The Brewers played the longest game in the history of Miller Park to close their series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Our Milwaukee Nine salvaged one win from the series, ending a disappointing streak of seven consecutive losses. In honor of seventeen innings played, let’s take a look at seventeen points about the Brewers, Diamondbacks, St. Louis Cardinals, and other news.
(1)The Diamondbacks are 8-10 in one run games, which is part of an explanation about why they are underplaying their run differential. Still, their series victory helped them remain in the hunt for the National League Wild Card, as the 233 RS / 220 RA club is only four games out of the playoffs. For a team that allegedly had no direction, their big league club suddenly poses an interesting case for an analyst of successful rosters.
(2) Tyler Wagner debuted for the Brewers for Sunday’s game, which I couldn’t have been happier about: the game was part of our Weekend Four Pack, and it was fun to have a chance to watch a shocking organizational call-up have his chance. Unfortunately, Wagner simply was not at his best, but at the stadium it seemed like he was not helped by home plate umpire Ryan Blackney’s strike zone. Upon further review, my hunch was right: even though Blackney called two of 20 balls “strikes,” he also mistakenly called four of 15 strikes “balls,” including two glove-side off-speed pitches that took away Wagner’s chance to work away from batters. (In the interest of “fairness,” by contrast Diamondbacks starter Chase Anderson received strike calls on 18 of 19 called pitches in the zone, and Blackney also split two “borderline” pitches between a ball and a strike call. This was the exact opposite of a “homer zone.” One might question whether the umpire was right in forcing an AA call-up to “throw obvious strikes” to prove himself and “earn respect of an equal strike zone”).
- “Ball Call 1” (low, middle fastball): Would have been strike two versus Mark Trumbo (result: double).
- “Ball Call 2” (low, away off-speed): Would have been strike three versus Paul Goldschmidt (result: single, run)
- “Strike Call 1” (low, away fastball): Would have been ball three to Yasmany Tomas (result: strike out looking)
- “Ball Call 3” (high, away fastball): Would have been strike two versus Jarrod Saltalamacchia (result: walk)
- “Ball Call 4” (low, away off-speed): Would have been strike two versus Chris Owings (result: fly out)
Furthermore, it was interesting to follow Wagner’s velocity readings off the Miller Park gun, for the righty appeared to be working more “off speed” pitches than one might expect from a sinker pitcher. According to BrooksBaseball, Wagner’s slider arrived between 80-81 MPH (14% selections), while his change up was the mid-80s pitch (16% selections). Three variations of fastballs arrived between 91-92 MPH for the young righty, and indeed, pitch f/x confirms what fans might have wondered Wagner indeed throws a “true” sinker. It will be interesting to see if the righty truly throws a “cutter,” which received 14% of his selections (according to BrooksBaseball); to my previous knowledge, scouts did not say whether Wagner cut his fastball.
(3) The Brewers began their scoring in the third inning, thanks to the game’s overall star, Martin Maldonado. Maldonado opened the frame with a double, and Jean Segura doubled again to score the catcher. These were the first of six extra base hits for the Brewers. Maldonado built his approach on patience throughout Sunday’s game: the catcher saw 30 pitches, and did not miss the ball on any of his nine swings (this produced several foul balls, and, of course, four hits.
(4) One of the reasons that this game went 17 innings is due (in equal parts) to roster inefficiencies, managerial decisions, and poor umpire calls.
As for roster inefficiencies, Brewers only had a four man bench, and an inflexible one at that (3B (only) Aramis Ramirez, 1B (only) Adam Lind, IF Hector Gomez, and C (only) Juan Centeno — although, Centeno did briefly play 2B and LF in the minor leagues). This ensured that if the game went long, the Brewers would have fewer opportunities to win off the bench.
The fourth inning was the epicenter for poor managerial decisions and umpiring.
- Craig Counsell inserted reliever David Goforth (21 pitches in two consecutive days) to spell Wagner, who was due to bat sixth in the bottom of the fourth for the Brewers (i.e., right off the bat, Counsell could not necessarily have been expected to double-switch this early in the game, especially due to the fact that the recently woeful offense would be lucky to send six men to the plate in one inning).
- Goforth promptly threw three pitches before Maldonado nabbed Goldschmidt for trying to steal second.
- Carlos Gomez reached base on an error to open the bottom of the frame, and moved to second when Jason Rogers was hit by Anderson. Now, Gomez roamed off of second base on Elian Herrera‘s high bloop pop-up, and was ostensibly safe when he returned to the bag. Unfortunately, Gomez was called out by the second base umpire, and in an even less explicable decision, the New York replay team agreed with the call upon challenge (they showed the play at least three or four times at the stadium, and the camera angles ranged from showing Gomez “apparently” safe and “obviously” safe). The Brewers now featured a man on first with two men out.
