Best Play: Although the Brewers couldn’t score off Tanner Roark, they certainly tried — or, at least, their third baseman did. Leading off the seventh inning, Aaron Hill crushed the first pitch he saw to deep right for a ground rule double. (Odd trivia: Two innings prior, Hill had a first-pitch double to lead off.) With the Brewers trailing 1-0 and possessing only nine outs to work with, this hit was crucial.
Hill’s two-bagger (+.132) gave the Brewers a win probability of 49.4 percent, up from 36.1 percent when he stepped to the plate. Ultimately, this wouldn’t amount to anything; Alex Presley followed up a sacrifice from Ramon Flores with a full-count strikeout, leaving Hill on third base. When the inning concluded with a Jonathan Villar groundout, the Brewers stood just a 25.3 percent chance of winning.
Hill and Presley have some similarities. Neither of them is young — Hill checks in at 34, and Presley will turn 31 next month. Milwaukee brought each one in hoping they’d become veteran mentors and/or trade chips. Thus far, only Hill has accomplished that, starting 63 of the squad’s 75 games and posting a .283 TAv in those contests. Meanwhile, Presley and his .219 TAv probably won’t remain at the major-league level for much longer. In large part due to a talent disparity, Hill has made the most of his opportunities, while Presley has come up short; each of them may leave the team soon, just in different manners.
Worst Play: The game went from close to out of reach shortly after Hill’s efforts. Michael Blazek came on to pitch the eighth inning; he retired the first two batters he faced — thanks in part to Kirk Nieuwenhuis — but he couldn’t put together a shutdown inning. Anthony Rendon worked a free pass, and Clint Robinson swatted an 0-1 fastball into the bullpen in right field.
Robinson’s homer (-.199), for all intents and purposes, killed the Brewers. Turning a reasonable 1-0 deficit into a 3-0 suffocation, it brought their win expectancy down from 28.0 to 8.1 percent. The Brew Crew would reach double digits after scoring once in the bottom of the frame and once in the ninth. In the end, they couldn’t turn it around and would settle for a closer, 3-2 defeat.
Last season, Blazek looked to have broken out, with a 2.43 ERA and 3.69 DRA over 55.2 innings of relief. The PTBNL from the John Axford trade has fallen off in 2016 — his strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he’s already allowed as many home runs as he did all of last year. Whatever has ailed him, he needs to fix it quick, or he’ll lose his job to someone else.
Trend to Watch: On that note… With Blazek’s meltdown (and Will Smith’s post-DL hiccups), the Brewers have yearned for another bullpen arm to emerge from nowhere. Although it’s still pretty early, Jacob Barnes may have done just that. Despite allowing the go-ahead home run on Sunday, Barnes has fared well as a 26-year-old rookie: He’s twirled 10.1 innings of 2.79-ERA, 3.58-DRA ball. Sustaining that would make him another trustworthy late-inning reliever.
Barnes has essentially no pedigree. At this time last year, he was a mediocre starter-turned-mediocre reliever who had never appeared on a top prospect list. Then he lit up the Arizona Fall League, pitching 11.2 shutout innings with 17 strikeouts to go with only three walks. He maintained that momentum into the 2016 campaign, as he notched a 1.21 ERA over 22.1 innings of relief for Colorado Springs. Since receiving the callup earlier this month, he hasn’t missed a beat.
Two pitches make up Barnes’s repertoire: a four-seam fastball and a slider. The former has fared well enough, riding its mid- to upper-90s velocity to a 66.2 percent strike rate and 6.3 percent swinging-strike rate. But it can’t compare to the latter, which has been nothing short of great — it’s gone for a strike 71.0 percent of the time and a whiff 34.8 percent of the time. No footage of the pitch from Sunday’s game exists online, so we’ll have to settle from this clip of Barnes in his major-league debut:
No, the velocity reading isn’t a typo. According to Brooks Baseball, Barnes struck out Tommy Joseph on a 92.1-mph slider. This season, Zach Davies’s four-seam fastball has topped out at 92.2 mph. If he can continue to harness it, Barnes’s deadly heat will warm up the seats of Blazek and Smith.
Up Next: The Brewers managed to take two of three against the Nationals, and they’ll attempt to keep that up against another scuffling contender. After a day off today, the Brewers complete their homestand with a three-game set against the Dodgers. Chase Anderson and Julio Urias will face off on Tuesday at 7:10 CST; Junior Guerra will take the hill against a for-now undetermined L.A. starter on Wednesday; and Zach Davies will duel Kenta Maeda in the matinee finale on Thursday.