The Cincinnati Reds are much better now than they were a month into the season, and it's partly because Anthony DeSclafani is much better than they anticipated.
Not only DeSclafani, the pitcher. DeSclafani, the hitter, too.
The Reds have played their last seven games against teams that were in first place or within percentage points of the top spot. They swept the Cubs in four games and won two of three in Atlanta.
"It says a lot for our club that we can play first-place clubs and win these series," Riggleman said Wednesday following a come-from-behind 6-5 win at Atlanta, the Reds' ninth victory in 10 games and 12th victory in 15 games.
"(We want to) keep rolling into Cincinnati," Adam Duvall said after his two-run single keyed a three-run seventh inning that included a Scooter Gennett RBI single.
DeSclafani (3-1, 4.09 ERA) is a big presence during the surge, and not just because he's won his last three starts -- this after missing all of last season and the first two months of this season with multiple injuries. After missing so much time, the Reds simply weren't sure what they would get from him this season.
His last time out, the right-handed DeSclafani limited the Cubs to two runs and three hits in 6 1/3 innings, and he contributed the game's biggest hit Saturday with a grand slam -- the first slam by a Cincinnati pitcher in 59 years.
DeSclafani will be yet another bat in the Reds' order that Milwaukee right-hander Junior Guerra (3-5, 2.82) must be concerned about in the opener of the four-game NL Central series.
The Brewers continue to occupy first place in the division, but even a three-run ninth inning wasn't enough Wednesday as they lost 5-4 at home to the last-place Kansas City Royals, whose .313 winning percentage is the second-worst in the majors.
"Even in our losses, we're making the other team work a lot," starting pitcher Brent Suter told reporters. "From that respect, I love how we're playing. (But) it would be nice to win some of these series."
The Brewers have lost six of their last 10 games, and now they must take on a Reds team that doesn't look anything now like the team Milwaukee swept in a three-game series April 30-May 2 at Great American Ball Park -- losses that dropped the Reds to 7-24. The Brewers have won five of six overall from the Reds this season.
"We just want to keep winning. If we take series after series we're going to be just fine," said Reds reliever Jackson Stephens (2-0), who got the win Wednesday with 1 2/3 scoreless relief innings.
The Brewers, conversely, led 1-0 Wednesday, only to have Suter and reliever Josh Hader give up five runs in the seventh inning. Hader allowed a two-run single to Adalberto Mondesi, Lucas Duda's sacrifice fly and Whit Merrifield's RBI single -- the first time in 27 games this season Hader has given up more than one hit in an inning.
"Josh's velocity was good. Everything was good," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. "He threw the ball well. They jumped on the first pitch, and we've seen that a lot lately, but he's been so effective that obviously multiple hits in an inning is something we haven't seen. They got him today."
The Reds certainly didn't get to Guerra when they faced him on April 17.
Guerra didn't get the decision in a 2-0 Brewers win, but he shut out the Reds on one hit over 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking three. In his career, he is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA against Cincinnati in five games, including four starts.
Most of the current Reds hitters have only a minimal number of at-bats against Guerra, with Eugenio Suarez going 2-for-3 with a homer.
DeSclafani is 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA in five games against the Brewers, starting four of them, but hasn't faced them since 2016. Ryan Braun is 2-for-10 (.200) against him.