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Reynolds Didn't Act Alone in Hurting the Brewers' Playoff Chances

by Tim Muma                                                        9/19/2014

AP Photo - Associated Press
First of all, I completely understand the anger toward Mark Reynolds for his gaffe in the 8th inning of Thursday night’s gut-punch loss to the St. Louis Cardinals

Not knowing the situation – especially something simple like how many outs there are – is completely inexcusable in a game with such importance for the Milwaukee Brewers.

With that said, there were countless other issues that arose throughout the course of the game.

All of these miscues led to one of the worst losses in recent memory, when you consider all the factors. Even in the 8th inning alone there were other mistakes that contributed to this seemingly never-ending late-season collapse.

Consider these additional points that aided in the 8th-inning of doom on Thursday.

  • The batter immediately following Reynolds’ mental error was Matt Carpenter, a solid hitter, but not a home run threat.
    • At this point, it’s still 2-0 Brewers with 2 outs and a runner on 2nd.
    • Jonathan Broxton falls behind 3-0, battles back to a full count, but ultimately walks the tying run on base.
  • Broxton gets ahead 1-2 against the next hitter, Jon Jay.
    • Jay was clearly late on Broxton’s fastball, but with a 2-2 count, he threw an off-speed pitch that was out over the plate ( says it was a fastball, but it had a break to it and was listed 5-6 MPH than his other fastballs that inning).
    • Broxton, who throws 95-96, didn’t challenge Jay inside at all. He kept shooting for the outside edge, Jay looked for it, and deposited a single to left.
  • Matt Holliday hits a chopper over the mound where Scooter Gennett charges and throws late to first, loading the bases for Matt Adams.
    • I didn’t hear this talked about at all: Why didn’t Gennett simply plant his right foot on 2nd base and field the ground ball for a force out?
    • He would have easily gotten Jay on the force, eliminating the need to make a throw and retiring the side with a 2-1 Brewers’ lead intact.
  • Broxton walks Adams with the bases loaded to bring in the tying run.
    • Again, Broxton kept everything away, seemingly afraid to throw inside on the big lefty.
    • His two-seamer kept tailing off the plate as he fell behind 3-1 on Adams, and he did the same thing on ball four.

As you can see, Broxton and Gennett need to take some blame for the 8th inning, as does Jonathan Lucroy.

AP Photo - Associated Press
As much as Lucroy brings to the table offensively and in stealing strikes with framing, he is a liability calling games. He is just as culpable for not mixing locations and speeds during those crucial at-bats.

On a smaller scale, I can understand some blame put on the shoulders of Ron Roenicke also. While Kyle Lohse had pitched well, he had a number of hard-hit balls find gloves on Thursday and was fortunate to be in that situation.

With that as the backdrop, would it have been best to go to the bullpen to start the inning? Lohse allowed a lead-off single to Oscar Taveras (a lefty). While Broxton has been lights out, he has pitched quite a bit lately and it may have been the better decision to go with Zach Duke with a group of lefties due up.

Duke against Taveras, Carpenter and Jay is – overall and statistically – a better matchup for Milwaukee. Then, if it gets to Holliday, it makes sense to go with Broxton.

I’m not fully against Roenicke for going with Broxton because he’s been lights out; however, the problem is he probably did not put his guys in the best position to win the game.

Then if we look outside the 8th inning, you can point to any number of areas offensively to take some fault when you score just 2 runs in 13 frames.

  • Milwaukee was 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
  • They left 12 men on base (six left on base in extra innings alone).
  •  Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra were a combined 0-for-11 with 5 strikeouts.
    • Gomez added a truly awful at-bat with the bases loaded, swinging at three pitches in or near the dirt and far off the plate.
  • Lucroy failed to put the ball in play in the 10th inning with runners on the corners and only one out.
    • This was preceded two batters earlier by Gomez popping out on a sacrifice bunt attempt (he probably shouldn’t have been bunting, but if you’re going to do it, you need to succeed).

AP Photo - Associated Press
Again, in a one-run, extra-inning loss you can find plenty of blame to go around. The Reynolds mistake is glaring because of when it happened, what resulted, and that fact that it was a mental error, not a physical one.

However, baseball is a team sport and there’s no rule against any of the other 24 guys that played to come up with one big hit or one key pitch.

As has been the case for much of August and September, it was nowhere to be found.

The Brewers are still on life support and they control how much oxygen they hold with three huge games in Pittsburgh.

You just wonder how much air is left in the tank after they basically asphyxiated themselves on Thursday, leaving the Brewers’ faithful gasping in disappointment once again.

Brewers' Pitching Poised to Return to Early-Season Form?

by Tim Muma                                                9/16/2014

There isn't a rule that states a team's offense can't pick up its pitching staff and bash their way to victory. With that said, in the current state of MLB, where reaching base, hitting for power and scoring runs have become a great challenge, it's not happening nearly as often.

That puts the crux of the weight on the shoulders of the pitchers, and the success (or lack thereof) of those hurlers has mostly dictated the fate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Morry Gash - Associate Press
As noted in a previous article, the Brewers' offense has been relatively consistent all season. Only recently have they run into a prolonged slump; however, the hope is that Sunday's nine-run outburst awakens the lumber for good.

