The Brewers bring the best record in baseball in Saturday's Game 2 of this series against the last-place Cubs. Milwaukee opened as a -156 favorite on MLB odds with a total of 7.5 runs for sports bettors.
90 Miles Yet Years
It seems hard to believe looking at both clubs that the Brewers only finished eight games ahead of 66-win Cubs last year. It's amazing what a little health and a few bounce-back seasons will do for a team. Ryan Braun is healthy and apparently PED free (he better be) after last season's disaster. He's back near an NL MVP level, hitting .300 and leading the team with six home runs and 17 RBIs entering Friday. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez also had an injury-plagued, disappointing 2013 season and he's hitting .313 with 16 knocked in. Carlos Gomez (.289, five HRs. 12 RBIs) also is having another fine season, but he was in the news for the wrong reasons last Sunday in helping to instigate a fairly nasty brawl against the Pirates. Gomez was suspended three games but can play while he appeals. Keep an eye on this as Gomez could opt to drop it any day he chooses and then sit.
Meanwhile, the Brewers pitching staff was average at best last year but is among the best in the majors so far in 2014. Milwaukee entered the weekend second in MLB in ERA and quality starts, third in WHIP and No. 3 in batting average against. Ace Yovani Gallardo has led the turnaround after he was a major disappointment a season ago. Closer Francisco Rodriguez has been nothing short of unhittable.
As for positives about the Cubs? Hitting wise, first baseman Anthony Rizzo seems to have responded well to the new coaching staff as he's batting better than .300. Starlin Castro also has improved his numbers off last year. Other than those two and catcher Wellington Castillo, there's not much to get excited about for the future. Pitching-wise, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood have been excellent. The former seems a lock to be traded by July 31.
The Cubs don't have a set closer. Jose Veras opened the season with the job, but he has two blown saves and a 15.88 ERA. He has given up at least two runs in his past three outings. Lefty Pedro Strop had a chance to take the job, but he was blown up for four runs in a third of an inning in Wednesday's loss to Arizona on Wrigley Field's 100th birthday. Manager Rick Renteria will simply go by matchups in the ninth inning with his entire bullpen. The Cubs don't lead that much so it's not a huge deal.
One could make an argument that the lefty Wood (1-2, 2.52) is the Cubs' best all-around player right now, and I'm including hitting. Wood is batting .333 with a home run and four RBIs thus far. He has gone yard at least once in each of his first five big-league seasons (three in 2013), only the fourth pitcher to do so. In his last start, Wood pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a 5-1 win over Arizona. He also was 2-for-4 with a homer and four knocked in. The Cubs had lost his previous three starts thanks to no run support. Wood faced the Brewers once last year and allowed two earned runs in 6.1 innings of a no-decision. Braun will be licking his chops Saturday as he his 7-for-19 with four doubles, a home run and five RBIs off Wood. Gomez is 3-for-15 with a homer. Ramirez hasn't fared too well, going 3-for-15 with six strikeouts.
Milwaukee stats right-hander Marco Estrada (1-1, 2.66). His lone loss came in his only Miller Park start this year, allowing three runs over six innings against St. Louis. Otherwise, the Brewers have won his thee road starts. Estrada started three times in 2013 against the Cubbies and was 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA. He struck out 17 and allowed 16 hits -- four home runs -- in 20 innings. Castro is 7-for-18 with three extra-base hits off Estrada. Rizzo is 1-for-15. Castillo has two home runs in 11 at-bats off Estrada.
MLB Free Picks: Cubs +146 and the under 7.5 runs (-120 at sportsbooks) for your free baseball picks. The Cubs always have a fighting chance with Wood on the mound, and perhaps he helps himself at the plate again. Milwaukee is 1-4 in Estrada's past five at home. The under is 6-0-1 in Wood's past seven road starts. The under is 7-1 in Estrada's past eight overall.