Road Woes

I’m not ready to say that the 2011 Brewers will be defined by their horrid road record (8-18, one of the worst in baseball), though they’ll certainly need to turn that around at some point.  But with the way the Brewers have been playing at home (at 21-7, they’re the first MLB team to 20 home wins), they don’t exactly have to play winning ball while away.  A .500 road record will probably get them in the dance.

But a step backward yesterday; a 3-7 loss to the Reds at Great American isn’t going to help.  Still, it isn’t quite the disaster some in the media make it out to be.  Yes, we dropped another game on the road.  Yes, it was to the division rival Reds.  And yes, the Brewers again had trouble putting runs across the plate.

Still, it’s not quite fair to put this Brewers team in the same box as the team that went 0-3 against the Reds to start the year.  We have Zack Greinke, apparent ace, back in the rotation, and he’s going to start tonight.  Shaun Marcum, who will go in game 3, is a totally different pitcher than he was during his disastrous first outing against the Reds.  We’ve got some new bats in Nyjer Morgan (who as a new Brewer went 1-2 in the first road series in 2 PA), Corey Hart (who was on the DL), and Josh Wilson (who was incognito as a Diamondback).

Add to that the fact that it was our number five, Chris Narveson, starting yesterday.  He’s been serviceable so far (1.2 WAR), but he’s still a number five, and that means you’re going to ask, like Ron Roenicke did, what he was thinking on an occasional pitch:

No, you can’t do that to [Jay Bruce]. And then he turned around and did it again on a 1-2 to Gomes. They had a lot of two strike hits today, and all of them bad pitches.

Narveson is going to get tossed around once in a while.  It was just bad luck that it happened yesterday, on the road, against the Reds.

So as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t do much good to measure the Brewers effectiveness at Great American based on the results of the games so far.  I think the real test is going to come tonight and tomorrow, when they throw their best (Greinke and Marcum) up on the mound and see what happens.  If the Brewers drop the next two, then yeah, we can worry; the Brewers are sitting at 1-6 against the Reds so far this year, and I don’t see any way the Brewers win the central if they can’t figure Dusty Baker’s team out.

Revenge is the theme

The Brewers are on a five-game winning streak and look to close out the series against Washington tomorrow with a sixth.  And the name of the game in this series is revenge.

Three straight devastating losses to the sub par (21-27) Washington team set the Brewers back in April, dropping them below .500 again after they regained their footing following four straight losses to open the season.

In an interview with 1250 WSSP, Jonathan Lucroy didn’t mince words when asked whether the team was playing with a chip on its shoulder.  “Absolutely.  We’re still pretty bitter about that.  We don’t like getting beat like we did when we went there … I want to give them a taste of their medicine.”

The Brewers are well on their way.  Cory Hart absolutely hammered Washington starter Tom Gorzelanny and reliever Doug Slaten yesterday, racking up 3 HR and 7 RBI en route to an 11-3 Brewers victory.  Ironically, Hart, the victim of an early season DL stint, wasn’t even around during the sweep in Washington.  But Lucroy played in two out of the three games, and chimed in with two hits and an RBI.

Tonight, the Brewers clawed and scraped to beat the Nationals, 7-6, in a much closer contest.  Starter Chris Narveson pitched himself into a big hole early in the game, giving up six runs between the second and fourth innings.  But timely hitting from the series’ usual suspects – Hart (2-4, HR, 2 RBI) and Lucroy (2-4, HR, 3 RBI) – helped put the Brewers on the board, and Weeks tacked on a 2-run shot in the 7th to cut the Nats lead to one.

That set up an epic play at the plate in the eighth to give the Brewers the lead.  With two outs, Brandon Boggs walked and Casey McGehee, who had reached on a single, moved over to second.  Lucroy again proved to be the hero, singling to right field.  And as Boggs challenged the throw, Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos missed the ball, allowing the go-ahead run to score.  Axford closed the door in the ninth.

Tomorrow, Zack Greinke gets the nod, and the opportunity to bring this cycle of vengeance full circle.

Expectations

Chris Narveson didn’t get the win tonight against the Padres, but that wasn’t his fault.  You’d think the Brewers hitters would be able to get one across home plate in 7.1 innings of shutout baseball, but no cigar.  So Narveson sits at 2-3, again the victim of the Brewers’ failure to knock in runs.  He has quality starts in all but three games this season (two if he gets another out in Washington on April 15).  And yet the Brewers have managed to win only two of those games.  The position players better cork the bats as an apology on his next start.

