When the Brewers swung trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke prior to the season, much of the talk around the Brewers was how they had improved their rotation so much that last season’s ace, Yovani Gallardo, might be the third-best starter on the team. After 161 games, the Brewers have decided he’s going to be their ace once again come the postseason.
The Brewers are most certainly riding the hot hand with Gallardo. Over his last three starts, Gallardo has been nearly perfect, allowing four runs over 20.1 innings and striking out a whopping 36 batters against three walks. The only blemishes have been three home runs, but unsurprisingly, it hasn’t mattered. Gallardo is 2-0 in this stretch and the team is 3-0 in the three starts.
Gallardo’s dominance hasn’t just been over the past three weeks. Although Zack Greinke’s failings in the first half were better documented due to his circumstances, Gallardo had his own mighty struggles early on. After a complete game, 1-0 shutout against Atlanta in the fifth game of the season (which some said saved the season at the time, as the Brewers were 0-4), Gallardo couldn’t get outs. Over his next five starts, Gallardo allowed at least four runs and never went more than six innings. He compiled an 8.89 ERA in these starts and sat with a 6.10 overall ERA on May 2nd.
There were signs Gallardo would recover. He struck out 24 batters over 26.1 innings in those starts and his BABIP was an obscene .518. Since then, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the major leagues, putting together a 2.87 ERA over his last 26 starts at 166 innings pitched. He has struck out 177 batters against just 42 walks, and hitters have a line of just .223/.271/.360 against him.
The only problem for Gallardo has been the home run ball, and isn’t particularly something we’ve seen from him in the past. This year, his HR/9 rate is up to 1.19 after posting a tremendous 0.58 rate last season and 1.02 in his first full season in 2009. He has his best ground ball rate of his career at 46.6%, and just watching him pitch it doesn’t appear as though he has been throwing particularly hittable pitches this season as opposed to last season. Gallardo has a 3.19 xFIP (a defensive-independent stat that adjusts home run totals for fly ball rates) and that is an ace-level mark.
Yovani Gallardo probably isn’t the best pitcher on the team. I still think that honor belongs to Donald Zackary Greinke. I think Greinke, with his 3.01 FIP and 2.56 xFIP, has a case to be the best pitching talent in the league, if not the best overall pitcher. But the Brewers needed him to win Wednesday night’s game against Pittsburgh, and the difference between having home field advantage in a hypothetical game five of the NLDS is probably of a similar magnitude of having Zack Greinke pitch that game instead of Yovani Gallardo. And at that point — I believe only one pitcher for Milwaukee would throw two games in a five game series — I think the difference between Yovani Gallardo at home and Zack Greinke on the road is minimal.
So Yovani Gallardo will end up being the Brewers first pitcher in the postseason a second straight time. For a second straight time, he probably won’t be their most talented pitcher. But the Brewers and their fans should feel extremely confident — he is one of the best pitchers in the league, and he is more than capable of bringing home the win for the Brewers come Game One.