The Brewers managed to salvage a game in the Twins series today, thanks to a heroic effort from Brewers pitchers. Marco Estrada pitched well on no rest, striking out three and only walking one in three innings. Of course, that left six more innings and 18 more outs for Brewers relievers to get. With only a one run lead for much of the game and only a two run lead for the last four innings, the margin of error for the Brewers relievers would be small.
That would end up being the story of the game for the Brewers. Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Trevor Hoffman, and John Axford combined to pitch the final six innings, allowing only one run while combining for eight strikeouts against four walks and seven hits. Overall, the four pitchers had a WPA of +.521 – given that a team starts with a 50% win probability, that’s more than the +.500 that the team compiled as whole in the victory.
Zach Braddock topped out at 95.6 MPH today and averaged 94.18 MPH on his fastball. The pitch drew a remarkable four swinging strikes in 24 thrown (16.67%) against a pretty solid Minnesota Twins lineup. His slider averaged just over 82 MPH and only drew one swinging strike in 13 pitches (7.69%). Location was an issue for Braddock with the slider – he only drew 3 strikes (23.08%) with it.
Trevor Hoffman’s return is worthy of deeper analysis, which will come later. A quick look at his stuff doesn’t show any major changes – fastball around 85, changeup around 73. The difference was that Hoffman threw nine strikes in his 10 pitches today, and he didn’t miss around the middle of the strike zone. The location was there, and that’s the key to Hoffman’s game.
Finally, we have John Axford’s game ending performance. Axford was put in a tough spot by the Twins lineup. Two lefties, Orlando Hudson (a switch hitter) and Justin Morneau were guaranteed to bat against the right handed Axford. If either of them reached base, Jason Kubel, another lefty, would bat. If the situation called for it, the Twins had a very dangerous pinch hitter and a future hall-of-famer in Jim Thome on the bench.
The lefties, for the most part, got to Axford. Hudson led off with a double and Kubel singled. Oddly enough, Axford managed to overpower Morneau, the best hitter of the bunch, with 96 MPH fastballs. Even after Kubel’s RBI single, though, it didn’t appear that Axford would have much of a struggle – Delmon Young and the bottom of the Twins order was coming up. Young improbably singled, bringing up Thome. Usually, the intentional walk to load the bases would be a bad choice, but I think with Trevor Plouffe coming up next, the decision to pitch around Thome was correct. Axford doesn’t have a changeup and probably doesn’t have anything that could really beat Thome easily, whereas both his fastball and slider would have major advantages against Plouffe. As we saw, Plouffe was indeed overpowered.
This was a great win to close out the series for the Brewers, but losing the series just puts them farther and farther away from playoff contention. A real winning streak has to come soon for any significant chance at the playoffs, and even then, it still may be too little too late.