Typically, a one-run victory over the hapless Washington Nationals at a team’s home field isn’t terribly impressive. The loss sent the Nationals to 21-27 and keeps them in the cellar of the NL East, right where they were supposed to be coming into the season. One of the mantras of sport is that a team needs to beat “the teams they’re supposed to beat,” and, really, isn’t that all last night’s 7-6 victory over the Nationals was? The Milwaukee Brewers just beat a team they are supposed to beat. No big deal, on to the next one?
For the players in the clubhouse, probably, hopefully. For the fans and for the observers? I don’t think so. This win showed something absent in Brewers teams over the past two seasons that is imperative for a team with visions of contention: the ability to compensate when a supposed team strength goes horribly wrong. Last night, that was the starting pitching. Chris Narveson is surely not seen as an ace or necessarily even an above-average pitcher, but he’s been undeniably effective in 2011: a 3.44 ERA entering Tuesday’s game and solid peripherals, including nearly eight strikeouts per nine innings.
Check his statistics today, however, and you see a 4.20 ERA. Last night, a supposed strength for Milwaukee went horribly wrong, as Narveson only managed 3.1 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits, including a monster grand slam by Mike Morse off of Narveson in the second. With the failure of such a massive facet of the game, the Brewers needed contributions from everywhere in order to win the game: the bullpen, the lineup, the bench, and the defense all needed to be flawless.
In 2009 and 2010, when the offense failed, there was no recourse. Unless Yovani Gallardo was pitching, there was no counting on the staff to keep the team in it. Even with a lead, there was depressingly little hope in the bullpen maintaining it.
This just isn’t the case this season. If the pitching staff fails, then the offense blasts five homers. When the bats are shut down, Shaun Marcum or Yovani Gallardo or even Randy Wolf can hold opponents to one or two runs. The bullpen… well, I know many Milwaukeeans or Wisconsinites would rather not even think about it.
So what happened on Tuesday night, after the utter failure of the starting pitching? Everything came together. The Brewers scored five runs in the last seven innings, via home runs and singles, via the stars and via the bench, and with good baserunning to boot. The bullpen, behind supposed non-factors Sergio Mitre and Mike McClendon’s 4.2 scoreless innings, denied the Nationals any chance to increase their lead. John Axford managed a save through adversity. From the third inning on, the Brewers excelled at everything in order to cover a flaw.
And that just simply wasn’t possible for the Milwaukee Brewers of years past, except for the 2008 team, and even then that was only possible after the acquisition of CC Sabathia. This team is by no means perfect — the defense is still poor, particularly on nights when Mark Kotsay inexplicably mans center field — but on nights when one aspect of the team doesn’t show up, Milwaukee can be confident that the rest of the team can cover.