Like most Brewers fans, I’d have scoffed if you’d have told me at the beginning of the season that come June, Narveson would have a better line than Yovani Gallardo.  Yet that’s exactly the kind of season he’s put together.  The point is not that Gallardo has had a disastrous season, though it hasn’t been very good (5-2, 4.70 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 1.85 K/BB).  The point is that we have to start taking Chris Narveson seriously as a legitimate force in this rotation.

On Gallardo’s April Struggles

Before Chris Narveson’s blowup tonight (2.1 innings pitched, 7 earned runs), I was going to write about how effective the back-end starters have been and contrast their success to the comparative ineffectiveness of the front-line starters.  The point doesn’t have as much force now that Chris Narveson’s earned run average has bloated from 2.19 to 4.33, but a few words on Gallardo’s struggles in the early going are still warranted.

gallardo pitching.jpgThrough April 5 (two starts), Gallardo was dealing.  He worked a strong six innings in Cincinnati’s home opener, giving up only two runs and striking out four.  His start against the Braves on April 5 was nothing short of spectacular; a complete game, two-hit shutout.  He struck out only two, but induced so many ground balls (16) that no one really noticed.  Some even remarked that the lack of strikeouts indicated Gallardo was maturing as a pitcher, looking for weak contact instead of getting by solely on power.

Then the wheels started to fall off.  Gallardo got through only five innings in his next start on April 10, walking four and allowing four runs.  On the 17th against Washington (not exactly known as an offensive powerhouse), Gallardo allowed a staggering seven earned runs in 5.1 innings, although he struck out five without any walks.  He wasn’t quite as ineffective on April 22, but still allowed four runs over six innings.  For those of you keeping score at home, that means Gallardo hasn’t had a quality start in his last three outings. 

For a few reasons, I don’t think we have anything to worry about yet.

First, Gallardo is actually throwing slightly more strikes as a percentage through April (62%) than he did overall last season (61%).  That suggests that his command really isn’t escaping him, despite the walks.  Gallardo’s never been a guy to keep the bases clear (career WHIP: 1.326), and the number of walks he issues is problematic, but there’s no reason to suspect his control is becoming worse.

Second, Gallardo hasn’t lost any velocity.  He’s still regularly hitting in the 91-93 range with his fastballs, and mid-80s with the change and slider, which appear to have good movement.

Third, Gallardo’s starts last April were nothing special, and he went on to have the best season of his young career.  At the end of April 2010, Gallardo was 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA and 29:14 K:BB.  Gallardo has one more start left in April, but he’s currently sitting at 2-1 with a 4.88 ERA and 20:10 K:BB. 

Gallardo’s probably in line for a correction to his stats, and his next few outing should tell us where he’s at.  My money’s on some good games coming for him. 

Brewers/Nationals Postgame, 4.15.2011

The Brewers just could not get out of their own way on Friday night in Washington, and what would have been their fifth straight win became an extra-innings loss.

Yuniesky Betancourt, who has generally not been the disaster at short that many anticipated, today lived up to his reputation.  He had ample time to throw out Jason Werth on a grounder in the tenth, but managed to pull Prince Fielder off the bag at first.  Werth took second on the costly error, where he was promptly forgotten by Zach Braddock and easily stole third.  Despite converting Ryan Braun to a fifth infielder, the Brewers were unable to stop Werth from scoring on an Adam LaRoche grounder to end the game.

Chris Narveson followed two exceptional starts with a stinker.  After putting the Nationals down 1-2-3 in the first, Narveson got into trouble early in the second, walking LaRoche and then allowing consecutive singles to Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse to load the bases.  Two consecutive walks and a sacrifice fly later, the Nationals were up, 3-0.  Narveson allowed two more hits to LaRoche and Ramos in the third, but worked out of it and did not allow another baserunner until Morse hit a ground-rule double in the 6th. 

Narveson’s final line: 
Narveson box score 4.15.2011.png

Rickie Weeks hit a two run blast in the fifth to bring the Brewers within one run, and doubled in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.  Carlos Gomez tied the game at three with a single to center, but was gunned down at second by former Cardinal Rick Ankiel to end the inning.

Despite the loss, there were positives.  Sergio Mitre pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless ball and has not allowed a run in four appearances this year.  Jonathan Lucroy, who singled in the seventh, ended the eighth inning with an absolute strike to Betancourt to catch Ramos stealing second.  Casey McGehee also flashed his defensive skills, charging a slow roller and throwing out Ramos at first in the sixth. 

