The Brewers laid it on the Marlins in this game, and the floodgates opened in the third inning against Tom Koehler. Leading 2-1, Jonathan Villar reached on an infield hit, then stole second. Ryan Braun brought him around with a single to right, increasing the score to 3-1 for Chris Carter. After working the count to 2-2, Carter smoked a Koehler fastball over the fence in right-center. And when I say smoked, I mean this thing was most certainly illegal:
Carter’s dinger (+.121) gave the Brewers a win expectancy of 88.9 percent, up from 76.8 percent after Braun’s single. Milwaukee would tack on four more runs in the frame, by the end of which the team had a 98.3 percent chance of victory. The final score was a historic one — the Brewers hadn’t tallied 14 runs since August 27, 2012 against the Cubs. For an offense-starved fanbase, the scoring onslaught was a welcome sight.
Carter, in particular, stood out in this game. He smacked another home run in his next at-bat, giving him seven on the year. With the exception of the rejuvenated Braun, Carter has hit better than any Brewers regular in 2016, posting a .311 TAv over 78 plate appearances. His newfound patience — he’s swung at 39.3 percent of the pitches he’s seen, the lowest rate of his career by far — seems to have worked in his favor, and he hasn’t yet hit an infield popup. This boom-or-bust hitter finally appears to have hit the jackpot.
Before all of that, though, came the first of five runs off Wily Peralta. In the top of the third, the immortal Ichiro Suzuki plopped a double into right field, and Martin Prado stepped in. On a 1-0 fastball, he hit a grounder up the middle and out of the reach of Villar. A strong throw from Kirk Nieuwenhuis couldn’t catch the speedy Ichiro, and the Marlins trailed by one.
Prado’s single (-.079) dragged the Marlins back into the game, decreasing the Brewers’ chances of winning from 65.0 percent to 57.1 percent. Peralta recovered and escaped the inning without any further damage; by the time he took the mound again, he had an eight-run lead at his back. From then on out, Milwaukee’s win probability never dipped below 97.0 percent.
The focus from Sunday will deservedly fall on the offense, but we shouldn’t ignore Peralta’s continued struggles. For the year as a whole, his ERA (7.50) and FIP (5.52) didn’t change that much, because they were already abominable. He allowed another home run, putting his seasonal total at five in 30.0 innings, and he didn’t notch a single strikeout (more on that below). The one thing he did well was avoid walks — he issued one free pass out of 30 batters faced — and even that came with the caveat that he threw only 59.4 percent strikes.
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While Sunday’s game brought a lot of positives, the development that stood out — in my forever pessimistic view — was a negative. On the pitching side of things, the Brewers faced 43 Marlins batters…and they didn’t strike out a single one. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the club’s prior play: Before Sunday, Milwaukee had a 17.3 percent strikeout rate, the worst in the majors. The pitching staff simply cannot punch out opponents, which accounts for most of its trouble with preventing runs.
To get a strikeout, you have to throw a strike, obviously. The 2016 Brewers have largely failed at this task — their strike rate of 61.2 percent beats only the Reds. A lot of that stems from the catchers, as both Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado have subpar framing numbers to this point. Of course, it would also help to throw the ball in the zone, which the Brewers haven’t done, or induce swings at pitches outside the zone, which they also haven’t done. And, of course, the lowest whiff rate in the majors doesn’t help either.
The strikeout drought has affected everyone on the team. The only Brewer who’s posted a league-average mark or better is Tyler Thornburg, owner of a meager 9.1 innings. Jimmy Nelson, the lone bright spot on the team, has seen his strikeout rate stagnate after last year’s progress. He’s still better off than Taylor Jungmann, whose abilities have vanished, and Chase Anderson, who has declined for the third straight year, or Peralta, whom I can’t bear to discuss anymore. The list goes on, and the point remains: If the Brewers want to start preventing runs, they’ll need to set batters down on strikes.
Up Next: Interleague play! The Brewers will take on the Angels in a three-game series at Miller Park. L.A. ranks 27th in team strikeout rate, so look to see a lot of balls in play over these contests. Jimmy Nelson and Jered Weaver take the hill tonight at 6:20 CST, and Junior Guerra will make his 2016 (and Brewers) debut on Tuesday against Nick Tropeano. The series will wrap up on Wednesday with a Zach Davies-Hector Santiago showdown. Perhaps three straight games of facing inexperienced AL pitchers can wake up the dormant Brewers arms. If it does, the bats could carry them to success.