On Friday July 11, 2014, the Brewers welcomed the Cardinals into Miller Park to begin a big three-game series before the All-Star break. At 52-41, the Brewers were in first place, two games ahead of the Cards. A perch they had held for 89 consecutive games.
A crowd of 35,501 filled the stadium. MLB Network broadcast the game and Bob Costas called it. Eventually, Bob Uecker snuck into the booth to rehash old times and promote an upcoming special on Uecker’s career. Energy and anticipation filled the stadium. After entering the 2014 season as an afterthought in the NL Central, the Brewers were proving themselves otherwise. It was a good time to be a Brewers fan.
Even though the team was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak of the season, hopes were high. The Brewers had the best record in the NL. The team had a chance to take that honor into the All-Star break while also gaining more distance on the Cardinals. Friday’s game was the first step down that path. Unbeknownst to Brewers fans, what happened both on and off the field that day would come to symbolize the Brewers’ 2014 campaign. In all its glory and all its pain.
The July 11th game started fast for the Brewers, much like the season. Through the first two innings, Yovani Gallardo faced seven hitters, allowing only a harmless double to Matt Holliday. Meanwhile, the Brewers brought 15 batters to the plate against Joe Kelly and plated six. The Brewers lead 6-0 after two innings.
Gallardo got his second AB of the game with one out in the bottom of the third. At that moment, the Brewers had a win expectancy of 97%. Yet the Crew couldn’t capitalize on those odds. Going into July 11’s game, the Crew had a 52.2% chance of making the playoffs. Their recent losing streak had cut into the odds. Previously, their playoff odds had soared to 83.5% on July 28th when they became a season high 19 games over .500 (51-32). At that moment, only the A’s were better in all of baseball. But, like the Brewers’ fast start to the game, the season’s joyride wouldn’t last long.
Gallardo allowed only one baserunner the first time through the order, but the Cardinal’s bats came alive the second time around. In the bottom of the fourth, Matt Holliday doubled, again, and then trotted home on Matt Adams’ two-run dinger. 6-2 was still a solid lead but one that Brewers fans didn’t want to shrink further. Unfortunately, after the Brewers scored six runs on six hits through two innings, the offense mustered no runs and six hits for the rest of the game.
Like in July 11th’s game, the Brewers offense saw a similar contraction down the stretch. In the 93 games prior to this contest, the Brewers’ offense produced a .722 OPS / .310 wOBA / .154 ISO. The 63 games since saw all those markers drop — .692 OPS / .299 wOBA / .139 ISO. Of course, six runs should have been enough. Yet, the Cardinals’ third spin through the line-up against Gallardo really paid off. Last week, Jonathan Judge broke down a pitcher’s proficiency each time through the line-up. In this game, Gallardo became the poster child for why, sometimes, a quick hook is warranted.
In the sixth, Gallardo faced seven batters. He could only record one out while allowing two walks, two singles, two home runs, and three runs scored. Suddenly, the large lead had shrunk to 6-5. Mercifully, Zach Duke took the reigns from Gallardo with one out and the bases loaded. The inning eventually ended but not before the Cardinals pushed one more run across the plate. It was now tied 6-6.
Suddenly in a dogfight, the Brewers bullpen responded admirably. Duke, Brandon Kintzler, and Will Smith kept the Cardinals at bay through the seventh and eighth. A job the bullpen, whose season’s 3.08 SIERA is baseball’s third best, performed often during the season. Sadly, a crushing ninth inning home run would negate all the good work done.
Again, the culprit was Matt Holliday, who, with two-outs, smacked the first pitch he saw from Francisco Rodriguez over the left field fence. K-Rod had been stellar up to that point. Saving 27 games along with a 2.28 ERA / 3.31 FIP / 2.52 xFIP and 1.25 HR/9. From July 11th on, K-Rod saved only 16 games, partly because he pitched to a 4.56 ERA / 6.68 FIP / 3.59 xFIP and 3.04 HR/9.
Aramis Ramirez singled to start the Brewers’ ninth inning but pinch runner Jeff Bianchi never made it off first. The Brewers lost 6-7. It was shocking and foretold many issues that would plague the team over the second half. Yet, no one was prepared for what awaited the team after the game.
Minutes after coming off the field, Jean Segura was notified that his nine-month-old son had died. Ron Roenicke made a brief statement then closed the clubhouse. Unfortunately for the team, it was not the only time that such tragedy would strike this season. On September 2nd, Bruce Seid, the team’s scouting director, would pass away while visiting his family in Nevada. He was 52 years old.
Who would have thought that a season started with such minimal expectations could have ended up so heartbreaking? Most of us didn’t enter this season anticipating much from this team. Amongst the DoU Staff, Ryan’s 86 win prediction was the rosiest of the bunch. Still all of us felt a flicker hope over the course of the season and it was not unwarranted. Just too short-lived.
As mentioned above, the Brewers had the NL’s best record on July 11th. Since, the Crew has gone 28-33. Here are the only NL teams worse over that span –
As Ryan Topp put it,
This season would be a lot less painful when played in reverse. #Brewers
— RD Topp (@RDTopp) September 20, 2014
For diehard Brewers fans, truer words could not be spoken.
A red-hot start for the Brewers, an offensive fade down the stretch, a strong but imperfect bullpen, and an off-field tragedy. This Brewers battle against the Cardinals had it all. Just like the team’s 2014 season. Which is why I’m calling this match-up the Brewers’ 2014 game of the year.