The first series of the season is in the books.
I’m not sure if I’ll always have time to review each series upon its completion, but I do have that time right now so I thought I would give it a whirl and see what comes of it.
If I hate the results, chances are you’ll never see this post.
Anyway, amidst ventilated air at the LEED Certified Miller Park facility this weekend, the Milwaukee Brewers opened the 2012 regular season by dropping two of three games against the reigning World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Final scores were 11-5 Cardinals on Opening Day, 6-0 Brewers on Saturday, and 9-3 Cardinals on Sunday.
The two losses were not without highlights and the win was not without issue but let’s go ahead and look at each game individually and then summarize the series as a whole.
Game1 – Friday – Brewers (-): 5, Cardinals (1-0): 11
Winning Pitcher: Jaime Garcia (1-0, 3.00) Losing Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo (0-1, 14.73)
The regular season kicked off with all the pomp, circumstance, and regalia one could ask for.
Flags presented in the outfield by five different locally-based military groups, bunting hung all around the ballpark, the National Anthem being performed by the team owner’s father (which is better than you might think it would be), and even the first pitch being thrown out by the reigning Miss America Laura Kaeppeler, who is a native Wisconsinite.
The results on the field were lacking for the beer makers, particularly so for the “home grown” Yovani Gallardo. Despite pitching a scoreless first inning, Gallardo’s rhythm was off all game and he paid for it dearly once the hits started to fall for St. Louis.
Gallardo walked two batters in the first inning but wriggled off the hook before any runs scored. After being staked to a two run lead courtesy of a Rickie Weeks single, Carlos Gomez RBI triple, Aramis Ramirez RBI ground out in the bottom of the first, Gallardo allowed a first pitch home run to Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina to begin the second. The Brewers couldn’t plate anybody in their half of the second and though they combined to see 15 pitches from Jaime Garcia in the frame, it ended with Gallardo’s at-bat.
The next half inning is when the wheels completely fell off for Gallardo. He started off the inning by going 3-0 to Carlos Beltran before grooving a 90 MPH fastball which Beltran deposited into the crowd. Probably not wanting to fall behind to Matt Holliday next, Gallardo started his at-bat with an 81 MPH curveball which Holliday stayed back on enough to drive over the outfield wall. Five pitches, two home runs.
Lance Berkman was up next and drew the third walk of the game off of Gallardo before David Freese homered on the third pitch of his second at-bat of the game. That brought a coaching visit finally as the bullpen began to stir. Molina then walked on four pitches before Gallardo finally got out of the inning by retiring the bottom third of the Cardinal order, including picking up two strikeouts.
(By the way, normally, I won’t go so in depth into an individual pitcher’s performance, but I thought it important to understand the nuance behind Gallardo’s struggles. As is often the case in baseball, simply throwing out statistics outside of any frame of reference isn’t fairly conveying the story.)
The fourth inning cost Gallardo the rest of his day.
After Rafael Furcal singled and stole second, Gallardo retired the next two hitters and maybe appeared to be settling down a little. Just as quickly though came Berkman’s second walk of the day which was followed by an RBI single from Freese. Marco Estrada replaced Gallardo at that point, but by then the damage would prove insurmountable. The Cardinals were up 6-2 and the Brewers would only plate three more the rest of the day, all coming on a George Kottaras pinch-hit three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth when the score was 11-2 in favor of St. Louis.
As for the other notables performances:
Ryan Braun became the first reigning MVP in league history to go 0-for-5 in the first game of the next season but really squared up well in his first two plate appearances. He lined out very sharply to a jumping Furcal in the first inning and rocketed a deep fly ball to the warning track which centerfielder Jon Jay had to dive to secure.
Mat Gamel collected two base hits off of lefty pitchers (first Garcia and then reliever J.C. Romero later) before being the victim of a double-switch late in the game.
Jonathan Lucroy carried over some of his Cactus League success into the regular season by going 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Corey Hart looked to be seeing the ball well as he went 1-for-2 with two walks.
Game 2 – Saturday – Brewers (0-1): 6, Cardinals (2-0): 0
Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (1-0, 0.00) Losing Pitcher: Adam Wainwright (0-1, 4.76)
Zack Greinke picked up right where he left off at Miller Park in the 2011 regular season where he was undefeated (11-0) in 15 starts.
A day after the Cardinals knocked around Yovani Gallardo, Greinke seemed that much more masterful in pitching seven strong innings while only allowing four hits. He struck out seven and walked as many batters as the Cardinals scored runs in the game: Zero (capitalized and spelled out for effect).
