In probably the most inexplicable decision of the Milwaukee Brewers season to date, Mark Kotsay received the start in center field in Wednesday’s Game Three of the NLCS. In related news, the Milwaukee Brewers lost Game Three of the NLCS.
Kotsay put together one of the most disastrous first innings possible — in the top of the frame, Kotsay drew a walk but was doubled off second base on a Prince Fielder fly ball to center field, and then in the bottom half, Kotsay’s defensive incompetence certainly resulted in one extra baserunner (Jon Jay) and arguably a second (Albert Pujols). Seeing as the Cardinals plated all four of their runs in the first inning and the Brewers squandered a first-and-second, one out chance largely due to Kotsay’s failures, Ron Roenicke’s decision likely will and definitely deserves a healthy amount of criticism. It was, simply put, the wrong choice — even with Nyjer Morgan’s struggles, there is little reason to believe Mark Kotsay will outhit him, and Carlos Gomez multiple orders of magnitude better on defense. Kotsay doesn’t offer enough over the other two options to warrant playing time.
But Kotsay isn’t fully to blame. He was on base three times, walking twice and hitting a home run to bring the Brewers within one in the third inning. He led the team in offensive Win Probability Added with a +.144 mark. The next closest? Yuniesky Betancourt, at +.035. Kotsay’s defensive blunders may have been worse than his offensive production was good, but his performance on the field was by no means crippling.
No, the Brewers were killed by an inability to hit Chris Carpenter, who had a decent night but clearly was not at the top of his game, and more shockingly, the front end of the Cardinals’ bullpen. Specifically Lance Lynn recorded four key outs, putting up a +.147 WPA, the second highest mark of any player in the game to Jason Motte’s +.182.
The big Brewers bats just weren’t able to produce when they were needed. Corey Hart ran his hitless streak to 10 at-bats, Prince Fielder was held in check all night, going 0-for-4. Ryan Braun was 1-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch and Rickie Weeks was 1-for-4, starting the first rally of the game in the top of the second, but neither could produce in key situations late in the game.
After the first inning, Yovani Gallardo settled down and did his job, and the bullpen was excellent after a rough day on Monday. The hitters had more than enough chances to bring the game around, and they just didn’t. Ron Roenicke deserves blame for putting the Brewers in a bad situation with Kotsay in center field, but the hitters were given more than enough chances to dig their way out, and they just didn’t.
The Brewers still only need to win one of the next two games to set up a scenario in which two straight wins at Miller Park mean a World Series berth. All is not lost. But it is now an uphill climb for the Milwaukee Brewers. Thursday’s Game Four is not a must-win — a term thrown around incredibly loosely these days — but it is the closest thing to it. This time around, mistakes cannot be made. The best lineup must be on the field, and that lineup must capitalize when given the chance.
If not, Milwaukee’s backs will be squarely against the wall come the weekend.