As I said last week, going forward I’m planning on using this space to pick a game from the previous week that I think says something about the team this year, and analyze it. This week I’m going with the Wednesday win at Wrigley, where the Crew showed even their B team can’t be beaten.
When I saw the lineup for this game, I had a feeling it might be the one I’m writing about. Ron Roenicke decided to give Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Jonathan Lucroy days off, and filled this out on the lineup card:
If the Brewers ran that lineup out every day, they would not be playoff contenders. I think, however, with their pitching staff this lineup could make them a .500 team, and that’s awfully impressive for a lineup missing three starters. Had Roenicke done this at this time last year, he probably would’ve run out a lineup that looked something like this:
Even the addition of Prince Fielder can’t change the fact that that’s one ugly lineup, especially at the bottom of the order. This year, depth needs to be the team’s calling card. If you have two superstars, you can get away with the stars and scrubs approach. If you have one superstar, and a few very good players, you need to have a more balanced lineup, and thankfully, this year the Brewers do.
Granted, the lineup from Wednesday’s game only managed two runs, but they performed better than the results indicated. Carlos Gomez was robbed of a hit by a diving Alfonso Soriano, and Nyjer Morgan managed to line into a double play. They could’ve tacked on a couple more runs had those balls flown slightly differently.
Another point to notice about this lineup is it showed how Roenicke has the depth to take this team stacked with right-handed bats and swap in some lefty bats when appropriate. Ryan Dempster has demonstrated a fairly large platoon split throughout his career; while he’s held righties to a 3.85 FIP, that number balloons to 4.29 when he’s facing left-handed bats, mainly driven by an increase in walk rate. True to form, on Wednesday the Brewers’ righties only hit .000/.105/.000 against him, but the lefties hit .385/.467/.692, with the big hit of course being the 2-run blast from George Kottaras, one of the lefties Roenicke switched in who would normally not be starting. Kottaras rewarded his manager’s decision by pacing the team with a 2-for-3 day with the HR and a walk. Considering how George has been ripping the cover off of the ball lately, it’s striking to reflect on the fact that the team spent a considerable portion of last season holding him in AAA because Wil Nieves (Wil Nieves!) was blocking his position on the major league roster. It is somewhat remarkable that last year’s team won 96 games when you think of some of the players on it.
Finally, I would be remiss to only discuss the lineup in a game that was won 2-1. Yovani Gallardo pitched an excellent game, striking out six and becoming a ground ball machine, racking up 11 groundouts to only 3 flyouts. His best starts seem to come when he racks up ground balls like that. He mainly threw fastballs and sliders, and got groundouts roughly equally well with both of those pitches. Interestingly, (or maybe only interesting to me), he threw 15 curveballs, seven of which were thrown to Alfonso Soriano, including 5 thrown in a six pitch strikeout in the bottom of the 6th. The gameplan very clearly appeared to be to attack him with offspeed stuff. I bring this up not only because it’s the sort of random thing that interests me, but also because I had somehow gotten it into my head that Yo’s curveball was the main weapon he used to generate grounders. Small sample size, of course, but based on this game it appears that his slider is an excellent groundball weapon.
The overarching theme of baseball is luck and variation. If everything went according to plan every night, the Brewers would have one of their aces go 7 IP while only allowing 2 runs while the potent lineup scores 5. Obviously it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the great pitchers get lit up and the great lineups get shut down. This is why it’s good to be able to win a ball game 2-1 after scoring 7 runs on back to back nights. This is why it’s good to have a starting rotation that goes 5 deep with average to above-average pitchers, because when one falters, there will be one there the next day to pick things up. It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason: the Brewers are a team that can beat you multiple ways, and that’s a good strength to have.