It was 4-0 when Greinke finally left the game. Corey Hart was responsible for three of those runs. Hart hit two home runs in the game by the end of the sixth inning. He was then lifted in an effort to make sure his surgically repaired knee isn’t overworked early in the year.
Making his first start of the season, Nyjer Morgan was held hitless in the game. He was joined in the 0-for-the-season group by Alex Gonzalez, who was one of the Brewers hottest hitters during Spring Training. Mat Gamel was held without a hit in this one as well, but was seeing the ball well as evidenced by his not having struck out on Saturday in four trips to the plate.
But it was truly a reminder party for Greinke and Hart, two players whom the Brewers were without to begin the 2011 season. Both men started last year on the disabled list.
Game 3 – Sunday – Brewers (1-1): 3, Cardinals (2-1): 9
Winning Pitcher: Lance Lynn (1-0, 1.35) Losing Pitcher: Randy Wolf (0-1, 5.40)
In so much as home runs were on the menu on Friday and solid starting pitching was the main course Saturday, strikeouts were abundant in Sunday’s affair.
The teams combined to strikeout 25 times in the game (St. Louis 12, Milwaukee 13) which also saw its share of “firsts”.
For the Cardinals, Lance Lynn made his first career big league start and was supported (in part) by Shane Robinson’s first career MLB home run.
On the Brewers side, Norichika Aoki got his first career MLB hit (and later scored his first run) along with Alex Gonzalez finally tallying his first hit as a Brewer. John Axford and Kameron Loe also made their first appearances of the season to get some work in. Axford struck out his first two hitters faced, but then walked consecutive Cardinals before being lifted having thrown 27 pitches. Loe allowed a three-run home run after entering in Axford’s place, two runs of which were charged to the Brewers closer.
Lynn was dynamic all day, keeping Brewers hitters off balance. He mixed his pitches well and rung up eight Brewer hitters in his 6.2 innings. The only hits he allowed were a single by Ryan Braun (who he then picked off of first base to end the first inning) and a solo home run to Corey Hart.
For Milwaukee, Randy Wolf threw a whopping 108 pitches in just five innings in part because he faced 26 batters and allowed nine hits, but also in part because he struck out seven Cardinals in that span.
Despite all of the strikeouts, every pitcher who toed the rubber in the game on Sunday gave up at least one run (all runs in the game were earned).
In short, it definitely seemed like nobody was really completely focused in on the first Sunday afternoon of 2012.
Look, it’s April. While all wins count the same at the end of the year, I’m not shocked by things being a little more out of sorts than they’ll be later in the year.
The Brewers got an awful start from Gallardo on Friday while hitting a little, played a sharp game in all facets on Saturday, and had a mixed bag of suck in most areas on Sunday.
The season is full of peaks, valleys, plateaus, and plains, and we simply can’t allow ourselves to get worked up in either direction at this point.
That being said, I really loved what I saw out of Greinke on Saturday and nobody has started hotter than Hart in the game to this point. Still, small sample size is a mantra worth chanting after just three games.
Gallardo will be fine this season. The Cardinals are simply his nemesis. He’s had one amazingly stellar outing against them in his entire career and more than a handful of bad ones. That happens, for whatever reason. Have faith. Gallardo started slow last year as well (6.23 ERA at the end of April 2011) and finished pretty darned well.
As for the offense, it’s still much too early to panic or laud anybody too much. Braun is clearly seeing the ball well following a slow start in Spring Training (though a semi-strong finish) and despite poor results to this point from Ramirez, Gonzalez, and Morgan, I think they’re all veteran enough that they’ll finish roughly where the backs of their baseball cards say they will.
Gamel is an enigma in that respect, but I’ve liked most of what I’ve seen to this point. I will say that I’m not surprised at all that his two hits have come off of left-handed pitchers though. I think he’ll hit plenty this year.
One final note on offense is that I’m encouraged by the early approach from Carlos Gomez. He wasn’t jinxed by hitting a home run in his first at-bat, though that triple was into his pull field. He needs to maintain discipline, but I could see him perhaps putting up career bests in a few categories.
Well, there you have it. 1700 words about a three-game series in April.
Like I said, I don’t know that I’ll always have time to do posts like these, but I will on the occasions that I do.
The Brewers hit the road this week before returning to Miller Park on Tuesday, April 17. The two-city road trip begins with a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field which kicks off tonight. That is followed by a three-game series in Atlanta against the Braves.