Brewers Bullpen Dominates Diamondbacks
In a critical four-game series at Chase Field between Thursday and Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers faced the Arizona Diamondbacks. The teams entered the series neck-and-neck in the National League Wild Card race. Three of the four games were close, and the Brewers won all three. The difference in the series was the Milwaukee bullpen.
Brewers Starters Get Roughed Up
Other than Zach Davies, who pitched masterfully in his hometown, the Brewers starters had a rough time. Game Two starter Jhoulys Chacin faced 15 batters and only recorded seven outs. His stat line was ugly: seven hits, six earned runs, one walk, two strikeouts, and one home run over 2 1/3 innings. Five of the seven hits went for extra bases.
Game Three starter Gio Gonzalez lasted four innings, pitching to three hitters in the fifth without recording an out. He had a rough start in the first, giving up two hits and recording a wild pitch en route to a run. He walked two between the second and fourth but escaped unscathed. It fell apart in the fifth, however, when he allowed three consecutive doubles to the seven, eight, and nine hitters and left the game in position for the loss.
All-Star Brandon Woodruff, the Game Four starter, pitched only three innings, leaving with an oblique injury after throwing two pitches into the fourth. He had been shelled up to that point, surrendering six hits, four earned runs, a home run, and two walks while only striking out three.
Short outings by starters place a high demand on the bullpen. Since relief pitchers are expected to throw as hard as they can for one or two innings tops, consistent use of the bullpen adds up. It is not a recipe for success. Yet the Brewers won three of the four games – because the bullpen was lights-out.
Brewers Bullpen – Lights Out
(Statistical Note: This section will include a stat invented by Nate Silver from Five Thirty-Eight – the Goose Egg. Named in honor of Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage, it refers to a clutch, scoreless inning of relief. Specifically, it occurs in the seventh inning or later of a game where the pitcher’s team is either tied or leads by two runs or less. No runs can score in the inning, either charged to the reliever or inherited.)
The Brewers used nine relief pitchers in the series. Only one – Jay Jackson (2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 2 K, 3 BB, 3.000 WHIP) – allowed an earned run. The rest kept the Diamondbacks off the scoreboard, shutting them out from the sixth inning onward in the entire series. The starting pitcher left the game in position to get a loss three times, and two of those turned into a win for one of the relief pitchers. Who were the heroes of the Brewers bullpen?
Freddy Peralta pitched in relief in Games Three and Four. In Game Three, he entered the game in the fifth with no outs, a runner on second, and his team trailing 3-1. A sacrifice bunt and two strikeouts later, he got his team out of the jam. He then struck out two and induced a fly to left in the sixth before he exited the game. In Game Four, he pitched the seventh inning of a 4-4 tie. He walked the first batter but got slugging second baseman Eduardo Escobar to ground into a 4-6 force play. Then he induced a pop to the shortstop and struck out Jake Lamb to end the threat.
The Brewers took the lead for good in the top of the eighth, giving Peralta the win out of the bullpen. Final line for the series: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 5 K, 1 BB, 0.333 WHIP, a win, and a goose egg.
Jeremy Jeffress pitched in Games One, Three, and Four, notching an inning in each. In Game One, he induced a groundout, followed by two singles. Those two singles became harmless when Jeffress got first baseman Christian Walker – the clean-up man – to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. In Game Three, he pitched the ninth in a non-save and non-goose egg situation, notching a strikeout, a fly to center, a walk, and another fly to center, in that order. Game Four saw him pitch a scoreless eighth, notching a groundout to third, a strikeout, a single, and a soft liner to the shortstop. Final tally for the series: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 K, 1 BB, a 1.333 WHIP, and two holds (Games One and Four).
Matt Albers and Burch Smith
Matt Albers closed out Games One and Two, with Game Two being the eighth since the Diamondbacks did not bat in the ninth. He pitched an inning in each. For Game One, he netted a groundout to third, a fly to third, and a strikeout. Then he induced a fly to left, a walk, and a 4-6-3 double play, in that order, in Game Two. In total, he had 2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 1 BB, and a 0.500 WHIP.
Burch Smith pitched the sixth and seventh innings of Game Two, with his team trailing, 10-4, when he entered the game. After he struck out the first batter, he walked two. That didn’t hurt him, as he induced a fly to right and a strikeout to end the threat. In the seventh, he induced two straight flies to left before striking out the last batter. Overall, he had 2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 3 K, 2 BB, and a 1.000 WHIP. His job was to keep his team from falling farther behind, and he did it.
These two are among the least-used members of the Brewers bullpen, but outings like these could lead to more innings for them.
Junior Guerra pitched 2 2/3 innings of middle relief across two games. In Game Two, he came on in the third to stop the bleeding after Chacin’s disastrous start. Runners were on first and second when he arrived. He had a rough inning, but it was not entirely his fault. The first hitter reached on a fielding error by second baseman Keston Hiura, loading the bases. Next, Guerra uncorked a wild pitch, scoring an inherited runner and advancing the other two, culminating in an intentional walk. He then induced two consecutive groundouts, with the first scoring the other inherited runner and the second ending the inning. Although no runs were charged to Guerra, he had a rather shaky 2/3 of an inning.
In Game Four, he had a much better outing, pitching two innings without allowing a baserunner. He arrived in the fourth inning in emergency relief of an injured Woodruff with the score tied at four. In the fourth, he struck out the side, and in the fifth, he tallied a fly to center, a strikeout, and a foul popup to first. Final stats for the series: 2 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 4 K, and a walk, with his blemish being that both of his inherited runners scored.
Alex Claudio pitched an inning of scoreless relief to keep the score tied in Game Four, but it was an adventure. He induced a groundout to open the inning, but a walk, a fielder’s choice forceout, a double, and an intentional walk later, the bases were loaded with two out. He then induced another groundout – capped by a nice defensive play on his own part – to end the threat. His final line: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 0 K, 2 BB (1 IBB), and a WHIP of 3.000. Only the fact that this was in the sixth kept it from being a goose egg.
Adrian Houser pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in Game Three, earning the win. It also earned praise from Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who said that he and Peralta were “lights-out.” He struck out the side in a 1-2-3 seventh inning then induced a groundout to second to open the eighth. When the next hitter – Ketel Marte – tripled, closer Josh Hader came into the game. Since the Brewers trailed by a run in the seventh but pulled ahead in the top of the eighth, Houser earned the win. His line: 1 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 3 K, 0 BB, and the win.
Josh Hader gave the Diamondbacks fits. He appeared in each of the final two games, throwing 2/3 of an inning in Game Three and pitching the final inning of Game Four. His performance in Game Three earned him both a hold and a goose egg, while he notched the save in Game Four.
In Game Three, he entered with a runner on third, one out, and the tying run at the plate. He struck out both hitters he faced to quell the Diamondbacks’ attempt at a rally. When the Brewers scored three times in the top of the ninth to take a commanding 8-3 lead, he left the game. In Game Four, he pitched a scoreless ninth, with a one-out single as his only blemish. His final tally: 2 G, 1 GF, 1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 4 K, 0 BB, a hold, a goose egg, and a save.
Series like the one the Brewers had in Phoenix can build the confidence of a bullpen, but that does not always mean that they will be perfect from that day forward. Case in point: Jeffress took the mound on Monday night with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth against the Cincinnati Reds. He surrendered a two-out two-run home run to Eugenio Suarez, who was 0 for 10 against him going into that at-bat. It ended up being the game-winner. Baseball is a cruel game, but successful outings like the ones they had in Arizona go a long way toward making Jeffress’ disappointing inning be the exception, not the rule.
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