Game 81 Recap: Cardinals 9, Brewers 8

After shaky pitching from pretty much everyone, the Brewers offense fell short in its late-inning rally attempt against the Cardinals.

Worst Play: Before we get to the comeback pudding, we’ll need to trudge through the meat of the pitching meltdown. After issuing his fifth walk of the day to Stephen Piscotty, Chase Anderson gave way to Jacob Barnes. Brandon Moss welcomed the rookie reliever to the game with a full-count double to right field, bringing around Piscotty and handing the Cards a 3-2 edge.

Moss’s two-bagger (-.203) cut the Brewers’ win probability from 43.3 to 23.0 percent. When Moss came around on a sacrifice fly, those chances went down to 19.7 percent; from there, the Cardinals would keep the ball in their court. Only for a fleeting moment in the ninth inning would the Brewers get their odds above 30 percent.

Barnes has had an uneven run of things in his brief trial at the major-league level. He gave up two runs in Thursday’s loss to the Dodgers, and before that allowed a solo home run against the Nationals. His stuff has granted him a ton of strikeouts, and no one can complain about his control, but he’s given up too much hard contact to make a real impact. He appears to have late-inning potential; we’ll have to see if he can live up to it.

Best Play: The Brewers looked like they were down — a grand slam and a 9-4 deficit will do that to you — but they weren’t out. Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, and Chris Carter reached base against Samuel Tuivailala, who the Cardinals swiftly replaced with Seung Oh. The rookie closer walked Aaron Hill to force in a run; two pitches later, Kirk Nieuwenhuis swatted a double into the left-field corner, making the score 9-7.

Nieuwenhuis’s extra-base hit (+.211) gave the Brewers a brief glimmer of hope for a comeback, improving their odds from 14.1 to 35.1 percent. With the winning run at the plate and no one out, the club seemed like it could achieve the impossible. Alas, Ramon Flores looked over strike three, Hernan Perez grounded out (and managed to drive in Hill), and Jonathan Villar went down swinging to end the contest.

Among all the weirdness on the 2016 Brewers, Nieuwenhuis might stand out. He looked like a solid player entering the year, and so far he’s lived up to that, producing 0.6 WARP over 211 plate appearances. But that might not represent his true talent — to this point, he’s made solid contact 41.4 percent of the time, per FanGraphs. No Brewer with as many plate appearances has done better.

Trend to Watch: For the fourth straight game, Anderson struggled on Sunday. He’s allowed 20 runs over his last 15.2 innings, with more walks than strikeouts, an elevated BABIP, and too many home runs. This version of Anderson won’t stick in the rotation much longer; will he keep this up?

The thing is, Anderson had gotten pretty lucky prior to this four-start spurt. He threw only 61.8 percent of his pitches for strikes and 7.7 percent for whiffs, while allowing hard contact 35.6 percent of the time. Those aren’t the numbers of a 4.21-ERA starter — certainly not one who posts a 5.8 percent walk rate, 18.8 percent strikeout rate, and .255 BABIP, as Anderson did. His strike rate hasn’t budged during this rough stretch (61.7 percent), and his swinging-strike rate has actually improved (9.0 percent); the fact that his strikeout and walk rates have declined reflects his luck vanishing. Meanwhile, he’s given up even more hard contact than before (43.9 percent), and even if he hadn’t, he’d probably allow a lot more hits and extra bases. The lucky iteration of Anderson seems to have left, replaced by a hapless, horrid one.

The Brewers don’t have a great deal of starting pitching options — Taylor Jungmann and Wily Peralta each have ERAs above nine at Triple A, and Jorge Lopez hasn’t fared much better. Still, they can probably do better than Anderson, whose good fortune apparently has run out. Trying out Josh Hader or Wei-Chung Wang might give Milwaukee a better shot at a reliable arm (and would end the team’s southpaw-less streak).

Up Next: The Brewers continue their road trip with three games against the Nationals. Junior Guerra bested Max Scherzer began the series with early morning baseball, and the Brewers won 1-0. Zach Davies and Gio Gonzalez will square off tomorrow at 6:05 CST, and Matt Garza and Tanner Roark will conclude the series with an afternoon matchup. Having arrested their four-game skid, the Brewers will look to maintain the respectability from May and June, without regressing into the awfulness of April.

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