Brewers Defense For the Win

The first inning was full of conflicting signs about how Game 1 of the National League Division would go for the Brewers.

Here’s where Yovani Gallardo threw his first pitch of the day, a 93-mph fastball that was promptly deposited into the outfield by Willie Bloomquist:

Uh oh.  Settle in, this could be a long day.

Aaron Hill was the next batter.  Hill is a decent hitter, certainly major-league worthy, but his batting average and on-base percentage have been steadily declining for a few years now.  He hit only .246 this year, and needed to go on an absolute tear in about 30 games with Arizona to get there; he was hitting .225 with the Blue Jays before being traded.  But the one thing the guy can do is hit home runs.  Hill knocked 36 out of the park in 2009, and 26 last year.

So you’ll understand why the entire stadium got a little apprehensive about Gallardo’s next two pitches, a slider and a fastball:

Thankfully, Hill got under the fastball and potential disaster became a harmless popup.  But that’s when the real fun began.

Remember, during these couple pitches, Bloomquist isn’t just standing around.  He’s taking a nice little lead off first, looking for a pitch to steal on and doing his best to distract Gallardo.  He gets his pitch after Justin Upton, Arizona’s #3 hitter, steps in.  Jonathan Lucroy’s throw is off-target and Rickie Weeks can’t pull it in at second base.  And just like that, a runner on second and only one out with a potential MVP at the dish.

And then it happens.  Gallardo gets behind Upton 2-0, and Upton eventually delivers a line drive single to left.  Bloomquist is chugging away toward third. For whatever reason, Bloomquist doesn’t turn it on until he’s halfway to the plate, even though Ryan Braun really had no chance to catch the ball.  The whole stadium is on its feet, watching Bloomquist make the turn and head home.

Braun scoops up the ball and delivers a strike to home plate.  Lucroy drops to his knees, the ball in his glove, and pulls down his hands as Bloomquist slides right into him.  An out at home.  What a way to kick things off.

The Arizona Diamondbacks were supposed to have an advantage over the Brewers when it came to defense.  Jack Moore over at Fangraphs lays it all out pretty well here. They aren’t built around their defense, but its something most regulars on their roster, especially Justin Upton and Chris Young in the outfield, do well.  The Brewers, on the other hand, have a terrible infield defense, particularly on the left side of the infield.  Yuniesky Betancourt’s and Casey McGehee’s troubles are well-documented, and Fielder on the right side is also a liability.  Perhaps his concern for the weak left side is why Ron Roenicke started Jerry Hairson, Jr. at third.

So its almost fitting that the two defensive plays that really changed the course of the game came from the Brewers.  The first was Braun’s throw to the plate.  The second was a catch at the wall to end Arizona’s seventh inning, a sure double if anyone other than Nyjer Morgan or Carlos Gomez was playing center field.

You can’t gloss over the kind of night Yovani Gallardo had:  eight innings, one earned run, one walk, nine strikeouts.  He really settled down after that tough first inning.  And yet his line would have looked so dramatically different if not for those two spectacular defensive plays, and a few by Hairston, that we might be hanging our heads and hoping for a split at home.  We can all be thankful that the defensive opportunities were not evenly distributed, and heavily favored some solid defenders.

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