The only way Thursday’s loss to the Cubs could have been more crushing would be for the Brewers to actually be in contention — for those ready to believe in fairy tales, perhaps that belief was even beginning to manifest itself. A Brewers victory would have pulled the team within 7.5 games of the Wild Card.
But there are two reasons it still wouldn’t have mattered — the Brewers trail four different teams (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Arizona as well as the leader St. Louis) — and any dreams of a Cardinal-esque storm to the Wild Card would require the bullpen to actually, you know, close leads down the stretch.
The bullpen had been doing it’s job as the Brewers rattled off an 8-2 stretch over the past 10 games heading into Thursday’s debacle at Wrigley Field. Then, as soon as Shaun Marcum started cramping up, everything headed directly toward the toilet (or maybe a Wrigley urinal trough).
Livan Hernandez, Manny Parra, and Fernando Rodriguez combined to give up eight hits, five walks and nine runs in two full innings of work. Even with the help of admirable scoreless appearances from Jim Henderson an Jose Veras, the Brewers bullpen combined for a shocking -1.164 WPA. In one game.
Perhaps this isn’t the worst bullpen ever. I certainly would argue it has more talent in it than most historically bad ones. But there’s no doubt it has been one of the most costly to a team in recent memory.
A while back, I put together a custom report on FanGraphs showing the win probability for all team bullpens dating back to 1974. The link will take you the last page; the worst of the worst when it comes to blowing leads and costing their teams ballgames.
The Brewers were starting to crawl their way out. At one point they were down below a -7 WPA, good for 11th worst in the last 38 seasons (with a month to go). Prior to Thursday’s disaster, they were back to -6.3, only the 19th worst mark, and not even the worst in club history (1976, -6.9, headed by Tom Murphy’s 7.36 ERA in 15 games).
For more on WPA, click here.
Now they’re back “up” to a -7.47 WPA, ninth worst since the data exists on FanGraphs. With another month to go and little relief to be seen either from the active roster or from September call-ups, the climb could continue. Can they reach the ultimate worst mark, the 1999 Royals and their -10.94? Doubtful. But we’ll watch them try.