- After Gomez was called out, Luis Sardinas and Maldonado advanced runners and plated a run, bringing the pitcher’s spot to the plate with two men on base and two outs (with the Brewers trailing 2-to-5). Counsell went “big,” calling Ramirez off the bench to pinch hit for Goforth. Apparently, 24 pitches in three days was Goforth’s limit, and also, Counsell immediately went to one of his very best bats off the bench.
- In this case, even if one agrees with Counsell for taking a shot at a game-tying homer, one could argue with Counsell’s choice (leaving Centeno and Hector Gomez for late game plate appearances off the bench).
For all intents and purposes, this was the most crucial inning in the game. The Brewers lost a baserunner due to a questionable call, and they lost a pitcher and bat in one swift motion.
(5) Carlos Gomez is such a fun player to watch. He was so fired up when he hit his RBI double in the fifth, bringing the Brewers closer to the Diamondbacks. The stadium replay showed his bat flip on the double, and he absolutely scorched his extra base hit. I am going to miss watching Gomez when he is no longer in Milwaukee, not simply for his abilities, but also for the amount of excitement he brings to the game.
(6) It goes without saying that the bullpen did an amazing job limiting runs after Wagner left the game, since the exhausted relievers allowed only one run in 13.3 innings pitched. Neal Cotts was the catalyst, as he really attacked Diamondbacks bats at a crucial point in the game. In fact, he would have been in line for the win after two scoreless innings, since the Brewers scored their fifth and sixth runs to tie the game, and then take the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
By the way, it is worth pointing out that the Brewers crowd was relatively laid back on Sunday. This is not that strange, given the overall season, but the game itself was quite entertaining and exciting. When the Brewers scored their fifth and sixth runs, it was almost like the crowd did not know (or care?) that their home nine clawed back to take the lead.
(7) Jonathan Broxton deserves praise for his short and sweet seventh inning, aided by an excellent double play. It is worth arguing that Counsell made a mistake pulling Broxton after a four-pitch inning. Broxton had the 30th off, not to mention the 24th, 25th, and 26th off before throwing 38 pitches between May 27 and 29. Maybe Broxton isn’t the same kind of veteran as Francisco Rodriguez, who infamously takes the ball as much as necessary, but again, Broxton only threw four pitches. Mark this in your scorecard (I surely noted it): after their starter left the game in the fourth, the Brewers burned through two relievers that threw a total of seven pitches.
Here’s one thing I don’t understand: if Counsell tossed Broxton into the game, he had to expect the reliever to throw an average of 13-to-16 pitches, or so, depending on how the inning went. A reliever can even work a solid, clean frame while throwing more than 10 pitches. I know that fans (including myself) have relentlessly criticized Broxton and Counsell for their eighth inning shenanigans, but I think it is worth tabling that discussion to ask why Broxton did not return to pitch the eighth.
(8) There is NO WAY that 32,000+ entered the gates yesterday. Unless, like, 10,000+ simply spent the day on the concourse or at other attractions around the stadium. The seats were even emptier than the first Weekend Four Pack game that we attended. Anyway, it is also notable that many paying customers did not even wait until extra innings to leave. They were on their way out even before Jeremy Jeffress continued the club’s poor luck in the eighth inning by allowing a game-tying home run.
(9) K-Rod’s curveball is a thing of beauty and wonder. I hope he pitches until he’s 50.
Does anyone else despise the wave? Especially during the middle of a tie-game in the bottom of the ninth, when your team has the winning runs on base (and in scoring position!)? My wife aptly commented, “the only time the wave is acceptable is when you’re an extra in Rookie of the Year.”
(10) This is when we left the game, for a previously scheduled family dinner. The decision was quite easy once Counsell actually used Centeno in a pinch-hitting role (usually managers leave their back-up catcher for an emergency situation, so I was shocked that someone like Kyle Lohse or even K-Rod himself was not used to burn this plate appearance). Counsell went for the win early and often, and even though I criticized him earlier, it is arguably a good idea not to save one’s back-up catcher for an emergency.
Anyway, I said, “if the Brewers don’t win here…” Well, let’s just say that I didn’t like the prospects of going deeper than 10 innings with no bench. The four-man bench really hurt the Brewers in this game, but it is arguably a necessity given the short-and-rough starting pitching outings that have piled up on the Brewers.
(11) Brewers relievers have been amazing lately, even considering their two blown games in the eighth inning during their seven-game losing streak.
- May 24: 1.3 IP of scoreless relief.
- May 25: 3.7 IP, 3 runs, blown save (okay, not so great).
- May 26: 4 IP, 1 run.
- May 27: 4 IP, 1 run.
- May 29: 3 IP, 3 run, bullpen loss.
