Players sign autographs as the Cincinnati Reds walk the red carpet on Kids Day at Great American Ball Park on Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Series vs. Brewers an early measuring stick for Reds

Cincinnati opens three-game series Monday against defending division champs

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Seven years later — following a third-place finish, a fourth-place finish and four straight last-place finishes — the Reds would like to get back to the top of the division. One of the teams standing in their way — perhaps their biggest obstacle in a in a strong division — is the defending NL Central champion. The Milwaukee Brewers started a three-game series in Cincinnati on Monday.

“They were a game from going to the World Series last year against the Dodgers,” Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said, “so it’s a team we obviously have to go through to get where we want to go. Even though it is early, it’s a big series. It’s kind of a measuring-stick series to see where we’re at, so I’m looking forward to it.”

The Brewers also offer an example of how a franchise can turn around its fortunes. After winning 68 games in 2015, they have increased their victory total each year: 73 in 2016, 86 in 2017 and then 96 last season.

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Milwaukee opened the 2019 season with three victories in four games against the St. Louis Cardinals, taking the early lead in the division.

“We know going into this we have a really strong division,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Milwaukee’s right at the top of that group. They’re a very good team. They seem to be getting better each year. That’s what we’re looking forward to. I know it’s going to bring out the best in everyone in this division, us included. That’s what it’s all about: the competition. It’s the first of many games against them this year.”

To beat the Brewers this week, the Reds will have to slow down Christian Yelich, who became the sixth player in Major League Baseball history to hit home runs in his team’s first four games of the season. He joined a list that included: Willie Mays (San Francisco, 1971); Mark McGwire (St. Louis, 1998); Nelson Cruz (Toronto, 2011); Chris Davis (Baltimore, 2013); and Trevor Story (Colorado, 2013).

Yelich torched the Reds last season, hitting .482 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.

“I’ve seen him play for a long time,” Bell said. “Talk about somebody who has improved every single year to the point of being one of the best players in the game.”

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