Meanwhile, the pitching performances in 2014 steadily declined through the season's first 72 games, stabilized a bit, then completely blew up during Milwaukee's sharp decent to third place.

What it all means in terms of future outcomes remains unclear. The bullpen was dominant early in the schedule before going through some serious rough patches due to injury (Tyler Thornburg), overuse (Will Smith) and general ineffectiveness (Brandon Kintzler).

Francisco Rodriguez also had his struggles after a stellar April and Rob Wooten quickly cooled off from his hot start.

Now the bullpen has become a source of strength in September as Jonathan Broxton has been a shut down reliever since his trade from Cincinnati. The big righty has tossed 6.1 scoreless frames with six strikeouts and zero walks.

Jeff Swinger - The Enquirer
Jeremy Jeffress has also become a reliable power arm out of the pen, posting a 2.25 ERA in eight innings.

Overall, through 49.1 innings in September, the relief core owns a 2.37 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 4.58 K/BB. In the current month, Smith, Marco Estrada and Tom Gorzelanny have combined to throw 16.1 innings without giving up an earned run.

Meanwhile, the rotation had slowly began to suffer as the summer wore on.

Estrada was on pace to set the record for home runs allowed in a season before he was moved to relief duty.

Matt Garza was rolling right along when he injured his oblique while shutting out the St. Louis Cardinals (of course).

Wily Peralta suffered some growing pains on the MLB's learning curve, posting an ERA of 4.80 and 4.81 in July and August respectively.

Then steady, consistent Kyle Lohse turned into Shaun Marcum over his last seven starts. In his most recent 35.1 innings pitched, Lohse has a 6.88 ERA with opponents slugging .607 and posting a ridiculous .989 OPS. That may be the biggest concern.

Thus, to give you a visual of what the pitching has looked like - the the effects on the team - I've broken down the season into 18-game increments, each one-ninth of the 162-game slate.

Gms. 1-18:  13-5, 2.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.17 K/BB

Gms. 19-36:   9-9, 3.49 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.18 K/BB

Gms. 37-54:  10-8, 3.70 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.56 K/BB

Gms. 55-72:  11-7, 4.36 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.26 K/BB

Gms. 73-90:   9-9, 3.76 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3.86 K/BB

Gms. 91-108:  7-11, 4.14 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.84 K/BB

Gms. 109-126:  12-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.95 K/BB

Gms. 127-144:  3-15, 5.72 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 2.35 K/BB

As you can see from the first eight, 18-game stretches, the Brewers had four instances of winning records in compiling a 46-26 mark. Twice the ERA was under 2.85, while the offense clearly picked up the pitching staff during games 55 through 72 as Milwaukee went 11-7, despite a 4.36 ERA.

The Crew also had a pair of stretches where they sat at .500, an important feat over the course of a long season. In both those cases, the ERA was respectable and a couple more wins could have been had.

Truly, the only horrible 18-game period the Brewers had - not that you need reminding - was the recently completed stretch of frustrating games. With a 5.72 ERA and awful 1.62 WHIP, the pitching staff squandered all the good will they created in the first 126 games. 

It's difficult to explain such a prolonged period of bad pitching when the staple of the staff was solid, relatively consistent outings.

That leaves us with the final 18-game stretch to examine, of which the Brewers have already played six times. The results have been excellent from the pitching side of the ledger, and the optimistic fan can argue a wonderful bounce back to average out the anomaly of the 5.72 ERA.

Through a half dozen of the remaining 18 contests, the staff has started off with a 4-2 record, thanks to a 2.50 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. 

AP Photo - Associated Press
Garza and Peralta have looked like themselves in their recent starts, so confidence should be high for the pair. Peralta gets the first crack as St. Louis, a team he's pitched well against this season. Peralta is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA, holding the Cards to a .594 OPS in his four starts.

Lohse is tough to predict. He had truly been awful in August, but tossed a solid game his last time out. The optimist says he's back. The pessimist says it was an aberration.

Yovani Gallardo and Mike Fiers may be the two arms to be most concerned about. Gallardo has a 5.26 ERA and an .891 OPS against in his last five starts. Milwaukee lost all five of those contests.

Meanwhile, no one know how Fiers will respond to taking the mound for the first time since beaning Giancarlo Stanton in the face. Though Fiers has been a savior with his terrific performances this season, he was visibly shaken the night he plunked Stanton, and that's the type of incident that can derail an athlete mentally.

There are plenty of story lines to go around as the pitching staff tries to put the offense in a position to steal a few wins - especially in St. Louis where a trio of tough hurlers await.

Depending on what you want to believe about the 18-game stretches above, the final dozen could go terrifically well...but let's not pretend this season has been predictable at all.

Brewers Embark on Road Trip of Redemption...or Ruin

by Tim Muma                                                       9/15/2014

If the Milwaukee Brewers are going to find a way to sneak into the 2014 playoffs – a sad reality following 159 total days in first place – they’ll need to take down the two teams directly in front of their home ballparks.