- May 30: 5.7 IP of scoreless relief.
- May 31: 13.3 IP, 1 run.
In case you missed it, that’s 35 innings over seven games, including five consecutive games that required at least three innings of relief before Sunday’s outing. Their nine runs allowed over this stretch are good for a 2.31 runs average.
(12) There were eleven baserunners between the top of the twelfth and the top of the seventeenth inning. It is a wonder that not one of those baserunners scored.
(13) The Brewers announced that they are recalling Tyler Cravy from Colorado Springs, returning Wagner to the minors (this should not be surprising given the nature of Sunday’s game).
BaseballAmerica ranked Cravy at #24 in the Brewers’ system, and noted that he features a full arsenal to back his primary sinker (Durham, BaseballAmerica, 2015: p. 267). Cravy will also use a slider and curve, and flash a cutter and change up, according to BaseballAmerica. The righty is yet another mid-to-late-round player to appear from the Brewers’ 2009 draft, which leads one to wonder whether Cravy will be as successful as Mike Fiers, Khris Davis, or Scooter Gennett. The Brewers selected Cravy in the 17th round, and he is by far the best current starting pitcher on the Colorado Springs roster (5-4, 49 IP, 4.04 ERA, 43 K / 22 BB / 4 HR).
Despite throwing a sinker, Cravy is primarily a flyball pitcher, which leads one to wonder about how the pitcher will translate his arsenal to Miller Park. In three consecutive wins over his last three starts, the prospect allowed four runs in 19 innings, despite a 24:28 groundball:flyball ratio.
(14) If I had to guess, Cravy will face Lance Lynn on Tuesday in St. Louis, as the Brewers send Fiers on Monday and Jimmy Nelson on Wednesday in St. Louis (according to MLB.com). I gather that the club’s off day on June 4 is fully welcomed by a front office that has had to continuously swap out one injured player for the next, while also managing the short starts of their pitching staff.
(15) For a moment, it looked like the Cardinals might return to earth (somewhat). Standing at 18-6 after a sweep of the Pirates on May 3, the St. Louis Nine split six series while going 10-10 throughout the bulk of May. Of course, they reemerged against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, going 5-1 in their last six games to close May at “only” 18-11.
(16) Lately, I’ve been confronting what appear to be “tank emotions” regarding our Milwaukee Nine. I experienced the feeling yesterday, even after the club clawed back, where a loss seemed probable after the club burned Centeno and faced extra innings without any remaining position players. I think it’s been tough for many fans to let this season go, continuously wondering whether the Brewers can climb back into it. For example, to begin May, the Brewers went 10-9, including a series victory at Detroit; if the Brewers could only return some of their injured players, and stick at that pace, even something like a 79-win season would not have seemed terribly unrealistic. A .500 season from that point might mean that the club would be stuck at that 76-win “middle of the league” plateau once again, which at least gives Brewers fans another chance to squint at a potential-contender in 2016, a club that could retool with the right moves.
Now, the Brewers’ actual winning percentage paces them for 54 wins, and a .500 set from here onward looks more like 72-90 than 76-86. Even worse? After the Detroit series, the Brewers could have potentially used a solid, churning, perpetual 10-9 pace to work their way to 79 wins. Now, even if the Brewers played at their pre-collapse 2014 winning percentage, the club would only reach 79 wins in 2015 (going 63-48).
Brewers fans simply must know that it is not worth chasing that mirage, that “what if” that continually reappeared after that spooky, improbable 2014 collapse. The Brewers are on pace to be the worst team in the National League, and they can use that occasion to make the trades that they were unable to make after 2014. They chased that 71-55 mirage once, the front office cannot afford to do so again. Not when a top draft pick is at stake, as well as a set of key contracts that potentially expire after the end of the 2016 season.
I think what makes these losses so tough is that we can readily recall each of these Brewers players being better, in many cases. It’s not hard to remember Matt Garza leading the Tampa Bay Rays as American League Championship Series MVP when he steps up for a handful of exceptional emergency relief innings. Carlos Gomez is flashing his brilliance after an early season injury. Jonathan Lucroy was not himself before his injury; we could go down the roster, one-by-one, and find so many Brewers players that could be better than their current performance. However, if the Brewers built their 2015 roster on a best-case scenario, squinting at that scenario during this midseason deadline, and the 2015-2016 offseason, could really hurt the club. If the front office makes the right moves, if they take their exceptional draft position and convert it to great prospects: that’s the type of best case scenario the Brewers need to create now. Chasing that best case scenario can impact how quickly the Brewers can return to contention.
(17) For all his batting woes as a regular catcher, Maldonado sure has a flare for the dramatic: his game-ending homer yesterday was his second walk-off winning hit of May for the Brewers.