as they are playing right now. But baseball is a game that is, as Yogi Berra once famously quipped, 90% mental and the other half is physical. The Milwaukee Brewers have the mental part of the game down right now. They are tied for the most wins in the National League at sixteen and are finding ways to win all of their close games. If you look at their stats it is hard to find something that sticks out to prove why these guys are winning at such a high rate, they just know how to win games and are doing it a lot.
One area they have had some solid statistical success is on the mound. The Brew Crew are sixth in the big leagues in ERA and are top ten in both WHIP and batting average against. Tonight’s starter Chase Anderson is one of the guys leading the way for Milwaukee. Anderson exploded onto the scene last year when he went 12-4 with an ERA of just 2.74 in twenty-five starts for Milwaukee. He had been a solid pitcher before that, but last year he showed that he was finally fully matured and ready to be a guy the Brewers could count on in the starting rotation.
This season has started out well for Anderson as he is 2-1 with a 3.25 ERA. The one knock on Anderson has been his inability to get deep into games this season. He has yet to throw a hundred pitches in a game and has only gone past the sixth inning one time. Anderson had a quality start in his lone appearance against the Cubs this year as he pitched six innings and allowed just two runs on four hits and struck out seven. Anderson was a hard-luck loser in that game as his Brewers team offered zero run support.
The Cubs are such a strange team this year. When you look at the lineup and the rotation, it looks like an elite squad. They are chalked full of young talent and know how to win in the postseason. But they have struggled with consistency this season. They are just one game above .500 and have scored one run or less in almost a third of their games this year. They have managed to be top ten in the majors in runs scored as when they do hit, they hit. We saw that in the last two weeks as they erupted for eight runs or more six times. It is just really hard to put your finger on just what kind of production this team is going to give you on a given day.
Starting for the Cubs tonight is Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks is one of those young talented guys I mentioned above. He had a breakout year in 2016 as he went 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA. He regressed a bit last year as he only went 7-5 but still had a very strong ERA of 3.03. He has struggled a bit out of the gates this year as well and is 1-1 with a 4.09 ERA. One has to wonder what kind of season to expect from Hendricks this year. Will he look more like the guy that received MVP votes in 2016? Or the guy that struggled to win games in 2017?
The area that has been the most concern for Hendricks so far this season as his inability to keep runners off base. His WHIP is at 1.36, which is significantly higher than his career average and he is constantly having to work with runners on base. That is a recipe for disaster. If you play with fire, eventually you are going to get burned, and that has been what has happened this season to Hendricks.
Kyle Hendricks is really good. I will give the slight nod to the Cubs in the starting pitching matchup. But baseball is so much about momentum and how well you are playing, and you can’t argue against the fact that Milwaukee is playing really well right now. Anderson is pitching his best right now, and the Brewers might have caught Hendricks in a bit of a slump. To me, this seems to be a very evenly matched game.
Yet the Cubs are pretty big home favorites. That is surprising to me, and that is where we find the value today. To me, this is a coin flip game, it could go either way. I have the opportunity to take the Brewers and get a bunch of dog money at +136 in what should be a close game, and I will take advantage of it tonight.
Give me the hottest team in the majors as big road underdogs tonight in Chicago!