After giving up a two-run home run to Aramis Ramirez in the top of the first inning, Chris Narveson was cruising, allowing only four baserunners in the ensuing 4.2 innings. The sixth inning, however, saw Narveson primed for a classic fifth-starter collapse. Geovany Soto opened the inning with a single, Marlon Byrd followed it up with a double, and a walk to Carlos Pena loaded the bases to bring up Alfonso Soriano — no longer a terrifying name, but Soriano has hit lefties to the tune of a .297/.342/.541 line. Allowing Narveson to face Soriano would have been a recipe for disaster.
At this point, the Brewers win expectancy was down to 39.8%, its lowest point since regaining the lead in the bottom of the first inning. Given how well Soriano hits lefties, if Narveson was left to face him (and then another righty, Darwin Barney behind him), the Brewers win expectancy was in truth well below 39.8%. Brewers fans have seen all too often a fifth starter — whether it’s Manny Parra or Narveson or another such pitcher — left to face one hitter too many in a vain attempt to get through six innings for no other purpose but to save a bullpen with seven different pitchers.
Maybe earlier this season, we would have seen Chris Narveson try to struggle through this jam while Kameron Loe sat in the bullpen, awaiting an eighth-inning lead which may or may not have ever arrived. Instead, Roenicke brought in the perfect man for the job: Loe smothers right handers, allowing only a .230/.280/.320 AVG/SLG/OBP to go with a 24-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and (entering Tuesday’s appearance) three induced double plays — perhaps no surprise, given his stellar 61% ground ball rate against them. Point being: the Brewers needed three outs out of two right-handed hitters, and if there’s one guy to accomplish that, it’s Kameron Loe.
Loe probably should have had his fourth double play on the grounder he induced from Soriano, but Casey McGehee didn’t have either the presence of mind or athleticism to step on the third-base bag and easily finish the double play on the lumbering Geovany Soto at home. It wouldn’t matter, as Darwin Barney would proceed to ground into a 5-4-3 double play and end the inning.
The two plays increased the Brewers win expectancy from 38.9% to 73.7%, a WPA of +.340 for Loe on the game. Both Loe and Roenicke have been goats in the past for blowing games and for putting relievers in poor positions respectively. This time, Roenicke had the foresight to get his righty killer warming and to play the card at exactly the right time. The Brewers would go on to close out the game with hardly a hiccup, including a scoreless inning by Francisco Rodriguez. Tuesday’s game was an example of the flexibility another excellent reliever like Rodriguez gives the Brewers, and Rodriguez’s stabilizing presence at the back of the bullpen played right into Roenicke’s hands. With the bullpen finally in a spot where Ron Roenicke can use his relievers as they should be used, don’t be surprised if endgame pitching turns from weakness to strength down the stretch for Milwaukee.