Last night’s win was unbelievable in a lot of ways, and though it’s definitely getting way ahead of myself, I’m going to say anyways that it’s going to be one we look back at as a turning point, or a defining moment, or some cliche that announcers always throw around. Let’s continue to establish that it’s very early, but from purely a fan’s perspective, the difference between going into today’s game 1 under .500 and 3.5 games back of the Cardinals and the alternative– 3 under, 5.5 back– is huge. With 8 more home games in a row, maybe this team can really get on a roll it’s capable of.
The first bright spot from last night’s game may seem like an unlikely one, Zack Greinke. Last night’s line of 6 innings, 9 strikeouts/0 walks, 8 hits, and 4 runs is really a prime example of how a pitcher can do pretty much everything right and still give up runs. Make no mistake, if Greinke pitches like he did last night in every start, he’s going to be putting up a lot of 0s on the scoreboard. In his first 21 innings with the Brewers, he has 29 strikeouts and 2 walks. That’s so far beyond what I, or anyone, expected, and it works out to about 12.5 K/9 and under 1 BB/9 (which would be by far the best rates of his career). To translate that into FIP, it’s 2.91, and would be 1.47 with a normalized home run rate. 1.47! Greinke has given up an unhealthy amount of line drives so far, but there’s very little reason to expect that to continue. I’m as far from worried about Greinke as you can be for a pitcher with an ERA over 6. If he continues to pitch like this, it’s going to come down in a hurry. He could be on the poster for a BABIP Awareness poster at this point.
The bullpen came through last night in a very big way, throwing 5 scoreless innings between the 7th and 12th and before giving up a run in each of the 13th and 14th innings (though in the 14th, plenty of blame for the run goes to an error on Betancourt). This bullpen has performed far worse than expectations so far, and in this area too there’s reason for optimism. I projected Zach Braddock and Takashi Saito as the second and third best relievers on this team, and figured in Manny Parra for a prominent role as well. Braddock could be activated soon after a couple of rehab starts for the Timber Rattlers, in the first he struck out all 5 batters he faced and in the second he threw 3 scoreless innings. These three relievers should play a bigger role from here on out, hopefully replacing innings from lesser pitchers like Mitre and McClendon. The back of the bullpen should be a strength of this team, and last night showed that it can be.
Finally, no one needs reminding that the Brewer offense is good. On a pure comparison basis it has to be, because though no one will confuse me for a Yuni Betancourt fan, he is if nothing else a slightly better hitter overall than Alcides Escobar at this point. And considering he’s the only real lineup change, you have to think this offense can at least do what it was able to do last year. So far, the Brewers are third in wOBA in the NL, and… 10th in runs scored. That won’t last. The Nationals have the third worst wOBA and still have scored more runs than the Brewers. They have been worse on the road and worse with runners in scoring position, and there’s no reason to expect either trend to continue.
I keep looking at this nifty little table from Beyond the Boxscore. Being within 5 or so games of first at the end of May is critical, and last night was a huge swing in the probability of doing so. The playoffs are there for the taking this year, and justified or not, I’m feeling pretty confident.