Nothing happened yesterday

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Well, yesterday was pretty ho-hum around Milwaukee.  I mean, pretty much nothing of any significance at all happened, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

It’s not like suspensions from the Easter massacre were announced.  Martin Maldonado didn’t receive a five-game suspension and begin serving it immediately.  Carlos Gomez wasn’t slapped with three games pending his appeal.  On the Pirates side, it wasn’t two games for Travis Snider and one game for Russell Martin.  And Gerritt Cole, who instigated the fracas, didn’t get anything.  Wait a minute …

As for Johnny Hellweg, he’s going to be fine.  Sure, the Brewers’ number four prospect (Baseball America) has a torn ulnar collateral ligament, but who doesn’t now days?  I’m sure the second opinion he’s getting from noted Tommy John doc James Andrews will show he’ll be good as new with rest and Advil.

And the Brewers certainly didn’t play an extra-innings affair which they lost to the Padres, 2-1, in the 12th.  Hopefully tonight a stymied Brewers offense will be among other stuff that doesn’t happen.  It’s Kyle Lohse versus Tyson Ross at 7:10.


Shades of 2008

The Brewers dropped the finale of the four-game series against the Pirates yesterday, only their fifth loss of the month.  Shaun Marcum was the hard-luck loser, as he held the Pirates to two runs over six innings, but the Brewers just couldn’t get anything going on offense.

Thankfully, the Dodgers finished off a sweep of the Cardinals, and the Brewers still possess a commanding ten-game lead in the NL Central.  They’ve won eighteen of their August games and have just five left to play, including a series against the hated Cubs.  Not to shabby for a team that started the month up only two and a half games.

All of this got me reflecting on another historic Brewers August.

The 2008 Brewers started August off on the wrong foot.  They rode a five-game losing streak coming into the month, including a devastating four-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs at Miller Park.  During that stretch, the Crew watched the division begin to slip away, dropping from one game back to five.

The team’s fortunes began to turn during a 4-2 roadtrip to Atlanta and Cincinnati to begin the month.  The road was pretty nice to the Brewers that August, as the team compiled a 11-6 record during visits to those cities, San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. On August 13, 2008, the Brewers broke the 70-win mark in a 7-1 win over the Padres.  C.C. Sabathia was the winning pitcher, giving up nine hits in seven innings but allowing only one run to score.  The Brewers rounded out their August road games in style with a sweep of the Pirates on the last day of the month.  The winning pitcher?  Again, C.C. Sabathia, in what might be the most memorable one-hitter in Brewers history. With the victory, the Brewers had 80 wins on the season and sat 4.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs.

Sabathia was lights out the entire month of August.  He did not lose a game, compiling a 5-0 record en route to a 1.12 ERA.  Sabathia struck out 51 and walked only 8, while limiting opposing hitters to .223.  He also gave the bullpen some relief, throwing complete games three times, twice at home.

Like their 2011 counterparts, there was no place like home for the August 2008 Brewers.  Playing to sellout audiences the entire month, the Crew turned in a 9-1 home record, including sweeps of the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The team ended the month with a 20-7 record, aided by Sabathia, Jeff Suppan (5-0, 3.00 ERA), and Salomon Torres (6 SV, .84 ERA).

While August 2008 was one to remember, September of that year was just as forgettable.  The Brewers went 10-16 that month, barely winning the NL Wild Card despite a 90-win season.  The quality of the starting rotation this year should prevent the kind of September swoon the Brewers endured in 2008, though.  In 2011, there’s a pretty good chance the Brewers can continue their winning ways all the way into the playoffs.

Magic Number Watch:  22

Good and Bad Omens on a Doubleheader Monday

The Brewers finished off a sweep of the Mets yesterday thanks to an excellent outing by Yovani Gallardo, and now its on to Pittsburgh where the Brewers play a twi-night doubleheader.  The late game is a makeup of a game postponed in April.

Game 1 will feature Chris Narveson’s return from a brief DL stint with a thumb injury.  He’ll go against Brewers’ nemesis Jeff Karstens, whose 2009 spat with Ryan Braun you might recall.  Its worth noting that Karstens has never won a game against the Brewers, while Narveson is 3-0 career against the Pirates.

Zack Greinke gets the ball in game 2 against Pirates reliever-turned-starter Brad Lincoln.  Lincoln will definitely be on a pitch count in only his second start of the season.  Lincoln’s first start of the year was back in July, and it was quality (6 IP, 2 ER, 4 K, 3 BB).  In his career versus the Brewers (8.1 IP), Lincoln has a 10.80 ERA with 4 strikeouts.

Doubleheaders haven’t been kind to the Brewers this year.  I’ve heard that doubleheaders are often swept, and while I have no stats to back that up, it would be true in the Brewers’ case.  The team has played two doubleheaders this year and has been swept in both:  by Washington in mid-April and by Atlanta in early May.  Both occurred on the road.

