The Brewers and Dodgers, who kindly waited until both the NBA Finals and Copa America games were finished before kicking things off in Chavez Ravine, capped a busy sports night with a fireworks display in Los Angeles Thursday night. The two teams combined for four home runs, 14 runs and 18 hits as the Brewers squeezed past Los Angeles for their 31st win of the season. Let’s dive in:
As has been the case all season thus far, the Brewers presumed placeholder shortstop, Jonathan Villar, was in the middle of the action in a big moment for Milwaukee. Craig Counsell swapped center fielders to lead off the ninth inning and Kirk Nieuwenhuis rewarded his manager by drawing a walk. Ramon Flores, who followed him as a pinch hitter in the pitcher’s spot, betrayed his manager’s trust, switching places with Nieuwenhuis at first when he failed to get a good bunt down and allowed the Dodgers to take the out at second base. Villar, noting that whether or not the runner is in scoring position matters very little if you just hit the ball over the dang fence, did just that, pounding a no-doubter to dead center field to give the Brewers a two run lead (+.428 WPA) and cap the night’s scoring.
Villar is still destined to lose his job at short to a phenom prospect for the second consecutive season, but the previously-held foregone conclusion that he was simply a placeholder in the Brewers organization is now a distant memory. Villar has played at an All-Star level all season and he was brilliant again Thursday night, going 2-for-5 and adding another steal to his league-leading total (24). Villar will not be arbitration eligible until 2018 and is under team control through the 2020 season, so while a trade to clear a spot for Orlando Arcia is certainly possible, the Brewers would be wise to consider simply sliding Villar to his left or to his right. The 25-year-old has shown the ability both offensively and defensively to carry either second or third base.
Twice the Brewers built three-run leads in this game, and twice they gave them back. The first exchange of runs came in the third inning, after the Brewers tallied in the top of the frame to give themselves a 3-0 lead. Junior Guerra walked pitcher Scott Kazmir, a thing that will always come back to haunt you, in between a pair of strikeouts and then surrendered a single to shortstop Corey Seager. Trayce Thompson made him pay, clouting a three-run shot to straight away center over a leaping Keon Broxton (-.309) to tie the game at roughly the same time his brother Klay was seeing his championship series draw to a 3-3 tie as well. Thompson was the offensive star of the night for the Dodgers, going 2-for-4 with a double and a pair of runs scored. The 25-year-old who was acquired by Los Angeles in the three-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to Chicago has had a stellar offensive year and become a fixture in the Dodgers lineup with Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier on the shelf. His excellent play allowed the Dodgers the flexibility to part ways with the aging Carl Crawford, who was designated for assignment this week after hitting just .185/.230/.235 in 87 plate appearances.
It’s been a month since Jeremy Jeffress’ sole blown save of the season, but his 19th save was by no means a walk in the park. After retiring the first two batters he faced on harmless grounders, Jeffress loaded the bases with two outs, surrendering consecutive singles to Justin Turner and A.J. Ellis and hitting Chase Utley. The Brewers closer found his stuff again just in time, however, getting Corey Seager to wave at a curveball that Lucroy scooped off the dirt to end the game and give Milwaukee its first victory of their nine-game West Coast road trip.
TREND TO WATCH:
If you aren’t going to hit much, you had better provide some value on defense or you won’t find yourself on a major league roster for very long. Keon Broxton, who is hitting .140/.259/.160 and still striking out over 46 percent of the time, did neither on Thursday night. He went 1-for-3 with another pair of strikeouts, and he made ugly errors on consecutive singles that allowed the Dodgers to mount their second game-tying three run rally in the bottom of the sixth. The first was a routine liner from Howie Kendrick that he booted into left field, allowing Thompson to score, Kendrick to take second base and chasing Guerra from the game. The next was a grounder up the middle from Joc Pederson that he overran, scoring Kendrick and giving Pederson an extra base as Broxton had to double back to chase the ball down. Pederson would eventually score as well on a sacrifice fly from Justin Turner, a run that was upheld after the Brewers unsuccessfully challenged that they had doubled up Yasmani Grandal before the runner had touched home.
COMING UP NEXT:
The Brewers will play out the remainder of their four game set with the Dodgers this weekend with the advantage on the mound by ERA in all three games since they miraculously avoid having to face Clayton Kershaw. Zach Davies and Julio Urias will square off tonight, daring onlookers to identify which pitcher is actually a teen. Chase Anderson and Mike Bolsinger meet Saturday in a match-up of both team’s worst starting pitchers, and Matt Garza will make his second start of the year on Sunday opposite Kenta Maeda.