But ultimately, a few good plays were not enough to overcome all the walks and Betancourt’s costly tenth-inning error.  The Brewers drop game one to the Nationals, 4-3.  They now stand at 7-6, one game behind the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the Central.

Washington is supposed to have bad weather tomorrow; we’ll see if game two happens.  If not, it will be the second canceled game in as many series; the Brewers will make up their series opener with the Pirates as part of a doubleheader on August 22.

Some Thoughts on a Rainy Tuesday

No Brewers baseball today, because other cities did not have the foresight to place a retractable roof atop their stadium (I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh).  But after the off-day yesterday, we have a couple days to reflect on the Brewers’ young season. 

A week-and-a-half removed from the sweep at the hands of the Reds, those losses don’t look nearly as significant. 

John Axford, who blew his first save opportunity of the year on opening day, has quelled criticism by subsequently converting three, two against Atlanta and one against Chicago.  He won’t often pitch a clean 1-2-3 inning, but he’s shown he still belongs as the Brewers’ ninth-inning man (Good thing, too; they don’t have many other options since Saito was placed on the 15-day DL). 

Following an unremarkable start in Game 2 against the Reds (4.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 BB, 7K), Shaun Marcum threw a solid six innings against Atlanta on April 7, allowing two earned runs and picking up the win. He only struck out four, but Marcum gets by on finesse, not power.  Six quality innings is exactly what you’d expect out of your #3, and Marcum is certainly capable of delivering that game after game. 

Chris Narveson hasn’t allowed a run so far this season.  That’s going to change eventually, but believe the hype; although he gave up some big innings last year, Narveson’s strikeout to walk ratio (about 2.4) is pretty consistent with his minor league numbers (about 2.3).  He tends to put guys on base a little too often, but you don’t expect ace-type material coming out of the five-spot.  In that role, Narveson definitely has potential to be one of the best in the bigs.

Rickie Weeks (.268 BA, .348 OBP, 3 HR, 5 RBI), Prince Fielder (.400 BA, .488 OBP, 11 RBI), and Ryan Braun (.353 BA, .476 OBP, 4 HR, 8 RBI) have all started off the year red-hot.  Nyjer Morgan has too, but don’t expect him to bat .500.  Casey McGehee has started pretty slow, but look no further than his game-winning pinch-hit home run against the Cubs last Sunday for evidence that he’s starting to break out of his funk.  Don’t be concerned about the few games so far with little offensive production; this team will score runs.

There are some areas of concern.  Randy Wolf has been shelled so far this year.  The same thing happened last year, but he managed to turn in sparkling performances after the All-Star Break.  While he certainly doesn’t look like he was worth Doug Melvin’s substantial investment, I think the jury’s still out.  He has plenty of time to turn the season around.  The bottom of the batting order has been struggling, too, but getting Corey Hart back soon should help out there.

That all works out to a 5-5 record, good for third in the division behind the Reds (7-2) and Pittsburgh (5-5).  It hurt to drop three to the Reds, but the Brewers have done what they needed to at home, winning a four-game series with Atlanta and a three-game series against the (evil, hated) Cubs.  Things are looking up.

Season at a Glance

March 31 @ Cincinnati:  L   6-7
April 2 @ Cincinnati:      L   2-4
April 3 @ Cincinnati:      L   3-12
April 4 vs. Atlanta:         L   1-2
April 5 vs. Atlanta:        W   1-0
April 6 vs. Atlanta:        W   5-4
April 7 vs. Atlanta:        W   4-2
April 8 vs. Chicago:        L   4-7
April 9 vs. Chicago:       W   6-0
April 10 vs. Chicago:     W   6-5

Starters Announced

As predicted, Yovani Gallardo gets the opening day start versus the Reds, followed by Wolf and Marcum.  Chris Narveson will pitch the home opener at Miller Park.  Brewers have yet to name a fifth starter.

I’ve caught some flack for dismissing Wily Peralta as a candidate for the number five spot.  I’m willing to consider that I underestimated him, but he hasn’t pitched above AA and his numbers there are hardly Strasburgian.  He’s not having the kind of spring I’m sure he wishes he’d be having, either, with a 6.00 ERA over 6 innings a 4 walks to 3 strikeouts. 

If Mark Rogers is ready, he’s the obvious choice, but I have my doubts.  If he’s not, I’ll stand by my Kintzler and DiFelice recommendations.