As is always the case when those two teams square off, there will be a lot of national attention on the Yankees-Red Sox series this weekend. And, sure, it's a big series with American League playoff ramifications, but the best series this weekend comes in so-called flyover country. The two titans of the Central divisions face off for a three-gamer in Milwaukee. It's the AL Central-leading White Sox against the NL Central-leading Brewers. A possible World Series preview? Sure, why not? Both teams are in first, so of course it's possible.
Here are seven things to know about the series to come.
1. These are the two largest division leads
The Brewers have a 6 1/2 game lead over the Reds in the NL Central. It's a pretty good lead, considering we're in July, and it is also the second-biggest in divisional lead baseball behind the White Sox, who lead the AL Central by nine games.
2. Both teams had Thursday off
The Brewers finished a two-game series against the Royals on Wednesday. They were home for an off-day on Thursday.
The White Sox finished off a seven-game homestand on Wednesday and had an awfully short travel day before a full day of rest.
Plus, the All-Star break just ended a week ago.
Point blank: Neither team should be feeling any travel effects or be suffering from an exhausted bullpen or anything like that.
3. There's likely to be a mixed crowd
Sure, it's not quite as close as when the Cubs visit Milwaukee, but it's just about a two-hour drive from Guaranteed Rate Field to Milwaukee's newly-named American Family Field. Given that it's a weekend series, it's a good bet that a decent number of South Side fans are going to make the trek to watch their Sox. Milwaukee is already abuzz from the recent NBA championship, too, so Brewers fans will be amped to watch a series of this caliber while still on their championship high. It's going to be a raucous three games.
4. Both teams have their big three lined up
Check out these pitching matchups:
Friday: Lucas Giolito (8-6, 3.90 ERA) vs. Freddy Peralta (7-3, 2.39 ERA)
Saturday: Carlos Rodón (8-3, 2.14 ER) vs. Corbin Burnes (5-4, 2.16 ERA )
Sunday: Lance Lynn (9-3, 1.94 ER ) vs. Brandon Woodruff (7-4, 2.04 ERA )
We all know the Giolito story by now. He was possibly the worst starting pitcher in baseball in 2018, but he finished sixth in Cy Young voting in 2019 and seventh last year. As can be seen above, he has the worst numbers from this group of six in 2021, but he's also coming off an outing where he allowed just one run on three hits in a complete game against the Astros' high-octane offense.
Rodón re-signed with the White Sox on a minor-league deal this past offseason and is pitching like he never has before. The White Sox acquired Lynn via trade in December.
This is Peralta's first year in the rotation full-time and he's piling up the strikeouts with 135 in 98 innings. Burnes has 140 in 96 innings while leading the majors in FIP, home run rate, strikeouts per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.75). Woodruff leads the majors in WHIP (0.83).
Coming into the season, few would have predicted this would be such a tasty three-game matchup, but it is truly three aces against three aces.
5. Brewers' strikeout pitchers vs. White Sox's lineup
The above listed Brewers starters rank seventh, ninth and 11th in all of baseball in strikeouts. The Brewers as a team lead the majors in strikeouts with 985 in 97 games this season, an average of 10.15 per game.
Now, the White Sox aren't the Astros or anything in terms of making contact, but they are above average, ranking 14th in striking out 23.4 percent of the time.
The Sox do seem suited to take on a strikeout-heavy pitching staff, however, due to the well-rounded nature of their offense. They rank sixth in the majors in batting average and second in on-base percentage.
On the flip side, this might bode well for the Brewers. The White Sox are 22nd in the league in homers and spreading a bunch of singles and walks around while getting big strikeouts to strand runners on baseball could be a nice formula to prevent crooked numbers.
6. Can Brewers get enough offense?
We already pointed out the strong pitching the White Sox will bring. The Brewers, meanwhile, rank 29th in baseball with a .223 average. They are 17th in OBP and 25th in slugging. On the whole, Keston Hiura has been a major disappointment, Christian Yelich is one of the bigger disappointments in baseball and they are lucky the Rays gave them Willy Adames during the season.
For real, Adames has been ridiculous. In 53 games since the fleecing -- file this away for the next time someone tries to tell you the Rays "never" lose a trade -- Adames is hitting .302/.388/.557 with 16 doubles, 11 homers, 38 RBI and 33 runs. That's 2.7 WAR in roughly a third of a full season.
Oh, and Yelich might be getting things together. In his last seven games, he's hitting .310 with two doubles and a homer.
Still, lots of heavy lifting needs to be done by Yelich and Adames against a tough pitching staff.
7. Two elite closers
Will there be any room to get to the bullpens between the aces on the mound and the two closers? That might be the best chance for an offense to feast this weekend, even if it isn't necessarily a good chance.
On the Brewers' end, setup man Devin Williams is hurt right now and that leaves lefty Brent Suter and righty Brad Boxberger as the bridge to the closer. Even if we wanted to bring up Hunter Strickland, I'm not feeling at ease.
On the White Sox's side, we're looking at Aaron Bummer, Codi Heuer, Jose Ruiz and Garrett Crochet as the setup types that don't make me feel secure. I love Michael Kopech as an x-factor type, of course, but the point here is the biggest weakness heading into this series for both teams would be the non-closer relievers.
These closers, though. Damn.
If it does get to the ninth with the White Sox down, they get to deal with Josh Hader. He's 21 for 22 in save chances this season with a 1.45 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings.
If the Brewers trail, they'll be forced to face Liam Hendriks. He's 23 for 27 in save chances with a 2.61 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 67 strikeouts against just four unintentional walks in 41 1/3 innings. He had a rough April, too. In his last 33 games, he's 19 for 21 with a 1.97 ERA.