Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it folks? For the second time in a few weeks, the Brewers dropped the third game after taking the first two of the series against the first place Nationals, falling to Washington 7-4 affair on Wednesday afternoon in our nation’s capital. You already know the basics, so let’s dive into the game to find the real story:
BOTTOM PLAY (WPA):
Matt Garza’s fifth start of the year did not start out as the 32-year-old hoped. He allowed Washington’s first two hitters to reach on singles to left field before retiring National League batting average leader Daniel Murphy on a liner to left that just happened to be hit directly at Ramon Flores. Bryce Harper followed, and the young phenom jumped all over the struggling right hander, crushing a three-run home run to give the Nationals an early 3-0 lead (+.218).
The Brewers offense tried their damnedest to bail out Garza after he staked them to a four run deficit, getting all those runs back in a big third inning off of Nationals starter Tanner Roark. The bottom of the order got things started for Milwaukee, as a pair of singles from Hernan Perez and Flores preceded a Garza strikeout to turn the lineup over with a couple of men on base. The top of the lineup cashed in, as three consecutive singles left from Jonathan Villar, Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Lucroy (+.138) left the Brewers with runners on the corners and still only one out, now trailing by just one.
Keeping the action right where we left it, Milwaukee sent perhaps the last man they’d want to into the batter’s box, Chris Carter, to attempt the even the score. The Brewers have been abysmal with runners on third base and one out, leading the league with 33 strikeouts in a situation in which one must absolutely put the ball in play to allow the runner to attempt to score. Overall, the Brewers have been able to score a runner from third with less than two outs just 46 percent of the time this season, which ranks 27th in the league. Predictably, Carter struck out, adding to his team-high seven in such situations and seemingly killing another rally.
But oh ho, dear reader! As Carter swung through a strike three, the Brewers had a little mischief planned, as Lucroy took off toward second base, drawing a throw from Jose Lobaton, who might have been better off putting it in his pocket:
Gennett’s cunning baserunning tied the game at four, a score that would hold for less than a half inning.
TREND TO WATCH:
After a pair of starts that perhaps looked a little cleaner in the box score than they actually were to start his season, Garza has now delivered three below average-to-poor pitching performances in a row, and Wednesday afternoon’s was certainly his worst. He allowed seven runs, all earned, in four and a third innings on eight hits. He struck out just two batters, the third time in five starts he has retired less than three hitters via strike out. Perhaps most troublingly, Garza was heavily victimized by the long ball, as he watched three balls sail over the outfield fence.
The striking (sorry, I’m sorry) decline in Garza’s strikeout percentage is an obvious cause of his struggles the past season-plus. He entered the 2015 season with a strikeout rate of 19.8 percent, and has seen that steadily decline the past two seasons to 15.6 percent last year and 12.8 percent this season. His numbers this season suffer from small sample size bias, of course, but his strikeout rate would rate the fourth-worst among qualifying starters, just slightly better than flame-throwing Jered Weaver. When taken with a .300+ BABIP and a 66 percent strand rate, it’s easy to see why Garza’s ERA has been sitting over 5.50 the past year and a half.
COMING UP NEXT:
The Brewers have another off day today before returning how for a weekend set against the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park. Milwaukee will hope for better results than a week ago, when they were swept out of Busch Stadium and outscored 19-9, with two thirds of those runs coming in the final three innings on Sunday afternoon. It will be the final series of the unofficial first half for Milwaukee, and fittingly it will be closed out by 31-year-old rookie Junior Guerra, whose 3.12 DRA leads Brewers starters.