Sept. 20 MLB Picks and Preview — Pittsburgh Pirates (65-88) at Milwaukee Brewers (83-70)

(Lorenzo Cain photo courtesy Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Friday, Sept. 20, Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisc., 8:10 p.m. EDT.

It has taken the Milwaukee Brewers 153 games and overcoming the loss of the reigning National League MVP, but they control their own destiny at the moment for the final nine contests.

Milwaukee looks to keep its tenuous hold on the second wild-card spot as it opens a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park.

Bucs turn to Brault in bid to play spoilers

The Pirates (65-88) will directly impact the wild-card race and the NL Central title chase over the next week as they play the Cubs in a three-game series at home starting Tuesday after this one concludes.

Pittsburgh was swept in a three-game set at Wrigley last weekend and followed that up by dropping all three games of a home series versus Seattle after losing 6-5 in 11 innings Thursday.

“We haven’t been barreling balls up. That’s been the story,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle understated to the team’s official website after watching his team get outhomered 19-0 during the six-game skid. “Again today, a lot of mis-hits. We had the one inning where we had some extra-base hits. Outside of that, it’s been a little barren.”

Steven Brault (4-5, 4.98 ERA) has not risen to the occasion of helping Pittsburgh play spoiler in his last two starts, getting drilled for 16 runs and 14 hits over eight innings in back-to-back defeats to the Cardinals and Cubs. With the wind blowing out at Wrigley on Friday the 13th, Brault endured a horror show of his own making as he served up five homers and was tagged for a career-worst 10 runs in 2 2-3 innings of a 17-8 loss.

The right-hander has fared far better versus Milwaukee despite not having anything to show for it in the win column. Brault has no record and a 2.66 ERA in four matchups this season, limiting the Brewers to six runs in 20 1-3 innings while striking out 20.

He conceded three runs in 11 innings spanning two starts at Miller Park in June, but the Pirates eventually lost those games and two others he started in Pittsburgh.

Brewers still with outside shot of catching Central-leading Cards

Milwaukee (83-70) overtook Chicago for the second wild-card spot with its 5-1 victory Thursday over San Diego coupled with the Cubs losing 5-4 to the Cardinals in 10 innings.

The result also left the Brewers three games behind St. Louis for the division lead with nine to play, but their current charge has been impressive considering they are 7-2 since 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich was lost for the season with a fractured patella after fouling a ball off his knee Sept. 10.

“From my perspective, we’ve been in playoff games since the last day of August,” manager Craig Counsell told the Brewers’ official website. “That’s how we’ve treated the games. We’ve had to.”

Counsell has had a quick hook on his starters, something that could come into play again Friday night as Chase Anderson (6-4, 4.50) takes the ball. The right-hander has pitched just four innings in each of his last three starts despite giving up a combined five runs in those games.

Anderson made one mistake in his four innings Sunday at St. Louis, yielding a solo homer Harrison Bader, but Counsell’s maneuvering eventually paid off in that game as Milwaukee rallied for a 7-6 victory.

Anderson has been effective versus Pittsburgh this year, going 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in four starts and allowing only two runs in each outing. Four of the eight runs have scored on three home runs he’s yielded in 20 2-3 innings.

Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who homered in Thursday’s win, is day-to-day after being taken out in the fifth inning due to ankle discomfort. Cain homered twice in the series versus San Diego and has 10 RBIs in 16 games versus Pittsburgh this year.

Notable Trends

The Brewers are:

  • 11-2 in their last 13 games.
  • 5-1 in Anderson’s last six home starts vs. the Pirates.
  • 7-1 in their last eight games vs. starters with a plus-1.30 WHIP.

The Pirates are:

  • 2-8 in Brault’s last 10 starts.
  • 0-8 in Brault’s last eight starts vs. NL Central teams.
  • 5-23 in their last 28 road games vs. above-.500 teams.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Pirates UNDER 3.5 runs (-115)

The Pirates have been held to one or no runs three times during their current losing streak, and have scored more than three runs just once in their six previous contests at Miller Park this season. Lastly, they have scored three or fewer runs in three of Brault’s four starts versus the Brewers, including both matchups in Milwaukee.

All those factors, plus the overall malaise surrounding this team as it plays out the string, makes the under the play.

****4-Star Pick****

Brewers -1.5 runs (+105)

Despite losing an integral piece of their offense in Yelich, the Brewers have impressively surged to their current spot in the standings. Now they appear to get a breather of sorts in facing a Pirates team that has mailed it in for most of the second half of the season and spent the last week getting dump-trucked by the Cubs and Mariners.

Counsell’s quick hook on Anderson offers a slight pause on being very aggressive with this pick, but the Brewers should be able to power through against a Pirates team showing little jump.

***3-Star Picks***

UNDER 9 runs (Even)

Both pitchers have been effective in this matchup all season long, and while Anderson may not last five innings, there is enough on his end to think he can keep Pittsburgh down. Brault is the wild card after his horrific outing down I-94 in Chicago, and his struggles against division opponents — he is 1-4 with a 6.20 ERA in 10 starts this season — are enough to be scared off from loading up on the under.

The under, it should be noted, has hit in the last five meetings in Milwaukee, gone 4-0-1 in Brault’s last five starts at Miller Park and 5-2-1 in Anderson’s last eight at home versus Pittsburgh. Even with the line coming down a half-run, the feeling is Pittsburgh’s lack of offense makes the difference.

Brewers -0.5 runs first 5 innings (-140)

While the Brewers are the play, there is a concern that Counsell’s quick hook could be a momentum-buster if he does it mid-inning with runners on base. The Brewers are 2-2 at the midway point in Anderson’s four starts versus Pittsburgh, while the Pirates are 1-2-1 in Brault’s four matchups with the Brewers.

Brault’s form the last two matches, though, tip the pick in Milwaukee’s favor.

UNDER 5 runs first 5 innings (-110)

A bit of an underdog pick in the hopes Brault does just enough to get the under by as Anderson holds the Pittsburgh offense down. The five-inning total has come under this number in the last four meetings at Miller Park and in two head-to-head matchups between these pitchers.

Brewers OVER 2.5 runs first 5 innings (-131)

Considering Brault’s last two starts, the Brewers are a solid conservative pick here to clear 2.5 runs in the first five innings. Milwaukee has cleared the number in six of its last 11 games overall and in four of nine since Yelich was injured. Pirates pitchers have yielded three or more runs in the first five frames in all but one game during this current skid.

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