Jeff Roberson - Associated Press
As part of the upcoming nine-game road trip, Milwaukee takes on the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals and the second wild card-holding Pittsburgh Pirates, before wrapping up their regular season travel schedule in Cincinnati against the Reds.

Realistically, the division race is over for the Brewers. Even if they miraculously sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to kick off the trip, they’d still be two games out with only nine remaining.

That's a tall order for Milwaukee, considering the club has gone 6-10 against the Cards this season and 26-42 since 2011. Additionally, St. Louis is 21-11 in their last 32 contests while the Brewers have gone 7-17 over the previous 24.

Thus, the focus should really be on chasing down the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second wild card berth. The Brewers currently trail Pittsburgh by 1.5 games, as the Pirates will play one more game down the stretch, and have two fewer losses than Milwaukee.

Gene J. Puskar - Associated Press
The two squads will face off in PNC Park over the weekend, giving the Crew a certain amount of control over their playoff lives if they can give the Pirates another beat down. Of course, they could also end up walking the plank with a sub-par performance in the series.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Milwaukee has fared on the road this year, what the trip entails, and what outcomes can get the Brewers into the postseason – if only for one game.

Road Trips of Four or More Games

Milwaukee has gone on 10 road trips this season that have included four or more contests. The Brewers went 36-33 during those 69 games. Not surprisingly, they had much more success early in the season and plenty of trouble later.

In the Brewers’ first six trips of this kind in 2014, the club went 27-15, posting winning records on four of them. The final four tours outside of Miller Park were unkind as the Brewers went 9-18 with a losing record on three of those trips.

Of course, no one will soon forget the last trip, the 1-8 debacle through San Diego, San Francisco and Chicago that was the main portion of the gut-punch nine-game losing streak.

Head-to-Head Road Matchups

Against the three teams they’ll play on the final trip, the Brewers have gone 10-10 on the road. Milwaukee has taken five of seven games in Pittsburgh, split six contests in St. Louis, and dropped five of seven games in Cincy.

What those first 20 games mean, I’m not quite sure. 

The Brewers won a series at Busch at the end of April as they were completing their 20-7 start. They then lost two of three games in St. Louis to open August, though they had every chance to win the final game before Matt Garza left with his oblique injury, and the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.

Gene J. Puskar - Associated Press
Meanwhile, the Crew won both series in Pittsburgh, but each were earlier in the season. Though not as dominant against the Pirates as previous years, the Brewers have still played well against the Bucs and could see favorable matchups this time around.

Finally, they head off to Great American Ballpark – a personal house of horrors for the Brewers. Since 2010, Milwaukee is 12-30 in Cincy, but there is one glimmer of hope. Back in 2011, when the Crew went on to win the NL Central crown, the Brewers briefly bucked the trend at the right time.

The Brewers went to Cincinnati that year for a three-game set on September 16th. They had already gone 1-5 in Cincy that season, including a sweep to start the year.  Milwaukee returned the favor, sweeping the Reds that weekend, and they never looked back. This year’s series is a touch later, but one can hope history is repeated.

What Wins (and Losses) Can Get the Brewers In

As mentioned at the top, catching Pittsburgh should probably be the focus, so when the Brewers win could be as important as how many they win.

For example, sweeping the Cardinals would be phenomenal, but you’d still be two back in the division. If Milwaukee then were to be swept by the Pirates, they’d (at best) be two back of Pittsburgh as well. Therefore, games versus the Bucs clearly count for more.

To me, here is the most likely scenario to get the Brewers into the playoffs:

  • Lose 2 of 3 at home vs. the Boston Red Sox – Boston 11-6 in last 17 road games. Won 3 of 4 in Kansas City.
  • Lose 2 of 3 at home vs. Milwaukee
  • Split a four-game series in Atlanta
  • Win 2 of 3 at Cincinnati
All of the above outcomes are realistic, with the key being the Milwaukee series, of course. This would put the Pirates at 85-77 on the season.

  • Win 1 of 3 at St. Louis
  • Win 2 of 3 at Pittsburgh
  • Win 5 of last 6 games in Cincinnati and at home vs. Chicago

Basically, if Milwaukee loses two in St. Louis or in Pittsburgh, they'd need a sweep of either the Reds or the Cubs. Considering the Brewers struggles with Chicago, it might be more likely to happen in Cincinnati.

This would put the Brewers at 86-76, one game ahead of the Pirates.

Of course, games won and lost could be moved around a touch, but the above scenario is feasible in that Pittsburgh would finish the year 6-7 while Milwaukee closes out at 8-4. 

This also allows for one more loss by the Brewers or one more win by the Pirates to set up a one-game playoff between the two clubs. The winner would claim the second wild card and play (most likely) in San Francisco against the Giants.

Morry Gash - Associated Press
No doubt the road to a one-game playoff as a wild card is going to be a treacherous one, and even if the Brewers play well, the Pirates could hold serve and make it all a moot point.

With only 12 games left in the regular season, I want to enjoy every last ounce because the winter is long and cold without baseball. It would be awesome if the final home game had everything riding on it like in 2008.

There’s no harm in going all in on the team at this point, and the potential payoff could be better than imagined.

Brewers Mix blog featured writers Tim Muma, John Linn
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