Magic Number Watch: 27

On the Brighter Side

Although the Brewers dropped today’s game to the Dodgers, the Crew went 6-1 on the homestand and are 13-3 in August.  Their winning run over approximately the past month has been better than any I can remember in the years I’ve watched this team.

And so what have we learned?

Well, first, that number five starter Chris Narveson should use safety scissors.  I haven’t written a ton about Narveson this year, but I should have; Narveson is almost as good as any number five in the National League, and as my event services buddy Dennis noted today, on many teams would be a number four.*  After a little blowup against Minnesota on July 2 (4.2 IP, 7 ER, 2 HR), Narveson had settled down nicely.  In his six starts following that game, Narveson went 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA.  Opposing batters were hitting just .244 against him in that stretch.  And then, to continue the Brewers string of freak injuries this season, the guy is forced to the DL after cutting his pitching hand with a scissors trying to repair his glove.

But that leads to the second lesson:  Marco Estrada is an exceptional spot starter.  He received his first starting opportunity this year as a fill-in for Zack Greinke, who fractured a rib during spring training playing basketball.  Estrada made four starts for Greinke, two of them excellent, one decent, and one terrible.  He then went to the bullpen, where let’s just say the results weren’t impressive.  Between May 10 and August 11, Estrada’s 26 relief appearances got him a 1-6 record, 3 blown saves, four holds, and a 4.81 ERA.  There were some signs of life in all that, though; he held opposing batters to a .255 average, maintained a strikeout-to-walk ratio of roughly 2.7, and threw 62% of his pitches for strikes.  All of which set the stage nicely for his two starts in Chris Narveson’s stead.  On August 13, Estrada threw five innings of shutout ball against the Pirates, striking out five and getting the win.  Today Estrada was nearly as effective, allowing only one run over five innings.  He didn’t get the win (the Brewers’ offense was blanked until the ninth inning by Clayton Kershaw), but that wasn’t his fault.

Third, there’s some confidence to be had on this ballclub.  Up and down the lineup, every player is contributing, not just the usuals like Braun and Fielder.  Yesterday Jerry Hairston Jr. came up with the big hit to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead against the Dodgers.  On Tuesday Mark Kotsay chipped in with a pinch-hit, walk-off RBI single.  Nyjer Morgan came up with a sac fly in extra innings to win the game on Sunday against the Pirates.  The pitching has been excellent; the Brewers’ staff owns the second-best National League August ERA at 2.51.  Incidentally, the Dodgers, with whom the Brewers just finished a four-game series, have the best NL August ERA (2.38), which might explain why the Brewers were able to muster only nine runs.  But what matters most are the wins, and there have been plenty of those lately.

The Brewers now hit the road to take on a few sub-.500 opponents in the 60-63 Mets and the 58-64 Pirates before returning home to face the Cubs beginning August 26.

Magic Number Watch: 32.

*There are a handful of guys in the NL I’d take over Narveson; Bud Norris or Vance Worley, for example.  And of course Brandon Beachy from the Braves in a heartbeat.

Brewers/Pirates Postgame, 4.13.2011

Shaun Marcum (2-1) looked dominant during seven shutout innings in the Brewers 6-0 victory over the Pirates.  The Pirates’ lineup was completely overmatched, as Marcum allowed only four hits while striking out four and walking one. 

Marcum has settled down after an unremarkable first outing in Cincinnati, where he allowed four runs (three earned) over 4 2/3 innings while walking five.  On August 7 in Milwaukee, he struck out four Braves batters and allowed two runs over six innings.

Tonight, Marcum never lost control of the game.  Lyle Overbay broke up a no-hitter with a lead-off single in the fifth inning.  Marcum then allowed another single to Matt Diaz before striking out Pedro Alvarez and inducing easy outs from Ryan Doumit and Ronny Cedeno.  It would be the closest the Pirates would come to scoring until the bottom of the seventh, when Marcum allowed singles to both Diaz and Alvarez before inducing an inning-ending double play ball from Ryan Doumit. 

Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe, and Mitch Stetter combined to pitch two scoreless innings, and the Brewers tossed a four-pitcher shutout. 

Prince Fielder continued his hot hitting with a three-run home run in the sixth.  The bottom of the order also contributed, with Yuniesky Betancourt and Marcum knocking in the final two runs in the seventh.  Jonathan Lucroy also had a hit in his first game back following a DL stint with a broken finger. 

Much to the consternation of many Brewers fans, Mark Kotsay got the start in right field and went hitless before Nyjer Morgan replaced him as a pinch runner in the seventh.  Morgan would score on Betancourt double, barely beating a throw from the outfield and bowling over Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit in the process.  Morgan’s no-holds-barred style at home plate is sure fun to watch, but the Brewers were up by four runs at the time so it wasn’t exactly necessary. 

In any event, the Brewers won handily and are now 6-5 on the season, with one more game against the Pirates before heading to Washington for a three-game weekend series.  This stretch of games is critical for the Brewers, who should be able to win both series.  Doing so would put them in a great position when they face the dominant Phillies on April 18, 19, and 20.